BLOODY MARY'S MODEL NEVER LIKED MICHENER'S CHARACTER

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By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 17, 1997 - Agence France Presse)---If there was one character from the books of James Michener who will live long after him it will be "Bloody Mary" -- as will the stories of who he used as his model.

Michener died in Texas Thursday.

Samoa's hotelier Aggie Grey lived for years with the image of the colorful but crude Tonkinese woman from Michener's best-seller, Tales of the South Pacific, which went on to be the basis of the Broadway musical South Pacific.

Another American writer, Willard Price, may have instead been responsible for Aggie's Bloody Mary appellation.

Grey, a unique and lively character, did know Michener when he was a naval historical officer based in American Samoa in 1945.

At the time, his Tales manuscript was already written.

After years of being labeled Bloody Mary, Grey grew weary of it and used to produce a letter written by Michener explaining how he used Aggie.

"A naval man was considered reasonably intelligent if he could wangle, under any pretext whatever, a trip to British Samoa, and especially Apia, where he could lodge at Aggie Grey's hotel, eat some decent food, get some good Australian beer and listen to the wild stories Aggie told," Michener wrote.

"I managed to reach Apia half a dozen times, always with a gasp of relief and a cry of joy at seeing dear Aggie once again.

"She was ebullient, effervescent, outrageous, illegal and terribly bright."

Michener said she must have bilked the American occupation forces out of a couple of million dollars, adding; "The catalogue of her manipulations would fill a small book, and of her kindness a library."

Michener said when he returned to New York he had to edit his Tales manuscript and needed a reference point as to what Bloody Mary would do or say.

"I simply recalled Aggie and had my answer.

"Aggie was not the prototype of Bloody Mary; that worthy Tonkinese was on paper long before I met Aggie.

"But it was Aggie, and she alone, who fortified my writing in the editing stage, who remained as the visualization of the island manipulator when the play was in formation, and who lives, in a curious way, as the real-life Bloody Mary."

Grey complained she became Bloody Mary when Price, an adventure writer, stayed in her hotel in 1957. He wanted to stay in a particular villa but, as she had booked it to a honeymoon couple, she would not let him have it. He rewarded her by writing a newspaper column in the U.S. saying Aggie was Bloody Mary.

Later Michener wrote a forward for Fay Alailima's biography, Aggie Grey, A Samoan Saga. He wrote that he was astonished Aggie Grey ended up having to live with the legend.

"How anyone could compare this charming afakasi (half-caste) lady of Apia with the Tonkinese plantation worker of New Caledonia, who sold shrunken human heads for fifty dollars, is still mystifying me," Michener wrote.

Aggie Grey died in 1988.

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