Frequently called “The California of Europe”, Marbella would seem to be the perfect place to make movies with its combination of great climate, choice of locations and excellent infrastructure. As well as this, several screen icons have created a little slice of Beverly Hills in Marbella by setting up home.
Giles Brown, BRIGHT’s very own Mr Showbiz, looks at the stars, the films, the hits and the flops set in Marbella.
Like many things to do with Marbella, the main catalyst for the rich and famous to visit was the opening of the Marbella Club Hotel in 1953 by Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe. His idyllic outpost, on what was then an unfashionable part of Spain, soon attracted members of the fledgling Jet Set as well as much of European nobility. Alfonso had spent time in Hollywood and New York before settling in Marbella, and was sure to make good use of his connections. Merle Oberon, star of “The Scarlett Pimpernel” and “Wuthering Heights” was the first guest at the hotel and became the “Madrina” – godmother, of the Marbella Club.
Alfonso’s own movie star good looks and playboy reputation, although somewhat curbed by his marriage in Venice to Ira ze Furstenburg, which made the cover of life magazine in 1955, also contributed to the influx of glamourous guests. James Stewart visited in 1955, as did Ava Gardiner and a besotted Frank Sinatra. They were soon followed by icons such as Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Michael Caine, David Niven, Richard Burton with his beautiful wife Suzy (who had just divorced James Hunt), Tony Curtis and Liza Minnelli.
Brigitte Bardot and Gunter Sachs visited the Champagne Room and Grill in 1966 where they were photographed enjoying themselves and was part of Marbella’s appeal. At a time before Smartphones and Social Media, the rich and famous could enjoy themselves away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.
Several decided to make Marbella a permanent base. Audrey Hepburn loved it here, and with husband the director Mel Ferrer, brought a house in Guadalmina Alta in the early 60s. Their son Sean remembers that his mother preferred the pool to the beach, and although the marriage was tempestuous, Audrey was at her happiest in Marbella. The couple moved away in the late 60s, with the marriage breaking up soon after, but the house is still there, now the main building for an international school.
“Black Narcissus” actress Deborah Kerr and director husband Peter Vietel also made their home in Marbella, in Rio Real – although she complained in an interview in the 80s that the parties were too rowdy and no one obeyed the speed limits on the N-340. Meanwhile, Sean Connery moved into his beachfront house Malibu, between Puerto Banus and San Pedro, in the early 70s. Sean loved his time in Marbella, indulging in his passion for golf and restaurants, often with great friend, opera singer and restauranteur Toni Dalli.
Sean also enjoyed nights out with another actor and Marbella resident, Sir Stanley Baker. High jinks included a mock fight between the two on New Year’s Eve at the Hotel Guadalmina, which had onlookers screaming and diving for cover before the two movie action heroes hugged and broke into a waltz!
Even eccentric aristocrat Don Jaimie doe Mora y Aragon got in on the act. Part of the fixtures and fittings in Marbella, he also appeared in several films – including a role as a Spanish aristocrat in 1973’s “Love. Death and the Whole Damn Thing” opposite Dame Maggie Smith.
The following year “A Touch of Class”, starring George Segal and Glenda Jackson came out. Charting the bittersweet romance between the couple, story is set in London and Marbella where, among other things, the pair trash a room in the Guadalmina Hotel as well as dine out in Puerto Banus. Jackson was to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her role.
During the 80s Rod Taylor and Britt Ekland appeared in the instantly forgettable “Marbella”, subtitled “Un golpe de cinco estrellas”. Although the movie was terrible, Ekland’s then husband, James McDonnell, aka Slim Jim Phantom, the drummer for the Stray Cats, enjoyed the experience. “He and I got along right away,” he remembers “I don’t think he knew any rock and roll bands from the past 20 years, but we talked about a bunch of things, and he had met James Dean, so I had plenty to ask about.”
He was also impressed by Rod’s stamina “He sat in his makeshift dressing room on the dock and drank local red wine nonstop. When it was time for his scene, he snapped to it and delivered his lines in a professional manner, and when the director called cut, he tuned out again. I’ve seen certain guys who could turn it on and off, but he was the best.
Although the original jet set and movie icons may no longer be around, Marbella can still attract the big stars. Malaga born Antonio Banderas has La Gaviotta, his beachfront house in Los Monteros, where he lived with the wife actor Melanie Griffith. Antonio is very much an ambassador for his home city (he used to throw parties show casing the best of Andalucia at his Hollywood home) and stared in the opening production of “A Chorus Line” at his Teatro de Soho in Malaga. He even organised the Spanish press call of “The Expendables 3” which starred himself alongside Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and another sometime Marbella resident Dolph Lungren.
Dolph – known for his roles in Rocky IV and Universal Soldier amongst others, chose to base himself in Marbella as his daughters were growing up. The commute between LA, London and Marbella could be “brutal” he told me in an interview, but he enjoyed his downtime here where he occasionally “got a little Viking with Tequila”. Marbella Town Hall expressed its admiration by making him an Official Ambassador for Marbella.
Marbella’s sometimes shady reputation as part of the ‘Costa del Crime’ has also made it the setting for several cult movies. “Oh Marbella!” saw Rik Mayall, Tom Bell and Mike Reid up to no good with hilarious consequences. “The Business” starring Danny Dyer and Tamer Hussan was set in 80s Marbella and still has a massive following, as does the “Rise of the Footsoldier” Franchise. Though not to everyone’s tastes, the later has also gone on to win awards at the annual Marbella International Film Festival (MIFF) with Craig Fairbrass picking up best actor.
MIFF has attracted some well-known faces to the awards ceremony over the years, including William Shatner, Steven Berkoff and Timothy Spall, with films representing countries as diverse as Colombia, Iran and Lebanon.
Eva Longoria is another Hollywood star with a strong Marbella connection. The “Desperate Housewives” actor founded the Global Gift Foundation with her friend Maria Bravo (another Marbella Ambassador and former partner of Bruce Willis, who she famously brought to Puerto Banus in a paparazzi scrum).
The annual Global Gift Gala held in Marbella continues to attract leading Spanish TV and film personalities, as well as international stars such as CSI’s Gary Dourdan.
While the old style glamour of the cinema and stars may have faded a little, Marbella can still stake its claim to a more than a sprinkling of movie magic!