Ben Masselink wrote the 1973 Disney screenplay for Call It Courage.
Pacific Palisades, California
4 February, 1974
Dear Mr. Sperry,
Thanks so much for your letter and I am glad you liked the Disney version of CALL IT COURAGE. It was good of Martin Cole to put us in touch.
Of course, the main thing about CALL IT COURAGE was the book itself, your story. It's a classic and which I first got the job to do the screenplay I was frightened by it. I wanted to do it justice, but could think only that I would foul it up. It's a beautiful book, pure and clean.
One of the reasons I got the job was that in 1957 I had spent some time in Polynesia. But oddly, never Bora Bora. You of course were there in far better times, but still this was before the jets came in. My wife and I fooled around Tahiti for a while, and then stayed with a family on Moorea for a week. We found a house to rent, and were about to take it, when we got talking to someone about a copra schooner going up into the Tuamotus. Both of us are skin divers and we wanted to see Takaroa, one of the most famous shell-diving lagoons. Back in Tahiti I talked to the Chinese agent for the Vaitaporo, the beamy, saggy copra lugger that was going to make the trip. "How many days to Takaroa?" I asked. This would compare to a Frenchman coming up to a man on the street in Los Angeles and asking how it took to get to New York. Five or six hours the American would say. And then the Frenchman would board the Wilshire bus.
"Three days to Takaroa," the agent said.
And so we got on, sleeping on deck, and it didn't take 3 days, it took 30 days, for of course this was a working copra boat and we stopped at 7 atolls before we got to Takaroa. It was one of the finest experiences. We slept on bare deck and as the copra grew we slept on the sacks, warming underneath us like silage. We would make the reef-pass into Mataiva, Tikehau, Rangiroa, Aratike, etc., and when the copra was loaded aboard, we would dive the lagoons, and become fast friends with the friendliest people in the world.
Credit for the film of your fine book must go to Roy Disney. He would have nothing else than to film it on Bora Bora, (one spit of land there became a Tuamotu atoll) and he sent Milas Henshaw down there with my script to shoot it. Milas must have had a fine time for he spent almost a year filming it. The war canoes were made at the Disney studio and shipped down. Milas got all his actors right there. The atoll village he had built on Bora Bora still stands, and Roy left the canoes for them to goof around with. The people were delighted. Roy still gets mail from the Mayor of Bora Bora. And Roy gave them a print of the picture, and according to the Mayor they run it in their outside theater nightly.
So good to hear from you. 7 years ago I wrote a young adult book about the Tuamotus and shell-diving. It is called, THE DANGER ISLANDS, published by Little, Brown. Perhaps you have run across it.
And now you are in Key West. I wish I had known. I was in Florida last fall. I love the Keys. My wife was born in Trinidad and once a year we fly down there. Maybe next time when we pause in Florida I'll give you a ring.
Anyway, let's keep in touch. It made me very proud to be selected to write the screenplay for CALL IT COURAGE. And now I feel even better that you liked it.