The Ingrid Pitt column: Coming Home

Ingrid takes us on the final part of her amazing South American adventure...

Please note: this extraordinary story is the third and concluding part of Ingrid’s adventure. It’s well worth checking part one and part two first! 

Our stay in Montevideo had been a exercise in futility, but with the political situation in Argentina settling down, Tonio and I had decided to return to Buenos Aires.

But first there was the growing problem of funding. We had decided that Tonio should return to London to try and raise some cash and drop Steffie off at her school at the same time. I busied myself getting ready for the move back to BA. Raquel told me that our apartment was still intact with the rent paid for another couple of months so there was no problem there.

Tonio wasn’t having it quite so easy. He spent his days dodging from office to office trying to raise some interest in our proposition. Everybody seemed interested in our attempt to open up the Argentine film market but with the current unstable military situation and the diarrheic inflation in that country they wanted to wait a month or two before making a commitment. 

Ad – content continues below

David Hemming of Hemdale Productions heard about Tonio’s efforts and asked him to come and see him. David wasn’t interested in what we were doing in South America. He had bought an option on a musical called Evita and wanted to know if we could raise some funds there. That was about as good as it got.

Tonio decided to take a second mortgage on the house. But that was going to take over a month as well. At the weekend he went to Brands Hatch. More to take his mind off the current situation than expecting to sort out our problems. As he was leaving he met Robin Ellis. Robin was a fellow member of the Herts & Essex Flying Club. A rich young man with playboy tastes. Tonio told him what he was doing in South America. Robin thought about it then offered to pick up the expenses while he decided if he wanted to get more involved.

Two weeks later Tonio and Robin turned up in Montevideo. The following Monday we hopped on the ferry across the Rio de la Plata for Buenos Aires. It was soon obvious that the De Benedetti /Perina connection had gone forever. Fortunately Raquel had been keeping Hector Olivera sweet and arranged a meeting with him.  He didn’t hang about. He introduced us to a young, macho action director, Gunter Jeanee, and then took us to meet his friend Alex.

Alex owned a film processing laboratory called Alex Laboratories. Argentina’s inflation was running at something like 2000% at that time but Alex was making a mint out of processing Hollywood films. He wanted some way of laundering his dollars without having to put them through the Argentine banking system where they would be converted into Pesos and subject to the crippling inflation. He promised to provide the film stock and processing for part of the action. 

Next we visited the film studios out by Palermo Park, close by the Children’s Village built by the indefatigable Evita Peron. The studio was small but had an amazing backlot filled with antique cars and wagons and all sorts of junk that had built up over the years. It got my vote. Now Olivera attached a producer to the project, Juan Sires, and suggested we looked for locations around the San Juan area in the foothills of the Andes. Another friend was the Governor of the province.

The Governor, a highly flamboyant character, loved the idea of having a film shot in his back garden and instantly offered to lend us his helicopter so that we could have a look around for suitable locations. For the next week we zoomed around the country visiting villages and sites in the mountains which had no roads leading to them.  High in the mountains we saw massive rock formations and swooped across lava fields which looked like endless grey eiderdowns.

Ad – content continues below

Back at the Governors’ HQ we mentioned that we had found everything we wanted except a high structured railway bridge. He was up for that. The very next morning we all piled into a minute Renault and pointed the wheels at the desert. The Renault struggled manfully but wasn’t up to six in the car and the drifting sand. Every few hundred yards we had to leap out and haul it from the soft sand. After a couple of hours of this the ill-used car expired and we found ourselves in the middle of the desert. Forward or backward?

In the distance was the  railway line we were looking for. We decided to make for that.  A train came out of the west. Salvation! We jumped up and down and waved like mad. The passengers waved back and the train disappeared into the misty east. 

Another decision. East or west? Someone argued that the train must have come from somewhere so we should go west. I didn’t feel like arguing. We plodded along the line in the sweltering heat and were at last rewarded with the sight of a heat-hazed building. It turned out to be a station. There seemed to be nobody around. So we went around the back and found a fat, sun-tanned man stretched out on a leather sofa in his underwear. When he saw me he did one of those Tom & Jerry takeoffs and disappeared into a shack at the back. A few minutes later he reappeared wearing the full regalia of a Station Master.

What we hadn’t known was that the Governor had laid on a surprise party for us that evening. The surprise was on him when we didn’t turn up. Next day he was not amused and we decided that we had just about worn out our welcome in San Juan so we said goodbye and jumped aboard a flight for Buenos Aires.

It was time to get the project kickstarted.  It was decided that I should take El Ultimo Enemigo to the Admiral in charge of Film making to get his blessing. Only he didn’t bless it. I suppose it wasn’t the most tactful proposition we could have put to him. The film is about a President who is overthrown by a military Junta and his daughter rouses the country to throw the military out. So we tried him with the idea of a Vampire film. Another No-No. 

At last I wheeled out the TV series, La Gauchita, that we had laid on El Pais. He liked that.  Fortunately Olivera also went for it as well. What was even better was that he was happy with Steffie playing the part of La Gauchita. We sent for her immediately. Meanwhile we auditioned actors and sorted out the wardrobe and the million other things that have to be sorted out before the camera turns over.

Ad – content continues below

Steffie arrived a week later and was introduced to Cacho who was to be her pal on the film. Cacho was a fantastic horseman. Steffie could ride – English style. Cacho took her education in hand and before long she was riding like the wind as well.

Herbie Henderson was another who had survived the revolution. While hundreds of people who upset the Junta and students who just wanted to make their mark disappeared from the streets he had managed to keep his sales figures up and was ready to go. Filming started immediately at the studio. It was wonderful working with Steffanie. It was also wonderful to be detached from the mayhem of murder on the streets as the Militaristas tried to quell the naturally rebellious Argentinos.

The time had come for Herbie to put his money where his mouth was. Nothing materialised so I went to see him. I found him in a bit of a state. Evidently he had had a high octane quarrel with his wife and she had walked out. He begged me to come back on Monday when he would be more in the mood to sort something out. I didn’t like it but in the circumstances there was very little I could do.  Monday came and Tonio went to get the cheque. Instead he was handed a letter. Herbie and  his wife had patched up their differences and left for a second honeymoon in Paris. He would sort out the business when he came back. Olivera was sympathetic but adamant that he wasn’t prepared to go any further unless we injected some cash. We guessed that the military might be putting some pressure on him and that it was useless to argue.

The situation, politically, wasn’t getting any better. That night we were awaken by the sound of gunfire. Outside our apartment block the police had thrown a barrier across the road and were rounding up anyone they could get their hands on. Anyone who attempted to run away was shot. Nothing unusual! 

Next morning we heard that the ‘criminals’ had been stood in a group on a railway line and had grenades thrown in amongst them. So far, as foreign nationals, we hadn’t had any problems but the arrests on the streets and in the home were getting more and more all encompassing and we didn’t feel like ending up with our stomach ripped out and our feet in a slab of concrete on the bottom of the Parana – so we decided it was time to go home.  At the time we thought we had wasted two years of our lives. Later we thought of it as a grand adventure and wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Ingrid Pitt writes every week at Den of Geek. 

Ad – content continues below