Seven Seas to Calais (1962)
Rod Taylor plays Sir Francis Drake in this swashbuckling historical adventure.
It's an Italian film (officially titled "Il Dominatore Dei Sette
Mari") with a full cast of Elizabethan-era characters.
Perhaps the biggest drama happened off-screen, thanks to Rod's
romance with Anita Ekberg. More on that later.
ON THE SCREEN
At the outset of the film, Capt. Francis Drake sets sail in pursuit of the Spanish
and their treasure, with the backing of Queen Elizabeth (Irene Worth). After
weeks at sea, in which he withstands an ill-founded mutiny attempt, Drake
and his crew outwit and overpower the Spaniards and take their gold.
Upon his return, Drake earns knighthood and the affection and admiration
of the queen. The action doesn't end there. Treachery is afoot, but it's
thwarted by Drake and his men. And the movie concludes with a pretty spectacular
cannon battle between the outnumbered British and the Spanish Armada.
At the end, Drake sails off to sea for more glorious adventure.
Viewed today, a scene involving New World natives looks silly. But overall,
it's a stirring film, and Taylor gives a hearty, convincing performance
as the heroic sea-captain/explorer/privateer.
BEHIND THE SCENES
"Seven Seas to Calais" was shot in Rome and around the Bay
of Naples in late 1961. Studio filming was kept to a minimum, and all sea
sequences were shot off the Italian coast near Naples.
The ships themselves,
nearly a year under construction at a Naples shipyard, combined 16th-century
exterior design with 20th-century construction capable of handling the 20
tons of CinemaScope camera equipment and crews.
The costumes and the setting were a challenge for Taylor, who wound up
handling both with swashbuckling style.
According to the production notes for the movie, Taylor said:
Drake's tights really worried me, and when I saw the doublets,
ruffed sleeves and lace collars that went with them, I backed up in horror.
But when I gave them a try and found I didn't look quite such an idiot
as I had expected, I just decided to forget them. After all, those were
the clothes they wore. You can't play Sir Francis Drake in blue jeans.
Once into the skin of Drake, other ideas came naturally.
We were at sea off Salerno, Italy, for example, when the sails of the Golden
Hind were fouled up and the crew was unable to bring them down. I couldn't
imagine a fine sailor like Drake just standing by watching without doing
anything, so I jumped into the action and hauled on the rope with the crew.
And that's the way you'll see it in the film.
THE BACK STORY
appearance in "Seven Seas to Calais" is perhaps even more notable
because it marked the beginning of his romance with voluptuous
Swedish beauty Anita Ekberg.
Ekberg had built a career in Hollywood and Europe and was just
coming off her most iconic role -- 1960's "La Dolce Vita."
However, her off-screen adventures often brought her even more
Such was the case with Rod and Anita. They first met at a party
given by Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh at the famous Romanoff's
restaurant in Hollywood, according to an
article in the Sydney
Morning Herald, Nov. 19, 1961.
But sparks ignited when they met again in Italy, while Rod was
shooting scenes for "Seven Seas to Calais" at the picturesque
seaside town of Marina Di Maratea.
During a break, he went for refreshment at a local cafe, still in
his costume and makeup as Sir Francis Drake. Enter Anita, arriving
on a yacht owned by friends. At the cafe, she didn't recognize "the
Elizabethan gentleman" at first, so Rod took the initiative. He went
over to her, bowed, and said, "Remember me?"
She did. They talked and decided that they would see each other
Rod said, "From the moment she sailed over the horizon in that big
yacht, Anita has certainly made my trip to Italy."
The couple romped through Naples, Capri and Rome, in a
relationship with definite cinematic overtones.
"One night 12 photographers trapped us in little cafe, so we did
a 'Hong Kong' out a rear window," Rod recalled in one interview.
"But they spotted our car and chased us until we lost 'em by parking
in an alley with the lights off. By the time we returned to Anita's
villa, they were all out in front waiting for us. It was just like
'La Dolce Vita' -- with 'Hong Kong' overtones."
In the documentary "Pulling No Punches," Rod describes another
adventure during the filming of "Seven Seas to Calais": "They built
a galleon on top of a tug boat. In the midst of a scene out at sea,
the galleon gradually slipped like a toupee off the top of the
tugboat. Anita came by in a speedboat and said, 'Get my Aussie off
that boat!' She grabbed me and kidnapped me off the sinking vessel
and and took me into Naples."
Upon his return to the States, Rod said about Anita: "She's lots of
fun and an awful lot of woman."
romance continued over the months and the miles. In February 1962,
Anita visited Rod on the set of "Dateline: San Francisco," one of
three quick trips back and forth from Rome. One columnist observed,
"It must be love -- she left her poodle with Taylor."
In March, Anita gave Rod a baby monkey, but it was such a nuisance
he returned it.
In April 1962, the
press was abuzz with Anita's announcement that
she and Rod would be married as soon as possible. Work was all that
seemed in the way. Rod was still filming "The Birds" and marriage
would have to wait until it wrapped.
However, in May, Rod put the brakes on the wedding talk. "Marriage
is a serious business," he said in an
interview with AP movie writer
Bob Thomas. "We're not going to be rushed into anything."
Rod said career problems needed to be worked out. "Anita's career is
in Italy; mine is here." Columnists also wryly observed that while Anita was in
Italy, Rod escorted Rhonda Fleming to an Eddie Fisher opening night concert.
Nevertheless, the marriage rumors persisted, fanned by Hedda Hopper,
who reported on May 9, 1962, that Anita and Rod "intended to be
married last weekend in Santa Barbara, but he was so busy with 'The
Birds' that he didn't have time to get a license."
A syndicated article in June reported that, "Anita Ekberg is selling
her villa in Rome and admitting she's soon to become the bride of
Rod Taylor. Meanwhile, in faraway Hollywood, Rod is dating a girl
named Shirley Johnson."
By August, Rod had three films lined up, with even less time for
By September 1962, it was all clearly off. Rod said, "I'm not in
love with anyone. Where are the exciting women? If they look good,
they can't say anything over the dinner table. I like to have a
conversation of some kind at breakfast too."
In December, Louella Parsons revisited the fading romance, devoting her
column to "what happened"?
"We're not going to get married -- now or in the future," Rod told
Parsons. He put the blame squarely on all the announcements that Anita
made that she was going to marry him. "That's what did it. Those
statements to the press, coming as they did so early in our
friendship, created a situation between us which has made marriage
out of the question."
Rod and Anita saw each other a time or two after that. But by April
1963, Anita was married to actor Rik Van Nutter, and Rod was in
love with Mary Hilem, who would become his wife on June 1, 1963.
Anita Ekberg died on Jan. 11, 1915 -- just four days after Rod
passed away -- and on what would have been his 85th birthday.
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