Category Archives: The Roots of Heaven

One year on … the Patrick Leigh Fermor Blog

I am back. Sorry that I have been so quiet for the last few weeks. I don’t have any real explanation. Excuses may range from work commitments through some form of ‘writer’s block’ (where has my muse gone?) to the genuine excuse of being totally absorbed by Miklos Banffy’s first volume of his trilogy – They Were Counted.

This is an exceptionally good book. I will write about it at greater length at some future date, but I do recommend it. He can sometimes get a little bogged down by Hungarian politics, but when he gets going, describing balls, duels, gambling and love, he really does have a very fine style. Paddy wrote the forward to the English translation whilst staying at Chatsworth during Christmas 1998. Much of the story is set in Kolozvar (Cluj) and our old friend the Hotel New York, where Paddy and Angéla went for a cocktail, is frequently mentioned.

We have just had a blog anniversary. The Patrick Leigh Fermor blog started in late March 2010. In that time it has reached almost the very top in any Paddy search you care to mention. There have been over 64,000 visits, 156 postings, 206 comments, and there are now well over 100 subscribers (you can sign up in the top right of the home page so that you receive future posts by email – no spam).

When I started I wondered if there would be any interest in our heroic and talented subject. There were just a few dozen visits in the first month. But visits grew rapidly to a peak of 9,400 in January 2011. We now track at nearly 7,000 visits a month on average so you are not alone in your interest in The Greatest Living Englishman.

I am extremely grateful to all of you who have got in touch with me with messages of support; offers of information; and especially to those who have sent me material to publish. I can assure you that there is much more material (I have over 60 items in various stages of draft) and it will come in a steady stream. To one of you, please be assured I remain your #1.

Finally, let’s not forget why we are here. Paddy is now 96 years of age and, as far as I can tell, in reasonably good health. I am sure we wish him all good health and pray that he is working as fast as he can on that third volume. It is without doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated books of the decade.

Why not visit some of our top posts?

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

Patrick Leigh Fermor – star of the silver screen?

On the Pontic shores where the snowflakes fall

I knew Patrick Leigh Fermor through his words, and he will know me by mine


New York Times Review – The Roots of Heaven (1958)


First published in the New York Times October 16, 1958

THE first two-thirds of “The Roots of Heaven,” which opened at the Palace last night with a benefit première for The Lighthouse, looks like a highly potential adventure film. An odd situation as been uncovered in French Equatorial Africa, some interesting characters have been assembled and some delicate lines have been drawn.

A grim Trevor Howard has been presented as a zealot with the annoying idea that men should do something insistent to stop the hunting and killing of elephants. These large beasts are the symbols of freedom and dignity in a world that’s too full of nonsensical killing, he has vainly preached at the pub. And then, with the authorities yapping at him, he has gone off into the hills with a tiny band of disciples to try to rally a full-scale crusade.

In his band are a couple of weird-beards from the far intellectual fringe and a violent pan-African organizer, whom Edric Connor plays. (The latter is against killing elephants only because he hopes to gain support for his political organization; he treacherously defects toward the end.) The band is later joined by Juliette Greco as a hotel “hostess” with a past and by a rapidly disintegrating boozer, blowzily played by Errol Flynn.

With a handful of natives toting rifles, these people have come down out of the hills, spanked a boastful female big-game hunter and spread leaflets proclaiming their aims. They are ready to defy the ivory-poachers when an intermission is announced on the Palace screen.

After the intermission, the final third of the film goes down the drain.

This is the more disappointing—and strangely surprising, indeed—because the elements, up to this point, have seemed so beautifully under control. While the screen play by Romain Gary and Patrick Leigh-Fermor, based on M. Gary’s book, could be firmer and less elaborate and garrulous in spots, it is studded with sharp dramatic incidents that accumulate and play extremely well, Under John Huston’s fine direction, the action moves along in splendid style.

More conspicuous is the rich production that Darryl F. Zanuck has arranged. There is an embarrassment of riches, as far as pictorial features are concerned. Most of the vivid outdoor action has been shot in Africa, in Cinema-Scope and color that catch the heat of the sun. And the cast is so large that Paul Lukas, Olivier Hussenot and Orson Welles—the last as an American television broadcaster—can be beautifully squandered in small roles.

Everything seems to be in order, until that final third.

Then the screen play just goes to pieces. The ivory-poachers do appear to raid a mammoth herd of lumbering elephants that the zealots are watching with glistening eyes. A battle takes place, the poachers win out and charitably let the zealots go free. And what do they do? They stumble off into the wilderness to an ending that is utterly vague.

Maybe some sort of allegory was intended to run through this film. Maybe the elephant lover was meant to be a modern Messiah, followed by feeble disciples and a Mary Magdalene. If so, the symbols are flimsy and the ideas are never firmed. There is no real dramatic implication, except that the elephant’s jig is up.

And the performances, which are forceful in the first two-thirds of the film, run progressively to twaddle as the survivors stagger toward the end. Mr. Howard appears to go crazy, Miss Greco slips into a drab decline and Mr. Connor, who has the one role with beef in it, is saved when he takes it on the lam. Eddie Albert comes in late as a news photographer when things are going to pot. He adapts quickly to disintegration.

“The Roots of Heaven” does not go deep in sandy soil.

The Cast

THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN, screen play by Romain Gary and Patrick Leigh-Fermor; based on the novel by M. Gary; directed by John Huston; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Palace, Broadway and Forty-seventh Street. Running time: 131 minutes.
Forsythe . . . . . Errol Flynn
Minna . . . . . Juliette Greco
Morel . . . . . Trevor Howard
Abe Fields . . . . . Eddie Albert
Cy Sedgewick . . . . . Orson Welles
Saint Denis . . . . . Paul Lukas
Orsini . . . . . Herbert Lom
Habib . . . . . Gregoire Aslan
Governor . . . . . Andre Luguet
Peer Qvist . . . . . Friedrich Ledebur
Waitari . . . . . Edric Connor
Baron . . . . . Olivier Hussenot
Major Scholscher . . . . . Pierre Dudan
De Vries . . . . . Marc Doelnitz
Madjumba . . . . . Dan Jackson
Haas . . . . . Maurice Cannon
Cerisot . . . . . Jacques Marin
Korotoro . . . . . Habib Benglia
Yussef . . . . . Bachir Toure
A. D. C. . . . . . Alain Saury
N’Dolo . . . . . Roscoe Stallworth
Inguele . . . . . Assane Fall
Father Fargue . . . . . Francie de Woff

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

Patrick Leigh Fermor – star of the silver screen?

When I first published the article about The Roots of Heaven, Jasper Winn wrote to me suggesting that we look at the film closely to see if Paddy made an appearance. This week Tim Todd made a comment suggesting that he had spotted Paddy.

In the 12th ‘episode’. around 5.25 in, a character comes around a corner and calls to those seated around “Listen everybody, they’ve spotted him…”  The character looks to me like it is being played by Paddy! I don’t notice the character in any other scenes, and Paddy is only mentioned as the script writer from what I can see – but it looks so like him on my screen. Anyone any thoughts either way?

Patrick Leigh Fermor's run-on part in The Roots of Heaven

Well, I had a further look and I am absolutely sure it is Paddy with his good looks, immaculate hair, clipped voice and the watch which features in the photograph on the back of Words of Mercury. I froze an image; no doubt in my mind (click on it to enlarge). To see for yourself go to Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven episode 12 of the You Tube embeds and then to time section 5.25.

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

Paddy recalls his time on set with Errol Flynn and Orson Welles for The Roots of Heaven

Paddy recalls his time on set with Errol Flynn and Orson Welles for The Roots of Heaven

Errol Flynn in The Roots of Heaven

In 1958, Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote the script for the film The Roots of Heaven, produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by John Huston. In 2001, he recalled some of his time spent on location, during the shooting of the film:

‘The heroine of the film was Juliette Gréco, to whom Darryl [Zanuck] was deeply attached. I had seen her earlier, spinning round dance floors like a beautiful raven-haired mermaid in caverns full of jiving existentialists in St.-Germain-des-Prés. She was very well read, loved literature, and was full of interesting and amusing stories about Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. She was a friend, too, of Raymond Queneau, whose books I had a passion for, and we shared a taste for the poems of Jacques Prévert. We became close friends, and still are.

After three weeks, we flew to Bangui, in what was then still French Equatorial Africa but was soon to become the realm of the wicked Emperor Bokassa. The little town clustered on the north bank of the Obangui River, a tributary of the Congo, and on the edge of a dense rain forest full of elephants—our main theme. A race of intelligent smiling pygmies dwelt there, armed with bows and arrows, twangling cheerfully on strange stringed instruments known as equatorial pianos.

John Huston and Darryl Zannuck on location

One day a small party of us were waiting for a canoe to take us somewhere, when a large crocodile was spotted, basking on an island in mid-stream. John [Huston], on the alert at once, dashed to his quarters and returned with a weapon about the size of a Bren gun, opened the front struts, flung himself down, took careful aim, and fired. The bullet kicked up a puff of sand just above the reptile, which leapt into the water and swam vigorously downstream. John got up, ejected the shell, and said, “Well, he’ll thrash around for a quarter-hour or so, maybe twenty minutes. But that’s a dead croc, kids.” The phrase gained immediate currency, sometimes altered to “That’s a dead kid, crocs.”

There were a lot of late parties, and at one of them—the last, as it turned out—I remember John singing “Johnny, I Hardly Knew You” and “The Streets of Laredo” with captivating verve. In the end, oblivious of forest dangers, I fell asleep under a baobab tree and woke up at dawn criss-crossed with hundreds of spiders, like the captured Gulliver in Lilliput.

On the last day of filming in the forest, enormous black clouds gathered and then broke in a deluge. Instantly soaked to the skin, we drove slithering and sliding back to Bangui and its one hotel, a modern skyscraper soaring above the treetops like an upended mouth organ. Indoors, the lights fused as we entered, and the floor was nearly a foot deep under a gleaming mattress of broken-off termites’ wings. A hundred termite-eating frogs were leaping in parabolas among their prey, and Juliette’s mongoose was whisking about in this sudden abundance with frogs’ legs sticking out of its jaws on both sides, peering round for more. The thunder sounded as though the sky were breaking in half, and the shuddering flashes of lightning lit up a vision of diluvial apocalyptic pandemonium.

Juliet Greco, Errol Flynn and Trevor Howard

The next day we were back on the Champs-Élysées and the rue de Rivoli.’

-recorded in ‘A Visit with Patrick Leigh Fermor,’ by Ben Downing, in The Paris Review, no. 165. From this website.

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

Some may not be aware that Paddy was pressed hard by Darryl F. Zanuck to be the scriptwriter for the 1958 film The Roots of Heaven, an adventure film made by 20th Century Fox, directed by John Huston and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. The screenplay was by Romain Gary and Patrick Leigh Fermor and is based on Romain Gary’s 1956 Prix Goncourt winning novel The Roots of Heaven (Les racines du ciel).

The film had a fine cast and starred Errol Flynn, Juliette Gréco, Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Welles, Paul Lukas, Herbert Lom and Gregoire Aslan. Paddy describes the negotiations and some of his time on set in Chad in letters to Debo Devonshire published in the book In Tearing Haste. I think Trevor Howard was drunk most of the time and Paddy appeared to be quite struck by the beautiful French actress Juliette Gréco. It was Errol Flynn’s last film

Set in French Equatorial Africa, the film tells the story of Morel (Trevor Howard), a crusading environmentalist who sets out to preserve the elephants from extinction as a lasting symbol of freedom for all humanity. He is helped by Minna (Juliette Gréco), a nightclub hostess, and Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a disgraced British military officer hoping to redeem himself.

I have a Spanish produced copy on DVD (English with Spanish subtitles available on eBay or Amazon) but the whole film (bar one scene) is available on You Tube. The quality is very good and you may like to watch it. It is scene eight that is missing.




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