I had a good wallow in nostalgia last week. Sparked by an e-mail from the daughter of an old friend, Raquel Dieguez. It brought back memories of my days in Argentina in the seventies. Result was a telephone call.
Hearing Raquel’s voice again reminded me of those exciting and dangerous times. I had followed the trail of thousands of miscreants trying to escape their European problems, to South America. It wasn’t all that desperate, I suppose. My husband, Tonio, was well in with the Argentine motor racing fraternity as well as being international correspondent for the now defunct newspaper, La Razon. It was his suggestion we lit out for pampas new.
He wrote to his friend, five times world champion, Juan Manuel Fangio, and told him we were on our way. Fangio arranged an apartment for us in Calle Cordoba, a turning off the fabulous Avenida 25 de Julio in Buenos Aires. Half an hour after we had dumped our luggage in the hallway Juan Manuel arrived with a huge bunch of flowers and a real Argentinean welcome. After the time I had been having with the natives in England it was wonderful to get such a friendly welcome.
By the time Fangio left we had explained what we wanted and he had promised to help. Next day the Minister of Communications, Luis Sojit, rang and we had dinner with him. I told him that I had a script called El Ultimo Enemigo (The Last Enemy) and I wanted to find a producer who might be interested in making it with me. I also gave him a highly burnished account of my position in the film industry and in horror films in particular.He said he would be in touch.
A couple of days later he was on the phone with some pretty mind blowing stuff. He had found me a couple of producers and ….. La Presidenta, Isabelita Martinez de Peron, was interested in meeting me. Heady stuff! I had met late President Peron and Isabelita, when I lived in Spain, at parties in the exiled couple’s house in Puerto de Hierro just outside Madrid. I didn’t expect Isabelita to remember me. And she obliged. One of the producers was Hector Olivera who was already making a bit of a name for himself in Europe. Unfortunately he was in Lima at that time so Luis suggested we met Orlando de Benedetti who owned a company called Dinam and was also interested in breaking into the European market.
My meeting with de Benedetti, whose offices were just across the Avenida, was everything I could have asked for. Orlando was handsome, well dressed and ready to roll. He introduced me to his number one boy, Emilio Perina, in the huge boardroom. The room was decorated like a grotto with hidden lighting, stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a long table, a four inch chunk ripped out of a mighty Redwood tree. All a bit stagey but impressive nonetheless. I showed Orlando the script and he had a brief sotto voce conflab with his henchman.
The outcome was that we formed a company, CILA (Cine Internationale Latino Americano) and took offices in B.A’s. answer to Wardorf Street, Corrientes.
A couple of days later Luis Sojit telephoned to say that Isabelita wanted to meet me. It seemed she had a passion for horror movies. But wasn’t getting any. Horror films were banned in Argentina as being immoral. Especially mine. I met La Presidenta in her beautiful Residencia in Olivos on the outskirts of the city. We had the inevitable ‘Asado’ (barbecue) and she suggested that I got some of my films sent out so that she could see them. Sounded good.
Perina claimed that he had just the location El Ultimo Enemigo needed. In Uruguay. So we all bundled into de Benedetti’s Mercedes, took the ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia and then headed west towards Montevideo where Perina had a villa. It was almost sunset when we eased through the gates of a dark, sprawling house not far from the confluence of the Rio and the Atlantic. An awesome sight, the brown, muddy waters of the river carve a huge arc as far as you can see in the blue water of the Atlantic.
Next day Emilio arranged for some horses to take us up into the mountains. Which I found a little strange. During the long car journey down I had whiled away the time reading the tourist information brochure. The first words on the front page were, ‘No y montanas en Uruguay’ (there are no mountains in Uruguay). He wasn’t in listening mode so reluctantly I followed the others out to the horses. Not my favourite mode of travel, I’m afraid.
We plodded off across the billiard table flat country in the broiling heat without a smidgeon on the horizon suggesting the towering mountains described in the script. After about three hours we reined in beside what looked like a molehill with attitude. I did a Queen Victoria and was not amused. But Orlando seemed to think it was okay. Went on about camera angles and studio shots and things. I couldn’t see it myself but he was the man with the money so I reluctantly went along with it.
Next day we had an appointment with the owner of Uruguay’s largest newspaper, El Pais. He was an old friend of Orlando’s and laid on a real old home town welcome. I just sat there, open mouthed, while the men discussed how they were going to cooperate and what they were going to cooperate on. By the time we left there was an agreement on the table to make six films and a TV series. The TV series was based on an idea I had worked on previously about a young Welsh girl living in a children’s home who inherits a big estancia in Patagonia.
Back in BA I found a card from the shipping company saying that my package had arrived at Ezeiza Airport. I rang Luis Sojit and told him the news. He suggested that he came with me. As I said, the Hammer films were considered immoral in the Republic and it was a good job Sojit came along. The customs officer was all for impounding them but Luis did a little muttering and bribing and we were in the car and on the way to the city before anyone could say ‘corruption.’
When Isabel heard that the films had arrived she suggested she invited some friends round for an asado and then we watched the films in her private cinema. She hinted that there would be a few people there that might be able to help me sort out any problems I might come across while I was filming. It was all getting too much. At the rate things were going I would be competing with the Hollywood moguls for screen time in a matter of months. It says here!
NEXT WEEK: I spend quality time with the embalmed body of Evita Peron, Isabelita gets the chop in a chopper and de Benedetti does a runner.
Ingrid Pitt writes every week at Den Of Geek. You can find her last column here.