| NEW ZEALAND TV WEEKLY||October 21, 1968 pp. 8-11 & 19 |
|Renowned in Hollywood for his delight in isolation, Raymond Burr revels in the freedom afforded him on visits to the island of Naitauba, a tiny, 4,000-acre refuge which he bought two years ago, and which he is currently engaged in developing.|
A Man Who Needed His Own Island
By Ellen Torgerson
|Piled high on a table beside Raymond Burrs bed is his night-time reading matter. Strewn all over his bed is more of the same kind of literature.|
Before he wearily puts out the light at 9 p.m. sharp, Burr has tried to read most of it.
The giant supply is not new scripts for movies or Television, not current novels, nor current movie magazines with his picture on the cover and a story about his life inside. These are weather reports, agricultural reports, crop reports, new breeds of cattle reports, pest-control reports, inter-island transportation reports, whats-in-the-sea reports, tree-planting reports and reports on how the trade winds are running. And perhapsfor lighter readingstudies of the people of the South Pacific.
The one-time lawyer Burr of Perry Mason and the detective Burr of his new series, Ironside, has a new rolehis most happy and serious role.
This is the island-plantation owner Burr who has finally found a refuge from his harried, harassed Hollywood life on his own island in the South Pacific.
Burr is the owner of Naitauba, one of the 300 tiny islands in the Fiji group. He bought it a couple of years ago when it was put up for sale by the wife of a part-German, part-Fijian planter whose family has owned the island for a hundred years.
We went looking for the island by boat two years ago, says Burr. We sailed during a bad storm and got lost. I picked a direction arbitrarily at that point and we found ourselves in Naitaubasuddenly. It sat way out by itself in the ocean. What a sight! I bought it before I ever landed on it. I think I would have bought it if it had been bare rock.
| As the courtroom giant, Perry Mason, Raymond Burr was seen in one episode with a great actress from a past Hollywood eraZazu Pitts.|
Burr has always done a lot of travelling in the South Pacific. It is an area he roams when he goes to entertain the troops in Vietnam and hed been looking for a retreat for a long timea place where no one could get him on the phone or drop in on him. He has finally found what he was searching for at Naitauba. I have peace here I have nowhere else in the world, says Burr. Coming to the island for me is coming home. I could spend a full five years here at a time, he smiled. I could spend five hours just talking about the place.
|There isnt anyone in the world who has visited here, he says, who doesnt want to come backor just stay. And getting there is quite a trip.|
If you get seasick, airsick or carsick, Naitauba isnt the place for you.
It is more than an 11,000-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport to Naitauba. It takes 26 hours altogether, using for the final leg of the trip from Suva, a hired boat that has to
negotiate a tricky coral reef and an often boiling sea.
I dont mind any of these problems, laughs Burr. Anyone who can stand the Los Angeles freeways, can stand the trip to Naitauba.
He feels fine in any mode of transportartion so he comes to Naitauba whenever he gets the time.
Not as much as Id like, he says, sadly. But when
I can nothing will keep me from coming to the island.
| After a demanding day at the studios, Raymond Burr invariably settles down to several hours of paper work settling business matters connected with his newly acquired island of Naitauba in the Fiji group.|
|By now, Burr is a millionaire, and he doesnt have to work. But he would never give up his Television and film career. He loves workhard, tiring work. And when he is on the island he works, too. But working is fun there, he says. It doesnt matter what youre doingfishing, checking to see if the fences are in good shape, taking part in a cattle round-up or watching the Fijians dance and sing their beautiful songs. Burr runs the
plantation when he is there, the same way he runs his life as an actor and a
businessmanlike a Roman chariot out to win the race.|
He likes paradise all right, but he want to turn his idyllic island into a happier place for the people, and eventually for all the Fijis. I want to improve the working conditions, the housing conditions, the sanitary conditions, he says. I want to plant new trees in place of the dead coconut trees so that more land will be productive. Gradually he will plant sandalwood, raintrees and Honduras mahogony trees in the places where the old coconuts have died and fallen to the ground. Japan could use all the pulp from my trees right now, he says.
But he does not mean
that he wants to turn his tropical island into a modern resort. Just the opposite, says Burr. For instance, a bulldozer can do more havoc than any other modern piece of equipment. I wouldnt employ it in trying to make a scenic highway through the island. But to widen a narrow road is fine. Or to use a lorry to carry a 250-pound sack of coconuts to a shed is good. Why should a man break his back carrying such a sack two miles?
Want a description of Naitauba? Its three miles wide, between 3,000-4,000 acres in all, of which 1,500 are ploughable and plantable. There are many beaches with beige-pink sand running into the pellucid green-blue waters of the Pacific. There are delicately graceful palm trees, limestone cliffs with caves hollowed out of them, a live coral reef, lagoons, and an atoll with its highest point a mere 610ft.
There is a rain forest in the middle of the island, and
tropical rains fall heavily at 4 p.m. each day almost on the dot in November, December, and January. We have to think of getting better storage tanks for the rain, says Burr, furrowing a brow, so we can irrigate the year round.
The islanders (138 of them) living in Naitauba now are descendants of cannibals and headhunters. But they have forgotten a warlike and ferocious past, according to Burr, and are as gentle and amiable a people as anywhere on earth. I admire them, he says simply, I admire their culture, their painting, their weaving techniques, the magnificent houses that they build of something they call sennet wood. His picturestwo huge albums of the islandshow the beautiful designs the Fijians are able to do with wood. We are actually re-teaching the people on our island their old crafts, he says. We want to
preserve their chants and certain native dances that have been going out of fashion.
Burr also mentions a native drink called Kava that he
would like to preserve. I wish I could bring it into this country, he says
with a great laugh. Its made out of the Kava root and pounded down hibiscus flower. Its a great tranquilliser. It numbs your tongue and makes it sting at the same time. But, he added it never makes anyone mean, hostile or drunk. Not a bit like alcohol, he stresses.
|Burrs house is a solidly built one of wood, painted glittering white, with a corrugated tin roof. All the houses on the island and in the Fijis
generally, have tin roofs. Thats to keep hurricane winds out. Its just one room, says Burr, with a enclosed veranda running all around it. Ive made a room for myself out of part of the veranda. At night I have to turn on the air-conditioning. I dont like to use the generator during the day.|
|His room is furnished with a tallboy, bed, camphor chest,
lowboy and reading table. Everything runs out at an angle, says Burr. Thats how I can get all that furniture in a small space. Eventually Ill build onto it, he says.Eventually!|
Burr has been renowned in Hollywood not only for his acting ability but for his desire for privacy, his delight in isolation, his need to continually get away from it all. Hes been known to move from his Hollywood apartment, to his dressing-room at Universal Studios, to a friends house, then to an apartment he keeps in San Francisco in a matter of months. He needed the island. And unlike most people who cant afford to indulge their fantasies about private islands, Burr did.
Being able to afford the island helped.
This Week: Barbara Cooper, of Wellington.
|Sacrificing Credibility For The Storys Sake|
|So Perry Masonsorry! Raymond Burris back. Perhaps that was a rather snide remark because although the extra wide shoulders are there, the face has suffered a change. There are more lines, more grey hairs above.|
In Ironside, the story line has been updated and so has the treatment. More sophisticated repartee keeps the viewer aurally alert and the mini-skirted assistant has the male viewers eyes glued to the screen. There is the now familiar ploy of putting a Negro among the featured players.
Ironsides three young assistants burgeon like vines around their monolithic support. The old maestro in the wheelchair pulls the rabbit out of the hat for them before they have even established that the bunny is there.
The most successful plots have been cast in the classic whodunnit pattern: the least satisfactory, where one of the team has had some personal involvement in the story. In To Kill a Cop, for example, the young sergeant staked himself out as the goat to catch the tiger. But in doing so, he made so many stupid moves that, logically speaking, that should have been the end of his part.
Again, in the episode Tagged for Murder, it seemed highly unlikely that any police officer would allow his unit to walk into a warehouse, where criminals are hiding, strung out in a line that could have been picked off with the greatest of ease.
I like Ironside because I enjoy the classic detective story, but I dislike credibility being sacrificed for the sake of the story line. And I wishhow I wishthat in close-up, Raymond Burr could offer more than those two expressions of his: blandly smiling and inscrutable.