by Jonathan Rickert
Visits to Trinidad by international celebrities, even relatively minor ones, were few and far between during our years at Embassy Port of Spain (1977-1980). We did not get to host even a single Congressional delegation. Though we never saw him, we heard that Mick Jagger came there at least a couple of times to take part in the annual Carnival festivities and that famed British portrait and fashion photographer Norman Parkinson liked to visit. If there were others of note, I didn’t know about them or no longer recall them.
So, it was a pleasant surprise when we heard toward the end of our tour that on-location portions of an American film were to be shot on the island. Titled “Gold of the Amazon Women,” the made-for-TV opus featured Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, Donald Pleasence, Bo Svenson, and a bevy of starlets, models, and others to play the Amazon women. The presence of the actors and film crew caused quite a stir among the local diplomatic corps and expat community.
Although our ambassador had the opportunity to meet with the movie folks, the rest of the embassy staff, much to their disappointment, had no such possibility. We were, therefore, particularly pleased to learn that we would be allowed to watch some of the filming taking place at Chaguaramas, a disused and by then somewhat overgrown former US naval facility near Port of Spain that had been turned over to the Trinidadians in 1963. The tropical vegetation there apparently made it a suitable location for the movie’s “jungle” scenes.
My wife Gerd and I drove out one day with daughter Ulla and son Jonathan, then about three and one years of age, to watch the actors and film crew in action. When we arrived, a scene was being shot during which Anita Ekberg, as Queen Na-Eela of the Amazons, was jogging down a jungle trail with other women from her tribe following in her wake. The camera was mounted on a dolly that ran along a track parallel to the trail. We watched silently with a handful of other onlookers from about 50 feet away as several takes were made.
Anita Ekberg, of course, was the production’s biggest name and main attraction. However, when we saw her, she was no longer the curvaceous sex symbol she had been in her most famous role as Sylvia in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film classic, “La Dolce Vita.”
She had gained weight, wore a bored expression, and looked all of her nearly 50 years of age. Perhaps the fact that her luggage had been lost en route to Trinidad and that she reportedly had had difficulty in finding suitable replacement clothing locally contributed to her apparently less than buoyant mood.
Nevertheless, during one of the takes she glanced over in our direction and seemed to fix her eyes on our almost white-haired son. I can only speculate as to what went through her mind at that moment, but Jonathan certainly stood out among the darker Trinidadian onlookers. Perhaps he even reminded her of her native Sweden and the towheaded children there. Who knows?
After we returned to Washington in 1980, we happened to stumble upon “Gold of the Amazon Women” on TV one evening. To call it a grade B film would be extravagant hyperbole — one movie critic judged it to be “stupid beyond belief” and among “the most unintentionally hilarious chunks of jungle cheese imaginable.” In watching the film, we saw nothing to contradict those judgments. All the same, it was fun for us to see the parts that were filmed on Trinidad, and especially the scene with Anita Ekberg and her fellow Amazons trotting dutifully along the Chaguaramas jungle trail.
Retired Senior Foreign Service officer Jonathan B. Rickert spent over 35 years of his career in London, Moscow, Vienna, Port of Spain, Sofia, and Bucharest (twice), as well as in Washington. His last two overseas assignments were as deputy chief of mission in Bulgaria and Romania. Mr. Rickert holds a B.A. degree in history from Princeton University and an M.A. in international relations from the George Washington University.