Deborah Baxter Interview

Deborah Baxter: High Wind and The Lion

Deborah Baxter interviewDeborah Baxter appeared in two classic adventure films a decade apart. In 1965 she starred in “A High Wind In Jamaica” as one of several young children kidnapped by pirates. Although it’s an ensemble cast – featuring Anthony Quinn and James Coburn – Deborah is undoubtedly the main character.

It so happens that a filmmaker named John Milius had seen this movie, and would later cast Deborah in his 1975 sand-swept epic “The Wind and the Lion” (starring Sean Connery and Brian Keith) as President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. Coincidently, each film has the word “wind” in the title and center on tough, stubborn yet friendly pirates kidnapping children. And most importantly, both feature this beautiful, talented, and amazing actress.

A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA

deborah baxter imageHow many kids were up for the part of “Emily”?
They interviewed 2,000 girls for the part of Emily. The screenplay was written with Hayley Mills in mind however she was then too old to play the part.

What recollections do you have of landing the role?
At my initial casting we saw the Casting Director who decided who should be put forward to see the Director and Producer. I was then called back to a hotel in London. We were all put in alphabetical order so I was seated near the front. The room was brimming over. I remember Alexander Mackendrick getting to me and squatting down to chat. He then continued up the line, but kept coming back to me… At the end of the morning it was obvious that he was favouring me… I was then told if I remember rightly, that I was to do a screen test.

Although I didn’t do this straight away… I went to Pinewood Studios where I duly did the screen test with Brian Phelan, one of the crew on board the Clorinda, who played 1st mate… After lunch I was asked to stand in for Isabelle Deane’s daughter who was supposed to be auditioning for ‘Laura’ my younger sister. She didn’t want to audition… I think it was the following evening that the phone rang and Twentieth Century Fox offered me the job… My family was jumping up and down with excitement; I took it rather casually! A week later the film was cancelled as it was against the law to take children out of the country to work. So my father was asked whether he would like to bring the whole family out to Jamaica where they would discover me out there! I was told afterwards that Katharine Dotrice had been originally cast then paid off when they saw my screen test, but I am not sure whether this is true or not.

What scene did you do for the initial audition?
When Emily is suffering in The Captain’s cabin after the Marlon spike had pierced her leg and before the killing of the Dutch Captain… When we finally shot the scene in the film, Alexander Mackendrick kept telling me after every take, No Deborah, you can do better than that, I saw it in your screen test… I really don’t know what got me the part and what it was that Sandy Mackendrick saw in me. I think I was quite natural and didn’t try to act.

What do you remember of the storm scene when you’re chasing the cat?
The scenes of chasing ‘Tabby’… There were eight wind machines pointing at me! When we arrived on set which incidentally were the last shots to be taken in Jamaica, Sandy Mackendrick started up these huge propellers so that I was familiar with the noise. I was literally practically blown away. I felt really sorry for the cat, in fact she was given to me but I wasn’t able to bring her back because of quarantine. After every shot I was put into dry clothes. The falling off the banyan tree was done, of course, in three shots landing on a platform half way; then shooting again and landing on the floor. Poor Tabby, I really pulled her tail but she was fabulous.

Any funny stories about the monkey?
I, too, felt sorry for the monkey. But it did its job well and of course didn’t really fall off the rigging and wasn’t drunk!

How was it working with Anthony Quinn?
Anthony Quinn was fabulous. I didn’t meet him before shooting the first scene where Emily meets Anthony QuinnCaptain Chavez for the first time. So my look was really seeing him for the first time! Very clever tricks of the Director. I had actually met James Coburn in the morning; he shared my parasol from the sun and asked where he could get a drink. I remember asking Rosemary, the wardrobe mistress whether that was Anthony Quinn! I had no idea what he looked like. He [Quinn] directed me and helped me a lot in the scenes with him in the Cabin. He was very concerned where my career was going after the film and advised my parents. He wrote in my autograph book: To Emily, My Star! And in my sister’s: To my future sister in law! He was a truly lovely man.

James CoburnHow about James Coburn?
Well I didn’t have much to do with him. The sweet scene was fun, telling him off for eating Rachel’s sweets. His family was also in Jamaica and I think we played with them in the pool on our day off.

Was it fun sliding up and down the ship in the storm scene?
The sliding down the decks was shot in the studio. So lots of trick photography I am afraid! With the construction of the deck of the ship and camera rocking!

Any memories of the cabin scene when you’re sick?
Anthony Quinn helped me very much. He probably directed me in that scene along with Sandy Macendrick. He was such a warm, endearing man. A perfect father figure. What a great actor. I sadly couldn’t pluck up enough courage to go and see him when he was staying at the Hyde Park Hotel many years after. I know he cared for my future a lot and spoke a lot to my parents about it. He thought that I would go a long way… Well how funny is that…

What was the medicine, really?
The medicine was limejuice, and the makeup men kept coming to dab me with glycerin. It did take about eight takes if I remember but finally was in the bag before lunch.

When the old guy attacked you… Was this as scary as it looked?
Gert Fröbe was the man with his hands tied behind his back. ‘Goldfinger’! who James Bond never killed but Emily did! He was very smelly, I remember as he was stuffed full of pillows and was sweating! So stabbing him with the knife was easy – trying to get him off me! However I remember one take the blade of the knife omitted to go into the handle and he did yell for real!

What do you recall of the courtroom scene?
The Court scene was amazing. I remember entering the set when everyone was on set so they were all sitting in their places ready to shoot. My mother was with me and I remember a man calling out to her, Pam Fish (her maiden name was Fisher). He was the old callboy in the Theatre where my Mum and Dad met! 

How were you able to cry-on-demand (and/or what things did you think about) during the courtroom scene?
Alexander Makendrick made me run round and round the set and then he would shout ‘Rolling! Sound!’ Then push me into the witness box then shout ‘Action’… I did cry of my own accord and was very proud that I was able to do it… I actually thought if my Father was dying, how I would feel. And I cried.

Where were the ship locations filmed, a set or a real ship?
The ships were real. There were two. One a schooner and one, Clorinda (whatever that is). The Clorinda was then made up to look like a Dutch steamer. The Clorinda was used as the main sailing ship that was going back to England then the schooner was the Pirate’s Ship. When filming started they were taking the boats out onto the high seas, however… Whilst my father was on the beach with my sister, he started to talking to a man boasting that his daughter was on the ship at sea on the horizon, filming. The man turned round to my Father and said: “If that was my daughter I would get her off as soon as possible as those boats are not sea worthy.  It is me who has hired them out to the film!” After that, my Father forbade me to film out of the bay. He was known at the Producer’s nightmare… Good old Dad!

What was your favorite scene to do and why?
Wow, favourite scene!?  I really don’t know. My most ghastly scene was eating the sweets with Lila Kerdrova. They put toffees under the glazed fruit because I couldn’t stand the taste of the fruits! But after a few takes I felt incredibly sick! We finally got the scene in the bag and we broke for lunch… I really couldn’t tell you what my favourite scene was. Probably when all the kids were working with me, it was more fun!

What was the most challenging/difficult scene and why?
The most challenging scene was in the Captain’s cabin and the killing.

Have you kept in touch with any of the actors from this movie?
I first of all kept in touch with Henry Beltram as I think my parents were friendly with his. I remember staying as a reunion get together at Vivienne Ventura’s flat one Saturday night when we all got together which was fun. We all got on very well. In fact I have a photo of Martin Amis and I in the pool at Runaway Bay and we really look like brother and sister. I have since been in touch by email, thanks to IMDB, to Karen Flack who played Laura. I must get in touch with her again! Her parents, like my Father, were not keen for her to pursue in films.

THE WIND AND THE LION

How was it filming the birthday party scene with Brian Keith and John Huston?
The Birthday scene was the very first scene shot. John Milius had a few friends too as extras. He asked me to start filming as he thought that I would relax everyone and do it well! I didn’t know who Brian Keith was nor John Houston, can you believe! Yes we were all at the table. How amazing is that! This scene was shot in a hotel in Madrid, night shooting. Such fun having breakfast before going back to our hotel for a day’s sleep!

The next scene where Brian Keith is looking at the sketches of the bear – and you laugh when he says: “the bear looks like a hairy cow” – and then he stands up on the table and imitates the bear… What are some memories of being involved in this scene?
The growling bear scene went quite smoothly. Although one of the actors couldn’t remember his lines and was a bit weird, I don’t know who he was! A very bland and staccato way of speaking. Maybe he was a friend too! When I first started filming they said that they would definitely be dubbing my voice as my American dialect wasn’t very good! Carolyne McCoy – John Milius’ secretary and Darrell Fetty’s girlfriend at the time – took great pain in going over my lines and my intonations. It worked… They used my voice!

Was your line “Growl again, father” adlibbed or scripted?
Yes my line was scripted. ‘Growl again, Father!’ Father was always a difficult word to say, I always put too much R on Father.

What do you remember of the gun range scene?
I don’t have many memories of this scene however I do remember sitting with John Milius, John Houston and Brian Keith between scenes on their director’s chairs and John Milius talking about the next scene.

During the (final) scene when Brian Keith is reading the letter (under the stuffed bear), were you told exactly when to turn and leave or did you time this yourself?
I don’t remember in the final scene whether I was told to turn when I did. I think my direction was: See your Father, want to go up to him but decide he wants to be left alone.

What was your favorite scene to be in and why?

Probably the night shooting in the hotel in Madrid. You see I was really only on the Madrid shoot. I didn’t have to go down to Almeria, unfortunately. 

What were some of the most difficult/challenging scenes and why?
I didn’t have really any challenging scenes.  I just had to perfect my accent.

I will list the following actors and share whatever comes to mind:

Brian Keith BRIAN KEITH: He was always very kind and an extremely warm person. I enjoyed working with him very much. I really felt like his daughter.
John Huston JOHN HUSTON: It was amazing working with him, after I found out who he was!
Steve Kanaly STEVE KANALY: He was fabulous and I got very friendly with his girlfriend. They visited London and came to supper, I remember! I kept in touch with his girlfriend for a long while. She told me when he had done a pilot for a new television drama in The States and was hoping it was going to be a success… The Drama turned out to be DALLAS!
DARRELL FETTY: I knew his girlfriend [Carolyne McCoy] very well. We spent a lot of time together. Unfortunately I lost contact but thanks to you I will be able to get in touch again!
John Milius JOHN MILIUS: We got on very well. He had fallen in love with me in “A High Wind In Jamaica” and sent for me when he was casting in London… I remember my agents calling me with a very short time to get myself prepared! I was wearing my kilt that day and really didn’t have time to get ready for a casting! I definitely think he had a very soft spot for me! I also tried to keep in touch with him but with difficulty. I don’t believe he ever got my letters. He did say that he was working on another project that I would be perfect for but it never materialized.

What are you up to now?
I am now writing about the story of my grandmother, Peta Fisher. I was hoping to play my grandmother but they need a well-known person to sell the film. I am however hoping to have a part. I am greatly looking forward to this project and have actually found a Production Company who shares my enthusiasm.

It is a true love story set in the 1930’s when the Blue Train was the quickest most luxurious and above all the most legendary form of transport from Paris to the French Riviera. It’s reputation lives on immortalized in literature, films, buildings and restaurants and above all, in memories of true stories – this is one such story of the true exploits of Peta Fisher, who dared to race and beat that train. However, the effect of all the raised eyebrows among the society cronies around her pushed Peta further down a rebellious path. Her wild and taboo breaking behavior increased as did her determination to prove just what a woman could do to break the bounds of society’s expectations.

Interview by James M. Tate

LINKS:

Deborah’s official website: www.deborahbaxter.com

JMT’s Facebook fan groups… of Deborah’s films:

The Wind And The Lion

A High Wind In Jamaica


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