All About “Eve”: Celeste Yarnall Remembers Her Jungle Goddess
In 1967, former model and Miss Rheingold Celeste Yarnall risked her life savings to travel to the Cannes Film Festival in hopes of being “discovered” even though she was acting in television and films (The Nutty Professor, Around the World Under the Sea, among others) since 1963. Discouraged that her career hadn’t taken off, she and her husband Sheldon Silverstein headed to that international city hoping Celeste would wow some producers. And wow them she did! Producer Harry Alan Towers, who was looking for a girl to play a female Tarzan in Eve, spotted her strolling down the street. According to Yarnall, he yelled and pointed, ‘Stop that girl! That’s my Eve!’ Yarnall made a breathtaking jungle goddess in Eve, but the film wasn’t a success though a cult favorite today.
The jungle adventure Eve (1968) starring Celeste Yarnall was reminiscent of One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch and She with Ursula Andress. It was the story of an alluring half-savage jungle woman named Eve living in the wilds of Brazil where the natives worship her as a goddess. Trouble begins for Eve when she rescues a downed pilot (Robert Walker Jr.) who brings back news of this female Tarzan. A smalltime showman (Fred Clark) wants to capture her to put her on display while villainous Diego (Herbert Lom) wants her dead because he has been passing of his mistress (Rosenda Monteros) as the long-lost Eve, heir to her grandfather’s (Christopher Lee) fortune. To make matters worse, the natives want to kill Eve for helping a white man and there is Incan treasure wanted by all. In the end the villains get their due and Eve is reunited with her grandfather on his deathbed. However, she rejects the noise and confusion of the civilized world only to return to the jungle, despite her love for the pilot who vows to find her. The ending left it open for an intended sequel, which was never made to the relief of Yarnall who called Eve “one of the worst movies of all time.”
When Harry Alan Towers discovered Yarnall walking down the promenade in Cannes he offered her the lead in Eve on the spot. “I don’t know why Towers thought I was right for this part,” speculated Celeste. “I was never a tomboy and hadn’t climbed a tree in my life. I was more the sedate type. I even had to take some Judo classes to train for the role.” When the start date of the film was postponed, Celeste returned to Los Angeles and was signed by Columbia to play one of the glamorous showgirls in Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. She had to back out because “the start date for Eve was at the same time.” Threatened by Towers with a lawsuit, Yarnall had no choice but to turn down the acclaimed musical.
This was only the first of many problems Celeste encountered with her producer. “If you notice there is a whole section in the middle of Eve that has to do with Rosenda Monteros pretending to be me,” said Yarnall. “I am missing from the film for a long stretch because Towers stopped paying me. My husband wouldn’t let me show up on the set until I was paid. They re-wrote the whole middle of the script so that they could keep shooting. The movie’s called Eve and you’re wondering, ‘Where in God’s earth is Eve?’ My husband showed up at Towers’ office with a water pistol pretending it was a gun and said, ‘If you don’t pay Celeste, she’s not going to show up.’ Towers was a notorious schemer. I ran into him years later and he was like a normal person, but back then he was absolutely wild! He had a little German girlfriend named Schnitzel and he worked in a small part for her.”
Despite his shadiness, producer/screenwriter Harry Alan Towers had a knack for getting high caliber actors to appear in his foreign productions. Here was no exception, as he assembled such stalwarts as Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, and Fred Clark to support Celeste and her leading man Robert Walker, Jr. “Herbert Lom was an amazing gentlemen—just a very elegant, intelligent man,” said Celeste fondly. “Christopher Lee was totally bent out of shape that he was playing my grandfather because he felt he would have been a much better leading man for me than Robert Walker was! And he just hated being made up to look old.”
As for her leading man, per Celeste he was truly an actor of the Sixties. “Robert was very far out. He was into psychedelia and meditation. I know for awhile that he and his family lived off of nature somewhere in the canyons of Malibu. They bathed in a creek! He is a very interesting man, but at that time he was too way out there for me. In retrospect, I liked him and I still like him.”
One of the film’s pluses was that it was filmed on location in Spain and Brazil. However, shooting amongst the gorgeous scenery came with a price. “I got very sick in Spain,” recalled Celeste. “They put rancid oil all over their vegetables and I got food poisoning. Then I got injured while filming in Brazil. A stuntman had taught me some moves for my fight scene with Rosenda Monteros. It was carefully choreographed because we were high up on a bluff. Rosenda was supposed to put the sole of her right boot into my stomach and I would fall into the stuntman’s arms. But she used her left foot and pushed me the wrong way and I almost went over the cliff. The stuntman did one of those flying leaps and caught the back of my head in the palm of his hand. We both fell into this bush—I was all cut up—but he saved me from a two hundred foot drop.”
Once the film was completed, Celeste saw a preview and was horrified. “I was incensed because I think I’m dubbed in this —it doesn’t sound like my voice,” she exclaimed. “I remember that they didn’t want to fly me back to do the looping.” Despite that fact, the actress agreed to help promote the movie in the U.S. “I remember climbing up on a drive-in movie theater marquee and having my picture taken. I did a small tour promoting the film because I was voted one of the Most Promising New Stars of 1968 by the National Association of Theatre Owners [for this and her performance in Live a Little, Love a Little opposite Elvis Presley].”
Any film that has Christopher Lee and the stunning Celeste Yarnall in a loin cloth is worth seeing and here you will not be disappointed. The story keeps your interest; the scenery is picturesque; and the actors, though not at their best, all play their roles competently.
You can read more about Celeste Yarnall in my books Fantasy Femmes of Sixties Cinema and Film Fatales (co-written with Louis Paul).