“The Construction of a Myth: Bloody Mary, Aggie Grey and the Optics of Tourism.” Journal of NZ and Pacific Studies. vol 2. no 1. (April) 2014: 5-19.

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“The Construction of a Myth: Bloody Mary, Aggie Grey and the Optics of Tourism.” Journal of NZ and Pacific Studies. vol 2. no 1. (April) 2014: 5-19.

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  5 NZPS 2 (1) pp. 5–19 Intellect Limited 2014 Journal of New Zealand & Pacific Studies Volume 2 Number 1 © 2014 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/nzps.2.1.5_1 Keywords Bloody Mary  Aggie Grey tourismSamoa South Pacific  James MichenerRodgers and Hammerstein KIrsTeN MoANA THoMPsoN Victoria University of Wellington Th cntctin f a mth: Bl Ma, Aggi G an th ptic f tim ABsTrACT This article examines the discursive circulation of stories in journalism and travel writing over the last fifty years that linked leading Western Samoan hotelier Aggie Grey to South Pacific’s iconic Tonkinese, Bloody Mary. Made famous by Juanita  Hall in the Broadway musical (1949–1954), and subsequent cinematic adaptation (Joshua Logan, 1958), Bloody Mary first appeared in James Michener’s Pulitzer  Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific  (written 1944–1946, published 1947). The careful marketing and growth of the Aggie Grey brand both before and after her death in 1988, exemplifies the close economic relationship between the development of tourism in Samoa in the post-war years and the American film and celebrity industries, with the hotel in Apia providing accommodation, logistical and cater-ing support to Hollywood productions and film stars from William Holden to  Marlon Brando. My examination of an srcin myth linking a charismatic histori-cal figure with an iconic fictional character is undertaken not to ultimately suggest any one-to-one relationship between the two, but rather to demonstrate a remark-able persistence of a Pacific romanticism. In what I name as the optics of tourism   I join with earlier scholars in suggesting that we must be more attuned to accounting  for the affective power of visual media and the ways in which Hollywood plays a continuing complex role in cultural memory, tourism and popular culture.  Kirsten Moana Thompson 6 The life and career of Aggie Grey (1897–1988), the leading Western Samoan hotelier, spanned multiple periods in Samoan history, from its time as a German colony through New Zealand administration, world war and inde-pendence. In this time frame, Aggie Grey’s hotel business grew from a small boarding house known as the Cosmopolitan Club (1933) to a hamburger stand and boarding house during World War II (1940–44). A leading post- war figure in Samoan tourism, Aggie Grey was honoured with the Queen’s Service Medal (1983) and was the subject of two biographies (Eustis 1979;  Alailima 1988) and several stamps issued in her lifetime. The hotel that she  would expand with her son Alan Grey in the post-war era (1945–present) is now an international company consisting of several resorts administered by her grandchildren, with business interests in other hotels and airlines, casi-nos in Western Samoa and Tahiti and, as this article went to press, globally rebranded as part of the Sheraton Hotels and Resorts chain.This article considers the discursive circulation of stories in journalism and travel writing over the last fifty years that linked Aggie Grey to South  Pacific ’s iconic, pidgin-speaking Tonkinese character, Bloody Mary. Made famous by Juanita Hall in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s blockbuster Broadway musical (1949) and subsequent cinematic adaptation (Joshua Logan, 1958), Bloody Mary first appeared in several stories which formed part of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific  (written between 1944 and 1946 and published in 1947), which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948. 1  Different claims have been made about Aggie Grey being a partial source for Bloody Mary (Smyth 2000a; Horace Sutton 1966; Clarke 2005), both by travel journalists and by Michener himself, and, as I will discuss below, by the Aggie Grey Company’s own carefully negotiated strategies over the last fifty years (see Aggie Grey’s Hotel pamphlets and websites; Game 2001). The careful marketing and growth of the Aggie Grey brand, both before and after her death in 1988, exemplifies the close economic relationship between the development of tourism in Samoa in the post-war  years and the American film and celebrity industries, with the hotel in Apia providing accommodation, logistical and catering support to Hollywood productions and film stars from William Holden to Raymond Burr, Robert Morley, Gary Cooper and Marlon Brando, who were working or returning to  vacation in the Pacific. My examination of an srcin myth linking a charismatic historical figure  with an iconic fictional character is undertaken not to ultimately suggest any one-to-one relationship between the two, but rather to demonstrate a remarkable discursive persistence of what I term a Pacific romanticism, and  what some scholars have called ‘Pacificist’ (Lyons 2006), ‘Pacific Orientalism’ (Landman and Ballard 2010) or even ‘complicit exoticism’ (Iwabuchi 1994). The persistence of this Pacific romanticism, with its roots in much older liter-ary and art historical traditions, in which the Pacific is represented as an idyllic physical and sexual mise-en-scène  , and to which settler representational traditions from painting to photography and Hollywood cinema have long contributed, suggests some of the complex aesthetic interrelationships of the Pacific and the West. In what follows in my close examination of the histor-ical figure of Aggie Grey and, more particularly, in what I name the optics of tourism,  I join with earlier scholars in urging that we be more attuned to the affective power of visual media and the ways in which Hollywood plays a powerful continuing role in cultural memory, tourism and popular culture (see Pearson 2005; Mallon 2012).  1. The Broadway musical ran from 1949 to 1954, for 1,925 performances. Bloody Mary appeared in the story ‘Fo’ Dollar’ along with Joe Cable and Liat, while Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque appeared in the story ‘Our Heroine’.  The construction of a myth 7 ‘eVeryoNe KNows THAT AGGIe Grey Is BLoody MAry’ So ran the headline in the  Free Lance-Star   that was later republished in the  Washington Post (O’Loughlin 1977a: 7; O’Loughlin 1977b: 155). It exempli-fies the means by which the myth has persisted, assuming an a priori knowl-edge of the primary intertext, here South Pacific  , the musical and film. Over 80 per cent of the more than sixty New Zealand, Australian, British and North American newspaper articles, published over the last fifty years and researched for this article, reproduced the myth while framing it as ‘legend has it’, or ‘she was widely believed to be’. The myth was recapitulated in her obituaries (sometimes along with her vehement denials) in the  New Zealand  Herald  , Times,   Guardian, The Advertiser and Los Angeles Times  when she died in 1988 (see Kennedy 1988: 1; Anon 1988d: 1; Anon 1988a; Anon 1988b; Martin 1988; Anon 1988c).In 1984, while on a cruise, a similarly iconic figure in the representational history of American mediations on the Pacific, Dorothy Lamour, also contrib-uted to the myth. On her first visit to the Pacific, Lamour recalled, ‘[t]he ship’s captain asked me if I’d like to meet the srcinal Bloody Mary from South  Pacific . Her name is Aggie Gray [ sic ] and she runs a hotel in Samoa. He invited  Aggie and the Queen of Samoa and two princesses to lunch, and we had a ball’ (Anon 1986: F4). According to the Grey family, and widely reported in New Zealand and US newspapers, the srcins of the Bloody Mary story lay in American author Willard Price’s disgruntlement (see Ellis 2013b; Maguire 1976; Horace Sutton 1966). In an interview in 1976, Aggie said: No, I don’t believe I am the srcinal of Bloody Mary. It all happened because of a disagreement with an American author called Willard Price. He came here to write about the islands and wanted to stay at the hotel, but he wanted special treatment – a separate little house away from the other guests, so he would not have to eat with them. I told him I didn’t have enough room. He was very angry. Later he wrote a book, ‘Adventures in Paradise’ [published in 1955].(Maguire 1976: 58)  Aggie is mentioned several times in Price’s book where she is described as the ‘boarding house keeper and prototype for Bloody Mary’, who inherits the ‘native house built for Gary Cooper in  Return to Paradise’   (Price 1956: 237). In the Tahiti section, in a story about how Errol Flynn met his first wife Tiger Lil, Aggie Grey is yoked together with real hoteliers like Tia Bates from Peru, as well as fictional characters like Somerset Maugham’s notori-ous Sadie Thompson in the short story ‘Rain’: ‘Down yonder there is a char-acter called Tiger Lil who is as colourful as Tia Bates, Aggie Grey or Sadie Thompson’ (Price 1956: 30). Whilst Maugham’s ‘Rain’ is set in Pago Pago,  Aggie lived in Apia, Western Samoa, but she once ran a bar called ‘Happy Hour’ in Pago Pago, from which she was purportedly deported in the early 1930s (Alailima 1988: 206). Characteristic of much of Price’s writing, and indeed that of other Euro-American writers of the pre- and post-war peri-ods,  Adventures in Paradise  recycles an older European literary romanticism in which real spaces in Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and the Cook Islands were repeat-edly mapped onto western figures, including people like Paul Gauguin and Pierre Loti, Charles Nordhoff and James Hall, with whom they had literary and cultural associations. Indeed, the interchangeability of these fictional and  Kirsten Moana Thompson 8 non-fictional characters, together with their literary referents, is so persistent in contemporary tourism and its promotional travel writing, that it might be considered a form of discursive neo-romanticism.In 1966, Horace Sutton of the Chicago Tribune  relayed the earliest version of the Bloody Mary srcin story that I could find, where Aggie refers to an unnamed ‘sourpuss’ writer responsible for the legend. Sutton describes  Aggie dancing a ‘torrid siva’ on a Vancouver P & O ship, and that ‘when the ship docked, the headline was ‘P and O Liner Arrives with Bloody Mary’ (Sutton 1966: I10). Frank Riley of the  Los Angeles Times  added the details that Aggie was on a cruise ship bound from Honolulu to Vancouver via San Francisco, and warmed up her siva with four preparatory whiskeys ‘just to get in the right mood for the party’ (Riley 1975). Because a reporter from the  Vancouver Sun  was aboard, the ‘story grew from there’ and ‘a legend was born’ with Aggie explaining the genesis of the myth as one born in alcohol: ‘it was those four whiskeys’ (Riley 1975). A year later, the  Australian Women’s Weekly  issued its own version of the story, quoting Aggie, and claiming that the events occurred in 1936, and not 1958:[t]here was that incident on the Oronsay […] It was the ship’s gala night  with 1200 at the party […] the band played the Fijian song ‘Isa Lei’ as I came on. I was dressed in tapa cloth. And I danced, and the crowd  went wild and yelled like lunatics. That night I danced till dawn then ate steak and eggs for breakfast. (Maguire 1976: 58)The story continues:[t]he next morning the steward knocked and said ‘Your tea lady’ […] he asked: ‘Mrs Aggie Grey … aren’t you Bloody Mary of the South Pacific?’ I said: ‘Not as far as I know.’ He said: ‘But everyone is saying you are – it’s in a book in the ship’s library and people are queuing up to read it.’ I asked to see it and it was  Adventures in Paradise . By the time the ship arrived in Vancouver, newspaper headlines were screaming ‘Bloody Mary is here.’ (Maguire 1976: 58) Reporter Frank Riley asked, ‘was Aggie Grey the inspiration for James Michener’s Bloody Mary? Only Aggie could have answered this question for a generation of South Pacific travelers, and Aggie has played it cool – not saying  yes, never quite saying no’ (Riley 1975).Michener’s own srcin stories for Bloody Mary shifted between the character coming from New Caledonia or Vanuatu. 2  In his autobiogra-phy The World is My Home,  Michener admitted ‘basing Bloody Mary on a Tonkinese plantation worker’ who was one of several indentured work-ers from North Vietnam (Tonkin) working on a plantation, to the west of Luganville in Vanuatu, belonging to a French copra grower Aubert Ratard, the partial model for South Pacific ’s Emile de Becque (Michener 2007: 149; see also Clarke 2005: 51). In ‘New Tales of the South Pacific’, Michener said there was ‘a long row of little cabins in which [Ratard]’s Tonkinese field- workers lived. One of these women, a betel-chewing woman with a profane  vocabulary, struck my fancy and became the character Bloody Mary in my novel about this part of the world’ (Michener 1987: 2). In 1986, Michener 2. Some of this confusion may lie in the fact that both Françoise Gardel and the unnamed Tonkinese worker were composite sources for Bloody Mary and both may have lived on Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Thurston Clarke claims that Michener paid Gardel to retire in New Caledonia, (correspondence with David Ellis and articles by Ellis [2008, 2010, 2013a, 2013b]). There are also Bloody Mary restaurants in New Caledonia and in Bora Bora, French Polynesia.  The construction of a myth 9  3. May incorrectly states that Aggie’s father was Scottish (he was English, from Lancashire), although May probably got this information from Michener himself who repeats the same inaccuracy (Michener 2007: 37). Even the Grey family has reproduced this error in a hotel leaflet (Aggie Grey’s Hotel, The Legend of the South Seas ). 4. Michener’s autobiography reveals that one of the cases he is sent to investigate in Western Samoa was the lovesick American general who had fallen in love with Aggie’s younger sister, Mary Croudace née Swann (reputed to be a great beauty in her youth), and for whom the road across the mountains of Upolu had been built ‘at great expense to the American taxpayer’, purportedly so that the general could be closer to her (Michener 2007: 38, 88). returned to Vanuatu for the first time since the war for an interview with television journalist Diane Sawyer (Sawyer 1999), where they revisited the former plantation where the houses of Ratard’s indentured Tonkinese labourers were still standing. According to Michener, another contender for the model of Bloody Mary was Françoise Gardel, another entrepreneurial hostess re-encountered by him on this visit (she was then 93 years old) (Clarke 2005: 51), whom he described as an ‘amazing French woman almost 20 years older than I … She was a buccaneer, a feisty woman who played the  American brass like a fiddle’ (Michener 1987: 2). The opportunistic, entre-preneurial nature so central to the fictional Bloody Mary is similarly echoed in Michener’s description of Aggie as ‘ebullient, effervescent, outrageous, illegal and terribly bright. She and her crew must have bilked the American forces out of a couple of million dollars worth of services, and never was  wartime money better spent’ (Michener 1978).  Yet despite Michener claiming that he had long finished writing the manuscript when he met Aggie, literary historian Stephen Jay May’s history of Michener’s career reports that he did the bulk of the writing of Tales of the South Pacific  at the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945, which was after he had visited Aggie the six or so times he acknowledged (May 2009: 66–67). 3   Although Michener claimed that he could not understand the genesis of what he termed ‘the Bloody Mary slander’ musing ‘[h]ow anyone could compare this charming afakasi  lady of Apia with the Tonkinese plantation worker of New Caledonia, who sold shrunken human heads for fifty dollars, is still mystify-ing to me’ (Alailima 1988: ix), elsewhere he would frequently say, ‘[b]ut Aggie could easily have been her model – the good parts anyway’ (Kennedy c. 1987; see also Bick 1998: 202). Aggie herself reported that she had asked Michener if she was the model for Bloody Mary and that ‘he was very non-committal […] He said if I was, it was only the nice part of the character. I was unhappy about being called ‘Bloody Mary’ but my children thought it was very funny’ (Maguire 1976: 59; see also Kennedy c. 1987; Bick 1998: 202). According to her granddaughter, Aggie Grey Jr., ‘Aggie was very angry that the name Bloody Mary had stuck. She wrote a strong letter to James Michener’ (Bick 1998: 202).  Aggie’s sister, Mary Croudace, hotel entrepreneur and owner of The Casino and other establishments, was also occasionally referred to as Bloody Mary. Croudace acerbically observed to the  New York Times  that ‘[t]here is no Bloody  Aggie in [ Tales of the South Pacific ]’ (Trumbull 1969: 21). 4  At Aggie’s request, Michener wrote ‘Love Letter to Aggie’ for her biog-rapher Nelson Eustis, to respond to the Bloody Mary stories once and for all, and this letter was published in Savali News  (Michener 1978). In that letter, although Michener says ‘Aggie was not the prototype of Bloody Mary; that  worthy Tonkinese was on paper long before I met Aggie’, his letter acknowl-edges her role in his characterization:  When I returned to New York to edit the manuscript of my first book and I needed a reference point as to what Bloody Mary would do or say, I simply recalled Aggie and had my answer ... it was Aggie, and she alone, who fortified my writing in the editing stage, who remained as the visualization of the island manipulator when the play was in formation, and who lives, in a curious way, as the real-life Bloody Mary. (Michener 1978; see also Eustis 1979: 117; Field 1997 and 2010).
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