Island History

Miss Sadie Thompson

1953’s “Miss Sadie Thompson” — with its exterior scenes filmed on Kaua‘i, and starring Rita Hayworth, Aldo Ray and Jose Ferrer — was based on English writer William Somerset Maugham’s short-story masterpiece “Rain,” first published in 1921.

Prior to the making of the ’53 version of Maugham’s classic, adaptations already produced included one Broadway show in 1922 and another in 1935 starring Tallulah Bankhead.

“Sadie Thompson,” a musical, had also played on Broadway in 1935, and Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson had performed the heroine role in films.

The 1953 rendering has Miss Hayworth in the featured role of Sadie Thompson stranded by a ship’s quarantine at a Marine outpost in American Samoa, amid sweltering heat and heavy rains shortly after World War II. 

There, her vivacious beauty sets the veteran Marines’ hearts aflutter. One Marine in particular, Sgt. Phil O’Hara played by Aldo Ray, falls for her and remains steadfastly in love. She’s not deterred, even after her disreputable past as a call girl at Honolulu’s Emerald Club, from which she is fleeing, is exposed by self-righteous missionary Rev. Davidson, portrayed by Jose Ferrer.

About 100 local extras were recruited. Movie sets included a miniature Marine camp built at Kukui‘ula consisting of two tents and a quonset hut. At Coco Palms in Wailua, a church, bar, hospital and native village were built, and Grace Guslander, the proprietor of Coco Palms, prepared a Tahitian lu‘au celebration for about 200 technicians and singers on the property.

In Hanalei, scenes at the pier and the Wilcox house were filmed. Other film locations were Charles Rice’s property at Kalapaki, now the site of the Kauai Marriott, and the nearby Kuboyama Hotel. 

Despite having just recovered from a severe cold, Rita Hayworth put forth a typically dynamic performance. Pau hana was May 30.

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