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Vintage St. Pete: Hugh Boyd and HMS Bounty in Tahiti

Bill DeYoung

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Hugh Boyd in Tahiti, 1960. His buddy and future brother-in-law Wayne Dewar likely took this photo. Like many in the Boyd collection, it was shot on transparency (slide) film, and much of the color faded during six decades in storage. The black and white images in this story were converted from the original color-leeched slides. (See photo gallery at bottom of page.)

A man with an insatiable lust for adventure, Hugh Boyd spent much of his life as captain of HMS Bounty, the three-masted wooden sailing ship built for a Hollywood movie and moored in St. Petersburg, as a tourist attraction, for more than 20 years.

Every time Bounty, a working vessel that could travel under sail or via diesel engines, was called upon to travel somewhere on the globe, Hugh Boyd was ship’s master.

He resigned when Bounty, after changing owners, left its permanent berth at the St. Pete Pier in the late 1980s (it would continue to return seasonally for another decade). And he began a second chapter as a mountain climber, scaling – so he told his family – every high peak in Colorado.

After his death on Jan. 26, at the age of 86, his children Tom Boyd and Tara Beesley began the emotional task of clearing out the St. Petersburg home Hugh shared with his beloved wife Sharon, who’d died in 2013.

RELATED STORY: Vintage St. Pete: MGM’s Bounty

It was in the attic – what her dad called the foc’sle (forecastle) – that Beesley discovered well-preserved boxes of photographs Hugh Boyd had taken over the years from various sojourns hither and yon.

There were more than 200 photos from the South Pacific Island of Tahiti, during the production of MGM’s Mutiny on the Bounty in 1960 and ’61, starring Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris.

The studio had commissioned the ship’s construction, in a Lunenberg, Nova Scotia shipyard, for what would be the third cinematic re-telling of an actual 1789 rebellion aboard a British military vessel in the South Seas.

Twenty-five-year-old Hugh Boyd, from the nearby town of Dartmouth, was one of 22 Nova Scotians who signed up for crew duty; also aboard was his buddy Wayne Dewar, 21, from Hantsport. Wayne’s sister Sharon was Hugh’s sweetheart. Under Captain Ellsworth Coggins, Hugh began as an able-bodied seaman, while Wayne was made mess boy, serving up food for the crew.

I signed on for Bounty mainly to get the adventure. It seems like a wonderful opportunity to get in the South Seas, which must be everyone’s dream at one time or another. I can hardly wait to get there. They say those golden-skinned girls down there are really pretty.

Hugh Boyd to a CBC-TV interviewer/September 1960

He wasn’t far off – when Bounty sailed into Tahiti’s Maatvai Bay on Dec. 3, after a 7,000-mile voyage plagued by stormy seas and a shipboard fire – the crew was greeted by hundreds of curious locals, many of them women, barefoot and beautiful and bearing flower leis to hang around the sailors’ necks.

After three months at sea, this was quite a welcome sight for 22 young, healthy Canadian men.

But Bounty had arrived later than anticipated, after the Tahitian rainy season had started, so director Carol Reed (he would be replaced, later, by Lewis Milestone) shot what he could on dry days, with no ship in sight. MGM flew the film company back to England, for interior sequences. Actors, cameras etcetera would not return until March, after the rain stopped.

The company had laid down a rule about intimate fraternization with local females. But Brando, who famously did whatever he pleased, studio be damned, held frequent parties at his rented villa during the entire shoot. Many days, he showed up on set late, hung over, and in a bad mood.

The crew, meanwhile, bunked aboard the anchored Bounty. And some of them got around.

Tom Boyd says he sometimes asked his old man about the experience. “In all the drunken conversations I had with him, when I asked if he’d fooled around in Tahiti, he’d say ‘No … I don’t remember.’”

Wayne Dewar, however, got close to a local girl named Teretiaiti Tevahineheipoua Maifano, who worked as a singer on a cruise ship based in the nearly city of Papeete. Everyone called her Suzanne. “Wayne met Suzanne on a moonlit patch of Tahitian beach,” says Tom Boyd. “They fell in love, they say, at first sight.”

But Uncle Wayne, remembers Tara Beesley, “was also a bugger. I remember at his funeral, there were three ex-wives. He loved wine, women and song, and none of them flat. Great uncle, terrible father. These guys were characters.”

(Wayne and Suzanne married in Las Vegas, after Bounty had wrapped production, and settled in Nova Scotia. They divorced five years later.)

See the photo album at the bottom of this story

 

Once MGM returned, approximately 6,000 locals turned up to play “themselves” when filming commenced on the scene depicting Bounty’s arrival in Maatvai Bay. The Canadian crew members were tapped to play crewmen on the fictional Bounty, and other background roles.

“They asked the guys to grow out their hair and beards, so they could pass as rough and tumble characters,” Tom Boyd reports. “And they actually dyed Dad’s hair red so he could be in two different scenes. His hair was brown. They put a perm on him and dyed it red so he could pass for a different person altogether.”

Because he looked particularly smart in a British naval uniform, Wayne was hired as Brando’s stand-in.

They were 12-hour work days, six days per week. There was a lot of sitting around, sweltering in the Pacific Sun, while Brando sulked, or argued over script changes with the producer and director (this would be the most enduring legacy of Mutiny on the Bounty, which was released to lukewarm reviews in 1962).

On off hours, there wasn’t much to do but explore, or nap, or throw the occasional shipboard party.

“Dad was full of energy,” Tom Boyd explains, “so he hiked to the other side of the island, and in town he found a little place that sold beer, and a place that rented him a Vespa. So he started hauling beer back to the other side of the island.

“He convinced the cook to let him use the walk-in freezer, so he kept the beer cold and sold it for a tidy little profit. His beer was so popular that Marlon Brando specifically asked for Dad to bring him a cold one.”

(Years later, Tom says, Brando expressed a desire to purchase Bounty from the studio while it was in residence in St. Pete, and flew Hugh Boyd to California to talk about a transition. Nothing ever came of it.)

After sailing from Tahiti in mid-summer, Bounty, and the film company, stopped briefly in the Leeward Islands, Bora Bora and Hawaii for additional outdoor sequences. Although Hugh Boyd’s photographs aren’t dated, several seem to depict the area around Honolulu and other Hawaiian locales.

Curiously, few of the images show much in the way of cameras, or any of the other Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen equipment that had been hauled to the other side of the world. Similarly, few if any of the name actors appear amongst the photos.

Instead, Hugh – and his future brother-in-law, Wayne, who took the ones with Hugh in them – focused their early ‘60s lenses on their friends, and the day-to-day business of their life and work on the island. They depict casual moments on the beach, in the rigging, on the deck and belowdecks on Bounty, and include most of the crew in candid, free-spirited moments.

Hugh (left) and Wayne

Both of Boyd’s children believe these photos haven’t been seen in decades. Their father certainly never mentioned them; he probably forgot they existed.

The photos are staying with the family, but Beesley and Boyd are holding an estate sale Saturday and Sunday. Aug. 6 and 7 (Tom describes his father as a “real pack rat”).

Included in the sale, Beesley says, will be materials Hugh socked away from the Mutiny on the Bounty film shoot, more than 60 years ago. These include shell necklaces, straw skirts, wooden carvings, costume pieces and the sword he’s seen brandishing in one of the beach photos.

Most – not all – of it’s in good condition. The estate sale, at 115 15th Avenue North, will run from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. both days.

“In my heart, it’s just stuff,” Hugh Boyd’s daughter explains. “I don’t want it to be in my house hidden away. I’d rather it’s sprinkled around the city for others to enjoy, and if someone wants it, that makes me happy.”

WATCH THE SLIDESHOW:

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    Will Michaels

    July 30, 2022at3:14 pm

    Another great piece by Bill DeYoung connecting our city this time to cinema history. Well done!

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