June 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 4
Surviving encounters with an awesome variety of enraged wildlife—rhinos, lions, tsetse flies, studio brass—Trader Horn, Hollywood’s first jungle spectacular, became the progenitor of hundreds of white-hunter-meets-white-goddess epics
When the movie version of Lord Jim was released a few years ago, it had a special interest for me because a friend of mine, an Englishman, had been a member of the film crew that spent several months on location in Cambodia. After I saw the finished product, with its awe-inspiring scenes of some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain, I remembered my friend’s reply when I asked about the hardships he had encountered.
“Hardships!” he laughed. “We lived better down there than we ever did in London. All the luxuries. If we wanted anything, a jet could fetch it from anywhere in the world within hours.”
He explained that location shooting off the beaten track had become a perfected routine, learned from the experience of earlier companies—”from movies like The African Queen, Lawrence of Arabia , and King Solomon’s Mines . And, of course, they owed a great deal to the pioneering expeditions—particularly to the grandcladdy of them all, Trader Horn . Now, making that film was really an undertaking.”
Trader Horn ! Through the fog of memory floated a flickering image of a pale young woman with waistlength ash-blonde hair; scantily clad, she stands in a jungle clearing surrounded by a mob of nearly naked and highly agitated natives. I also recalled a giant billboard advertisment showing the girl flanked by a handsome young man in a pith helmet and an older man in a floppy khaki hat. The jungle looms behind them, and they are frozen in attitudes of acute anxiety as they stare off-camera toward some approaching peril. Then I remembered some of the rumors that have followed Trader Horn down through the years, rumors nearly as weird as anything depicted in the film itself: that the young actress contracted a deadly African disease and slowly expired in a Hollywood nursing home; that the leading man gave up civilization and retired to the jungle; and that some of the natives employed in the film later became organizers of the Man Man. A passion for jungle films and a reawakened curiosity about all those stories needed only my friend’s remarks to set me looking into the history of Trader Horn .
On a January night in 1931, a noisy and titillated throng surged around Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The occasion was the most glittering and glamorous film opening the world had yet seen. Trader Horn was a landmark in movie history: it was not only the first “talkie” made by Metro-GoldwynMaycr, but the first ever made outside the United States by any Hollywood company. It had cost a record §2,900,000 and had been two years in preparation; one of those years had been spent in what the press agents liked to call “the dark heart of Africa.”
Limousines purred up to the theatre entrance and discharged the movie idols of the day. Sleekly tailored actors and actresses in furs and feathers advanced, with alligator smiles for the crowd of screaming fans. Above the pandemonium, searchlights alerted the heavens.
The film’s romantic leads, Edwina Booth and Duncan Renaldo, arrived arm in arm, beaming. Miss Booth was a blonde, twenty-one-year-old Mormon from Provo, Utah. Except for an earlier bit part, this was her first film. Tragically, it was also her last starring role. Duncan Renaldo (real name, Renaldo Duncan) was a handsome half-Spanish, half-Scottish orphan who had been raised in France.
The third and best-known star of the picture was Harry Carey, a former New York law student who, with his characteristic shy grin, had become a talented and respected actor. He and his wife, Olive, were not at Grauman’s that night; they were in New York, where they attended a simultaneous opening with Mayor Jimmy Walker.
The film—shakily based on the 1927 best seller Trader Horn , written by a white hunter named Alfred Aloysius Horn (and edited by Etheheda Lewis, an English novelist)—was a story of heroic quest. A young and wealthy South American named Peru is on safari with Horn. They become involved in a search for a missionary’s daughter kidnapped as a child by a native tribe. Because of her extreme blondeness, she has been kept by the tribe as their fetish and goddess. The story tells of the perils that beset the two men as they search for and finally (of course) rescue the girl.
The picture’s press agents continually insisted that nothing about this movie was fake, that everything in it actually happened. And for once the ballyhoo was not far from the truth. “Sometimes you cannot believe your eyes,” said a review in Theatre Magazine . “You cannot believe that human flesh went through this and came out whole. Well, it has. Thrilling, beautiful, incredibly yet utterly veracious record of a forbidden and inhospitable world.” Commented the Literary Digest: “Director W. S. Van Dyke has brought back from the African jungles a series of audible-film incidents which for sheer thrills and undiluted realism have never been surpassed.”
The film’s initial hoop-la faded predictably; perhaps just as inevitably, in those subsequent years, several members of the expedition died, including director Van Dyke, who had written a book about the making of the picture entitled Horning Into Africa . The only survivors, as far as I could learn from M.G.M., were Duncan Renaldo and Harry Carey’s widow, Olive, who unknowingly lived within a few miles of each other in southern California, and both agreed to interviews.
Renaldo met me at the Santa Barbara airport. Now in his middle sixties, he still shows, in his aquiline features and piercing eyes, traces of the matinee idol. Hc drove me out to his ranch house, where my attention was at once attracted by two large oils of a Masai chief and his wife, painted by the actor himself. An African spirit drum and a dozen other mementos of the expedition were crowded into the living room and dining room. “As you see,” he said, “that movie was one of the great experiences of my life.”
Later we went to see Olive Carey, who greeted us cheerily, embracing Renaldo with cries of delight. Talk soon turned to the film.
Horn’s book had been bought by M.G.M.’s Irving Thalberg, who thought it would make a spectacular movie. But how could a mobile village of film makers sustain life in a little-known and dangerous part of the world? And what about casting? Obviously, to live in close association for a long period in rough country would require of all hands courage, character, intelligence, and tact.
The choice of romantic lead was easy. Renaldo was an outdoor man with spirit, virile looks, and acting experience. Carcy was the studio’s first choice to play the role of Horn, but he did not fancy such a long trip away from his family. He took the part only after Thalberg agreed to give his wife a small role and to permit him to take their two children as far as Nairobi; there they could attend school and their parents could visit them.
The difficult role to fill was that of the White Goddess. She had to be blonde and beautiful. She had to be fiery and imperious, yet capable of projecting an innocent wood-sprite quality when confronted by the sophisticated white men. “In other words,” said Renaldo, “she had to be the most exotic personality possible.”
Thalberg considered the entire crop of M.G.M. female stars. Bessie Love, hoping to be chosen, dyed her hair ash-blonde. Thelma Todd was tested, and Thalberg even thought of Jeanette MacDonald. After all, a blonde fetish might be even more irresistible if she could sing.
Then one day a young starlet marched into the administrative offices of M.G.M. and demanded to be paid for posing for stills—a job that starlets, and even stars, traditionally did for nothing. “I won’t do it for nothing,” declared Edwina Booth. “It took up my time and I want to be paid.” Thalberg liked her spirit and energy, and Miss Booth was scheduled for a test.
Renaldo recalled that during the run-through for the test “the change that came over this rather demure little girl was extraordinary. She displayed a highly volatile temperament that was perfect for the role of the Goddess. The crew burst into applause and she was hired on the spot. The test was never filmed.”
For director, Thalberg picked W. S. Van Dyke, who had already shown a great talent for nature Rims. Van Dyke was entranced with the job; “It was the most exciting project of my life,” he told friends afterward. For many in the troupe, it was nearly the last project of their lives.
It all began luxuriously enough on the Ile de France in New York Harbor. “We sailed around ten at night,” Renaldo related, “and as soon as we were in the open sea, they opened the bar. From that moment on, the ship was a floating cabaret.” Those ladies and gentlemen of the Prohibition era bellied up to the bar with enthusiasms that often exceeded their capacities. “I have never seen so many drunk people in my IiIe,” said Olive Carey.
Edwina Booth, with her strong religious principles, stayed aloof from all that. But, Renaldo remembered, “Everyone had eyes for her—including me. Her features were almost perfect, and she had a very ingratiating voice. She was one of the most levelheaded women I’ve ever known. Her morals and standards of conduct were very strict.”
To Olive, “Edwina was a very high-minded and intelligent young woman. She was interested in life and took it very seriously.”
The late John McClain, then a press agent with the expedition and subsequently a syndicated columnist, had told me on the telephone: “She was a pleasant enough woman, pretty, but frankly I thought she was a bit of a bore. She was such a proper do-gooder. I don’t think she had much sense of humor.”
In any case, movie stars in those clays had an aura of glamour that surpasses anything seen today. Renaldo fought off women who tried to get into his stateroom, while Edwina had to fight off the men, particularly a fellow passenger named Jean Borotra, a French tennis ace. “He kept kissing her hand,” Renaldo recalled, “and the kisses kept getting longer and more frequent. Finally, one night Harry Carey came to Edwina’s rescue and kicked him in the backside. This provoked a challenge for a duel and the captain had to intervene.”
When the ship reached Le Havre, the film unit disembarked early in the morning and was ushered into a nearby shed for some publicity shots. In those days magnesium flares were used for taking pictures. The shed had recently been used to store some kind of volatile material, and when the hung-over, bleary, jittery members of the company bared their teeth for pictures, the magnesium went off and the resultant explosion blew out the sides of the shed and blackened the faces and clothes of the stunned movie makers. In a daxe, they were assisted from the building just before the roof collapsed. Unaccountably, no one was hurt.
In Paris, Van Dyke and Renaldo went to sec the sights. At Napoleon’s tomb, Van Dyke stood for a long time looking down on the emperor. “When we went out,” Renaldo remembered, “I noticed that Van Dyke had tucked his right hand into his coat and over his heart. At that moment, I think, he changed into a general. From then on the members of the unit began receiving morning notices like ‘Henceforward the troupe will move en masse’ and ‘Exactly at such and such a time we rendezvous.’ ”
The troupe moved en masse by train to Genoa, where it embarked on the freighter Usaramo bound for Mombasa, Kenya.
A few days south of Arabia, Van Dyke instructed Edwina to go on the sun deck to accustom herself to tropical sunlight. She did this for several days, but one afternoon she suddenly went white and fainted. The next morning she was up and in good spirits, so no one thought any more about it. The voyage continued down a serene Indian Ocean toward Mombasa.
But the world they had left behind was anything but serene: Van Dyke found frantic cables awaiting him when the Usaramo docked at Mombasa in March of 1929. Because Al Jolson had been heard as well as seen in The Jazz Singer , M.G.M. now wanted Trader Horn to be done with sound.
The first sound truck to arrive fell from a broken crane into Mombasa Harbor. There were more cables and more worry, but at last the company had three sound trucks. Meanwhile, the main group climbed aboard a narrow-gauge railway train and set off foiNairobi, where the production’s safari was to be formed.
The Trader Horn expedition was one of the largest safaris ever mounted, surpassing even that of Edward, Prince of Wales, a few years before. There were thirtyfive white people, two hundred natives, ten Buick and Chevrolet pickup trucks, the three sound trucks, sixteen cameras with their replacement parts, and all the laboratory equipment for developing and printing film. There were also toiletries, clothes, medical supplies, liquor, canned foods, reflectors, generators for refrigeration (to keep the film—not the food—cool). Each white person was assigned a bearer who did everything from making the bed to giving a bath. Food was mainly canned; meat was shot on the hoof as the party went along.
In late April all was ready, and the party took off into the bush. On the first night everyone went to bed early, but as deep night fell and the bush came alive with mysterious growls and shrieks, Edwina, Harry and Olive, Renaldo, and Van Dyke crept from their tents and gathered about the large campfire. All but the tectotalling leading lady drank Johnny Walker Scotch or Old Pensioner gin, listening to the wail of the hyenas and the occasional blare of an elephant. In Horning Into Africa , Van Dyke remembered that first night and wondered if the others had shared with him the deep and atavistic fear: “Will I be eaten by wild animals?”
But they grew accustomed to the jungle, and camp life quickly became routine. The day began at six, when one’s “boy” entered, carrying a cup of coffee or tea. The group ate breakfast together in the mess tent, where the orders of the day were handed out.
There was no detailed script. Everyone knew the story: Peru and Trader Horn, travelling through the jungle, meet the mother (Olive) of the kidnapped girl. She tells them she is going to a native village where she believes her daughter is being held prisoner. Later the two men discover that the mother has been murdered by natives, and they decide to take up the search. They are captured and prepared for ceremonial killing. But the Goddess appears, falls in love with Peru, and ultimately helps them escape. There is a long sequence as they flee, carrying the girl with them. This skeletal story was fleshed out with dialogue made up by the actors and Van Dyke as they went along, depending on what befell them. Sometimes it was encounters with crocodiles and lions, other times with elephants and snakes.
Of Van Dyke’s direction, Renaldo recalled: “He was brusque, but he was marvelous with the natives. At times we would have scenes with a thousand of them that he had rounded up from the bush. Wc never did our scenes more than twice. He thought this gave the best feeling of naturalness, which was, after all, what we wanted to convey. Most of us were not acting, but just reacting to actual happenings. After all, when a herd of elephants charged us we didn’t have a chance for retakes.”
As the days wore on, Van Dyke’s direction became more imperious and the morning notices more peremptory: “Natives at night must be dressed in white and carry lanterns.” “When attacked by a native, don’t hit him on the head, kick him in the shins. Hc is more sensitive there.”
Van Dyke planned to use Murchison Falls, in Uganda, as a base camp for three months. When Ugandan officials, fearing the company’s exposure to the tsetse fly, said they would “not permit one man, woman, child or animal to go up into that district from this colony,” Van Dyke replied that neither the whites nor the natives were from Uganda. And that was that.
Van Dyke later wrote: “You couldn’t suppose that anyone would be damn fool enough to go up into such a place after such a warning, would you? It gave me a pause … yet there were the hippos, there were the crocs, and there were the falls, and in no other place in Africa were there so many … nor such beautiful falls. There was no one to whom I could turn for advice. The responsibility must rest squarely on my shoulders. Maybe it was the heat. I had already had a fairly rotten case of malaria but anyway, perfectly insane, 1 decided to go, explained the circumstances to the people, and they decided to go with me.”
Murchison Falls is located north of Lake Albert, where tlic Victoria Nile plunges down a iso-foot drop. The noise is horrendous, the sight unnerving. “Somehow [it] reminds me of Dante’s Inferno,” wrote Van Dyke. “The chasm and the falls are seething cauldrons in which it is impossible for any fish in the world to live. And that is more or less the secret of the fat crocs. They lie in wait at the foot of the falls and eat the fish that are swept down and killed in the passage.”
Renaldo recounted that for three months they camped on one of the most spectacular sites in the world:
The Nile is one thousand feet wide nt that point and crammed with crocodiles and hippos. There is no kind of creation that isn’t represented in the water, or above the ground. Life is teeming so much that you can actually hear it in the water. If you take a glass of water from the Nile and boil it down, you will have about a quarter of it left as residual animal life of the most fantastic variety imaginable. But in order to live there, everything has to cat something else, and you hear this agony going on night and day.
The crocodiles were immense beasts like prehistoric monsters, twenty feet long, four feet wide at the shoulders. Edwina and I would sit ouLsidc our tents at night and watch a Hotilla of crocodiles sliding up to the bank. All you can see is their eyes, great knobs protruding above the water. At night if there is any light at all, they shine red as the beasts move upstream so smoothly they leave no ripples.
Sometimes the hippos would come snorting and stumbling into our camp and sometimes go lumbering off dragging ropes and tents.
And then there were the bugs. Scorpions got into boots despite all precautions. Flying ants would dive right through mosquito netting. “You couldn’t eat soup,” said Renaldo, “because a thousand insects would commit suicide in your spoon. AVe had insects in our eyebrows and our hair and we found ticks on our bodies for weeks afterwards. This was a terrible time for Edwina with her long hair.”
Van Dyke wrote: “Frequently, in the dead of night, I would hear a wild yell and wake up to sec some member of my company flying out of his camp absolutely nude, slapping and rubbing every part of his anatomy. He had innocently pitched his tent in front of an ant safari, and when these ants take it into their heads to come into your camp, you might just as well move out until the parade is over. No one ever stopped to think of clothing. Jf it were a man’s yell we heard, some of us would sometimes go to his assistance; if it were one of the women who was yelling, we would politely cover our heads and let her take care of herself—oh yeah?”
Van Dyke’s diary shows entries like: “June G. Roberts [a cameraman] suffering terribly from tsetse fly bites. Neck swollen terribly. Miss Booth hit with sun.” One after another the group began to succumb to sunstroke or malaria.
Through all this, liquor was the one sustainer. Renaldo followed the prescription given him by one of the white hunters, Pete Pearson, who had been in Africa for years: three fingers of Scotch—good Scotch —in the morning and three fingers at night. The idea was to keep the blood racing at such a pace that malaria would not have a chance to catch hold. Whatever the medical explanation, Renaldo never got sick.
“The person who suffered the most was Edwina,” he said. “Blondes are particularly vulnerable to the sun. In Edwina it caused a kind of anemia.” She was weak and listless eighty per cent of the time, but she rarely complained. “She had courage,” said Olive, and John McClain agreed: “She had plenty of moxie. She went on with the work.”
One day when they were shooting, the sky began to darken. One of the white hunters cried out: “Locusts!” They came in clouds, in the billions. It was like twilight at midday. The people ran for the tents and closed the flaps. When the swarm had passed, the trees were completely denuded—bare skeletons. The cameras and other equipment were caked with insects.
There was trouble in screening the rushes at night. The light attracted thousands of white flying ants—a great delicacy for the natives. As the ants settled on the screen the natives would fall on them and, despite repeated warnings, tear great holes in the screen.
What could have been a most tragic mishap came in the middle of the night. It had been raining heavily, and the cast and crew woke to find water seeping under their tents. Then they heard a noise that was different from that of the falls. “Get to high ground,” someone shouted, and the company fled—in nightclothes—to the hills in back of the camp. They had just reached them when a six-foot wall of water engulfed the camp, sweeping tents, food, and equipment into the river. All shooting had to be stopped until the safari could be refitted.
There were dangers during some of the actual shooting. For example, the script called for Olive’s body to be found floating in the river just below the falls. The water was teeming with crocodiles, but Olive obligingly immersed herself while five hunters held their guns on the crocodiles, which were watching some fifty feet away. Suddenly an eddy caught her body and pushed it out from shore. She made no sound or move because she didn’t want to spoil a take. “Cut!” cried Van Dyke, and the men reached her just as the crocodiles began closing in.
One member of the crew, a native boy, fell into the river and a crocodile ate him, before the horrified gaze of the film crew. After that, Van Dyke instructed the cameramen to keep their cameras ready at all times and to keep filming no matter what happened.
At one point, Van Dyke decided that a rhino charge would make a stirring scene. “Unfortunately,” Renaldo said, “a rhino caught our scent and charged before we were prepared. Harry Carey jumped into a ditch and the rhino went right over his head. I leaped for a thorn tree and got punctured all over by those three- or four-inch thorns. As I bled away, pandemonium broke out below me. The hunters couldn’t get a shot because the rhino was charging around among the crew. One native boy saw the rhino coming and just froze in terror. The rhino hit him straight on; he was dead before he hit the ground. The cameramen _on a raised platform out of harm’s way—stuck to their cameras and got the entire action.”
One sequence called for Carey, Edwina, and Renaldo, fleeing from natives and on the point of starvation, to come upon three lions feeding on a kill. So desperate is their plight, so agonizing their hunger, that they advance on the lions and drive them away with sticks and stones, as they would stray dogs. Then they fall on the kill themselves and gorge.
The white hunters scouted around until they found three lions tearing into a topi they had just dragged down. Van Dyke wrote later: “I ordered them [the actors] to charge [the lions] and drive [them] off the carcass, and the idiots did.” It’s in the picture.
Another scene called for Carey and Renaldo, again pursued by natives, to swing through overhead vines to an island in a small lake alive with crocodiles.
Van Dyke and his men diverted part of the river into a pond, threw carrion into it to lure the crocodiles, and then constructed a heavy gate to close them in. Some two hundred were thus trapped. The following two days were overcast, however, and the creatures had to be kept penned up waiting for sunny shooting weather. At night the crocodiles would charge the gate and, to keep them from escaping, the entire company would thrust burning torches down their throats. The director later wrote:
… the eyes of the crocodiles would stand out a fiery red … until they made the rush, emerging from the water onto dry land, and they came fast, darting like lizards, and were always almost upon us before we were set for the shock of their attack.
Miss Booth, who was on one of the shifts and fighting side by side with the men, had nearly fallen inside the fence while trying to ram a stick down a charging croc’s throat. The tail of a croc had blasted its way through the fence at one spot and, catching Harry Carey on the leg, practically laid him up for a week.
Pete Pearson whispered to another white hunter during the fray: “These people are absolutely crackers.”
Miss Booth was a constant miracle to the natives. At one spot, in the Ituri Forest of the Congo, the company met natives who had never seen a white woman before. They would not approach her or touch her, but they would stare at her for hours. To show signs of approval they made a strange guttural cluckclucking deep in their throats. One day about two hundred natives decided to honor her with a dance. They assembled before her tent, and, of course, she had to come out. They were hot and perspiring, and it was high noon. They danced on and on—for three hours—but she smiled through it.
Renaldo had his adventures, too. “He was always going off on side trips,” Olive said, “and this made Van furious.” One day he went on a hunt with some Pygmies who got their meat by sneaking up on an elephant and cutting its leg tendons. The animal then collapsed and the Pygmies fell on him with their knives and hatchets and clubs. “I have seen them carve living hunks of meat from the animal,” said Renaldo, “and eat it on the spot.”
He was made a blood brother of the Masai tribe, and still has a scar on his left wrist where blood was drawn. He pressed his wrist to the bloody wrist of a Masai warrior, and then drank the ceremonial draught of milk and cow’s blood.
Of all the places the unit visited, the most memorable was the “Mountains of the Moon,” on the boundary between the Congo and Uganda. “Everything there is out of proportion,” Renaldo said. “A fruit tree is not ten feet high but fifty. The leaf of a sunflower is six feet in diameter. You can smell the frangipani three or four miles away, and if you are near it, the aroma is so powerful that you get drowsy.”
But what the actors remember most vividly about Africa is “that clear light, that intense peace, that stillness of countryside, of flat-topped trees so delicate, with the mountains in the background shimmering in the heat haze.”
But for all that, things were not going well with the movie makers. Olive had to be taken to Nairobi for an emergency operation, and the script girl came down with a serious case of malaria. Van Dyke himself was not well. He had suffered attacks of malaria and had developed a severe hacking cough that went on for minutes at a time each morning. As for Edwina, she was hardly seen at the end of the day; looking ever weaker, she would disappear into her tent.
A few personal relationships were beginning to fray; tempers were getting shorter, and there was too much drinking. When Van Dyke went out for a day’s shooting, his water bottle was often filled with gin. Word must have reached the home office, because an order (of questionable enforceability) came through that if anyone were seen with liquor he would be fired.
It was becoming difficult to start the day. Van Dyke later wrote: “You’d crawl out of your tent every morning and say ‘Oh, God, do I have to look at that face again and listen to its chatter again?’ ”
One day, after hours of shooting in the broiling sun, Van Dyke ordered Edwina to climb into a tree— the scene called for lions to prowl around the trunk as she cringed among the branches. While in the tree, she fainted and fell to the ground. Luckily, there were no lions nearby, but Renaldo lost control of himself and ran up to Van Dyke shouting, “You son of a bitch, I’m going to kill you.” Members of the company intervened, but the incident was like the tolling of a bell, and they all knew it was time for them to get out.
Then came a cable from Metro that said, in effect: come home now or don’t bother to come at all. Van Dyke had shot almost five million feet of film, had been in Africa almost a year, covering forty thousand square miles of bush and jungle, and had exceeded his budget by almost a million dollars.
The unit broke up at Thika Falls, near Nairobi. The actors and most of the crew headed for Mombasa and home, while Van Dyke remained a few weeks to get still more scenic shots. There was a farewell party that lasted all night. Everyone wept, swore eternal friendship, and agreed that no other group could have done what they had done.
Back in Hollywood, they found themselves in a new jungle, this one of problems. First, all production stopped for six months while editors tried to cut five million feet of film to fit the story line. There were gaps where the sound was insufficient, and M.G.M., nervous about the strange new medium of talking pictures, decided that these scenes had to be reshot under the guidance of a dialogue coach and a stage director imported from New York.
To redo some of Olive’s scenes, M.G.M. hired the famous Marjorie Rambeau at a thousand dollars a day. After several days someone realized that the public knew Miss Rambeau had not been on the trip to Africa. There was much consternation and confusion; finally Irving Thalberg asked Olive if she would redo her own scenes. She said she would be glad to—for a thousand dollars a day. The studio reluctantly agreed.
The new director from New York decided to take the actors to Tecate, Mexico, where he constructed an enormous animal compound and stocked it with wildlife: monkeys, panthers, leopards, lions, and elephants. Then he dug a ditch around the compound so the cameras could peer discreetly in at the animals.
When all was ready, Renaldo entered the compound to do a scene wherein he was to fondle the head of an ostrich. The bird didn’t like it and ran away. This startled a leopard, which leapt onto an elephant. “All hell broke loose,” said Renaldo. “It was the most bloody massacre I’ve ever seen. Those animals ate each other up or clawed each other to death. And not a single foot of film was any good. They had buried the cameras too low and all we saw at the rushes was a dust cloud and now and then a leg kicking. There went the animals—and some three hundred thousand dollars.”
Then came a disconcerting discovery: because of chemical differences in the water used in developing, all the reshot film was unusable because it did not match the film shot in Africa.
By this time M.G.M. officials were getting quite ugly, and it was rumored that they were going to abandon the picture entirely. “You see,” Olive said, “they still didn’t realize what they had in that movie.”
William Randolph Hearst had invested in the picture. One night Renaldo dined with Hearst at San Simeon; the actor spoke so enthusiastically about their adventures and about his faith in the picture that Hearst put in a call to someone—he didn’t say who—in New York. “The picture must go on as intended, financed as intended. That is all,” said Hearst.
After that—and possibly because of it—Van Dyke was reinstated as director. The original sound was doctored up so that what the audience eventually saw was the movie with both the original film and sound, except for a few closeups between Edwina and Renaldo.
In the long run most of that extraordinary five million feet of film was used in one way or another. For years afterward, Trader Horn footage showed up as intercuts in Tarzan movies. Renaldo laughed about it: “How often I’ve been watching Johnny Weissmuller and Red Corrigan—who was always in the gorilla suit—when suddenly there would be an intercut and there I’d be or Edwina or Olive way off in the distance, walking through the jungle.” Olive added, “M.G.M. made as much money selling surplus film of Trader Horn as they did from the movie itself.” Reportedly, the price was ten dollars a foot.
Trader Horn not only made money; the landscape was so beautifully portrayed that it also made people want to see Africa for themselves. About a year after the movie opened, one of Renaldo’s white-hunter friends wrote to him: “Business generally jumped 100% since you were here and the safari business has leaped about i,ooo%.”
Trader Horn was followed by a spate of jungle films. More important, the movie had an influence on Ernest Hemingway. “When I saw Trader Horn with all that magnificent paysage which the camera caught, I really got interested in Africa,” he once told Renaldo.
Back in the United States, Edwina was genuinely ill, with a disease that defied diagnosis, and after a few years she sued the studio for millions. She lost the suit, but according to rumor the studio gave her about twenty thousand dollars. After the lawsuit, Van Dyke, Carey, and Renaldo collected money for Edwina—she was swamped with lawyers’ and doctors’ bills—and sent it to her anonymously. “Even when she was working, she was shamefully underpaid,” Renaldo commented. “Harry Carey and I were getting about six hundred dollars a week. Edwina was hired at seventyfive dollars a week.”
Van Dyke lived for another ten years and directed some excellent motion pictures (among them Naughty Marietta ). But the hazards of filming Trader Horn may well have shortened his life.
Renaldo made few pictures during the thirties and forties, but later he did play the title role in The Cisco Kid; from this and television serials, he made a comfortable living.
“I don’t know why we didn’t keep in touch with Edwina,” Olive said to me. “When I knew you were coming I rummaged around and found a phone number someone gave me about a year ago.” She went into another roqm and came back with a scrap of paper. “It’s supposed to be Edwina’s,” she said, handing it to me. It was a number in a large western city.
I was about to put in the call when I said to Renaldo: “Here. You do it.” We were all suddenly uneasy. It didn’t seem possible that after all these years she could be found just by picking up the phone.
Renaldo dialed the number, and we waited. Someone answered, and, after thirty-four years, he smiled in instant recognition. “Edwina,” he said, “this is Duncan.” There was a little gasp at the other end. “Duncan,” said a light, charming voice. “How are you?”
“Where have you been?” he asked. “We thought you were dead.”
“I know,” she replied rather sadly. “I know people think that, but that’s all right with me. Let them keep thinking it.”
She explained that she had married and that her husband had several children by a previous marriage. Like her, he was a Mormon. They lived quietly, she said, and their lives revolved around church work. Few of her friends knew who she really was and she wanted to keep her past life a secret, even now.
A few minutes later, Renaldo said good-bye and hung up. “I don’t altogether understand Edwina,” he said. “Although she was a very determined young woman, she was naïve. She thought that good work and honest effort are always justly rewarded. She had worked so hard, under such difficult conditions, she felt she deserved better treatment than she got. We all think so, too. But instead of accepting it gracefully, Edwina, I think, has just tried to blank out her whole life during those years.”
But surely neither she nor any of them can ever forget. Certainly not Olive, whose grandchildren love to hear about the time Granny went into the jungles of Africa. And it is probable that even Edwina must occasionally take pride in recalling how she attacked lions with a stick, how she fought a raging crocodile, and how, surrounded by a thousand awestruck subjects, she was for a time a beautiful fair-haired goddess.