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When Hollywood came to Cork

Wednesday, 1 February, 2017

On Monday and yesterday here, our topic was the impending sale of Luggala, the beautiful 18th-century Irish house in County Wicklow. Sotheby’s International Realty want $29 million for the estate, an incomprehensible sum for many people today and an unfathomable amount for the creative types who once found refuge in Luggala.

Claud Cockburn was one of these and his Wicklow adventures were recalled by his late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. Claude, author of Beat the Devil, met John Huston in Luggala and made a pitch for the novel’s screen potential. The Hollywood director was impressed and soon afterwards he made his way to Youghal, the ailing port on the Cork coast, where the Cockburns lived precariously:

“By the time Huston and his wife came down to Youghal to talk more about the screenplay he couldn’t read Beat the Devil on the phone, not ours at least, because it had been cut off for non-payment of bills. Telegrams shuttled back and forth between Youghal and Hollywood and finally the offer came: £3,000 for rights and screenplay, or a lesser sum up front, against a greater, but as yet insubstantial reward — the famous ‘points’ — in the distant future. My father naturally took the lump sum on the barrel, used some of it to plug the roof and appease the bailiffs and then went to work with Huston on the screenplay.

The film had a sumptuous cast: Bogart, Peter Lorrie, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley. When it finally got to Youghal there was a great to-do in the form of a grand screening at Horgan’s Cinema. The people of Youghal, not entirely without reason, found it incomprehensible but applauded heartily, none more so, I imagine, than the bailiffs and other representatives of the commercial sector of the town.”

But there was a fly in the ointment. As the film’s credits rolled, the screenplay was attributed to Truman Capote, “from a novel by James Helvick.” Who was this James Helvick and how was he related to Frank Pitcairn, Patrick Cork, Kenneth Drew and Claud Cockburn? Or were all they the same person? The answers can be found here tomorrow.

Beat the Devil


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