By Steve Bergsman
Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books, lived on the northern coast of Jamaica, and when it came time to film the iconic scene in "Dr. No" where Ursula Andress steps out of the water flaunting everything she could in a movie fit for families, he suggested a spot down the road from his estate. The place is called Frenchman's Cove, and it is still a relatively unspoiled and remote beach in the Port Antonio region of the island.
More recently, Tom Cruise canoodled Cameron Diaz in the movie "Knight and Day" on Frenchman's Cove Beach. When not filming scenes with beautiful co-stars, Cruise resided at the beautiful Trident Hotel in Port Antonio. He wasn't the only Hollywood film star to relax at the Trident. Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Denzel Washington, among many others, have stayed there. Washington even filmed part of his movie "The Mighty Quinn" there. Other film stars have been luxuriating in the Port Antonio area for 70 years.
Port Antonio sits on the extreme northeastern coast of Jamaica, about as far from the more well-known tourist venues of Montego Bay and Negril as you can get in Jamaica. Now, I can't say for sure that Port Antonio was the first major tourist stop on the island, but the leisure visitor trade goes back to the end of the19th century, when the island's banana king, Lorenzo Dow Baker, thought wealthy Americans would enjoy the beauty of Port Antonio and heavily marketed the place to the moneyed crowd.
By the mid-20th century, the term "wealthy Americans" included Hollywood stars. Of the many who visited, the one most associated with Port Antonio was the swashbuckling actor of the 1930s and '40s, Errol Flynn. The mythology of Flynn goes like this: Back in 1946 he was sailing his yacht through the Caribbean when he was forced to take cover from a storm in Port Antonio. He so liked the place that he is said to have made the comment, "Port Antonio is more beautiful than any woman I have known."
Flynn, who often played larger-than-life characters such as Captain Blood, Robin Hood and Gen. George Custer on the silver screen, had a private life that was fairly larger than life, as well. He came to Port Antonio, bought a hotel and a ranch, and again, according to the mythology of Flynn, won nearby Navy Island in a card game.
Port Antonio's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years. For 30 years after Flynn's arrival the region attracted the rich and famous from all over the world, from oil sheikhs to royalty. Then with the advent of mass tourism to Jamaica, the Hollywood crowd moved elsewhere. However, Port Antonio remains such a lush and lovely location that many iconic movies were filmed here
Since I already mentioned Frenchman's Cove Beach, let's revisit it. Still considered one of the best white-sand beaches in Jamaica, the cove remains remote and undeveloped. The beach is nestled by thick coastal forest and opens only gradually to the wide sea beyond. On the west side of the beach a river flows down from the mountains until at Frenchman Cove it meets the saltwater of the sea.
Trees overhang the river, and some adventuresome folk have constructed swings that hang just inches over the water. Some swings are easy to access, some aren't, especially as the river water flows quickly at this point on its journey to the sea.
The cove is naturally protected, and a person can walk far from shore toward the sea and still have his or her head above water. To the east of the beach, tucked into the landscape, is a restaurant that will gladly deliver to beachgoers.
One of the most famous movies shot in the Port Antonio region is the Brooke Shields opus "Blue Lagoon," about a young woman stranded on a remote island with a handsome young man. That movie was shot at a location appropriately called Blue Lagoon.
Personally I found the waters of the Blue Lagoon more murky-turquoise than true blue, and whatever exotic remoteness the film portrayed has been long compromised by the inroads of tourism. The approach my driver took to the Blue Lagoon was cluttered with makeshift structures inhabited by vendors of all sorts. Besides swimming in the Blue Lagoon, the popular thing to do is take a boat ride around it — we are talking about very small craft, not much bigger than rowboat or canoe.
It all looked a bit dubious to me until a young couple approached the dock area. The handsome man was barefoot and wore a brightly colored baggy swimsuit. His lovely partner wore a tiny bikini that strived to cover the parts of her body that were supposed to be covered in public. The couple went to the water's edge, stepped back a few feet, counted down from three to one and then ran and leaped into the Blue Lagoon. Now that looked like fun.
When talking about movie locations in Port Antonio, the most fun spot is a place about a half-hour from the port called Reach Falls. The perfectly formed, deep-forest waterfall has been a backdrop in a number of movies, most famously "Cocktail," the 1980s hit movie about the carefree life of bartenders.
The path to the falls is cut along the wall of a cliff and makes for a relatively easy and short walk into a ravine, ending at the base of the neatly symmetrical waterfall. I was told there are caves naturally cut into the rocks behind the falling water. The height of the falls is about a story or two, so if one dives into the falling waters, it's not too much of a pounding. If you are not in the mood for swimming, then you can climb along the rocks to the right of the falls and get close enough to feel the thrill. Be careful — the rocks are slippery.
Today, probably more videos are shot in Jamaica than movies, and that's because the new world of celebrities is made up of not so much Hollywood stars but pop musicians. If you want to rub shoulders with some of the most famous — remember the Trident Hotel I mentioned earlier. Recent guests included Beyonce, Usher, Jay Z and Fantasia.
Jay Z may have "99 Problems," but none of them were at the Trident.
WHEN YOU GO
The nearest major airport is Kingston, but it is still a rough, two-hour drive to Port Antonio whether you take private car, van service, taxi or bus.
The Trident Hotel is quite a stunner but it was a little pricey for me, so I stayed down the road at the Goblin Hill Villas, which, as the name implies, consists of villa residences with spacious accommodations: www.goblinhillvillas.com.
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.