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Free Content The construction of a myth: Bloody Mary, Aggie Grey and the optics of tourism

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This article examines the discursive circulation of stories in journalism and travel writing over the last fifty years that linked leading Western Samoan hotelier Aggie Grey to South Pacific’s iconic Tonkinese, Bloody Mary. Made famous by Juanita Hall in the Broadway musical (1949–1954), and subsequent cinematic adaptation (Joshua Logan, 1958), Bloody Mary first appeared in James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific (written 1944–1946, published 1947). The careful marketing and growth of the Aggie Grey brand both before and after her death in 1988, exemplifies the close economic relationship between the development of tourism in Samoa in the post-war years and the American film and celebrity industries, with the hotel in Apia providing accommodation, logistical and catering support to Hollywood productions and film stars from William Holden to Marlon Brando. My examination of an origin myth linking a charismatic historical figure with an iconic fictional character is undertaken not to ultimately suggest any one-to-one relationship between the two, but rather to demonstrate a remarkable persistence of a Pacific romanticism. In what I name as the optics of tourism I¬†join with earlier scholars in suggesting that we must be more attuned to accounting for the affective power of visual media and the ways in which Hollywood plays a continuing complex role in cultural memory, tourism and popular culture.

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Keywords: Aggie Grey; Bloody Mary; James Michener; Rodgers and Hammerstein; Samoa; South Pacific; tourism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Victoria University of Wellington

Publication date: April 1, 2014

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