Fellow Eccentric Doctor Beachcombing did a recent post on Totalitarian Bizarreness, a quick survey of the strange ways of unchecked despots. My humble contribution to the conversation was recalling that Idi Amin spent his tedious exile in Saudi Arabia, where he could often be found at the local Pizza Hut. If there is a Just Universe we can hope he consistently got soggy, undercooked crusts.
It got me thinking about the fate of other deposed dictators. Many come to bad ends, facing a rude justice in front of a firing squad or a more refined one in a court of law. In fact the tradition of skipping town just ahead of the angry mob and decamping - Swiss account numbers tightly clutched - to the friendly confines of some brother dictator's bananna republic seems to be obsolete. Bashar Assad, take notice.
But it was not always thus, and I do recall the time when the Shah of Iran almost bought Gilligan's Island.....
The Shah of Iran, a certain Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a dictator of mid-level distastefulness. No Pol Pot for sure, but his secret police were a bad bunch. The United States supported him strongly, and in one of those geopolitical acts that just keeps on giving, the Iranians have thought of us as The Great Satan ever since.
In 1979 the Shah left Iran shortly before the Ayatollahs took over. He became a sort of diplomatic Flying Dutchman...no country really wanted him to set foot on their shores. He wandered from Egypt to Morocco, to the Bahamas and to Mexico. His health started to decline and he sought permission to enter the United States for medical treatment. In an action that may have precipitated the Iranian Hostage Crisis and doomed his re-election, Jimmy Carter agreed.
With the revolutionary government in Tehran demanding his extradition and with his options dwindling fast, there was a brief rumor circulating that the Shah was going to purchase Gilligan's Island and live there as a modern day castaway.
So, was there any truth to this? Well, sit right back and you'll hear a tale...
From the iconic opening of the silly 60's sit com, here is Gilligan's Island. What you can't tell from this shot is that the photographer is standing on dry land. To call it by its proper name, Coconut Island is right off the shore of Oahu. Here is a modern view from a slightly higher elevation.
It was a modest 12 acre islet when a certain Christian Holmes II, heir to the Fleischman's Yeast fortune, bought it in the 1930s. He doubled it in size by hauling in rock and rubble, then turned it into his private playground complete with aviaries, kennels and aquaria. During the Second World War it was used as an R & R facility for Navy pilots. Post war a group of businessmen purchased it and converted the island to a luxury resort. It is now entirely owned by the state of Hawaii, and is the picturesque site of the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology.
So how did the rumor of the Shah and Gilligan's Island get started? During his exiled wanderings the Shah never came near this spot, most of his time in the United States being spent in New York or in Texas. Perhaps it came from a fusion of two facts. After leaving the United States he eventually ending up in the Pearl Islands off the coast of Panama. He stayed on Isla Contadora, but there was a nearby "Cocos Island" in that group as well. And of course the TV show had frequent implausible visitors dropping in on the castaways. A season two episode featured an exiled "El Presidente Pancho Hernando Enrique Gonzales", who had just been ousted from the fictional republic of "Equarico".
Here the Shah enjoys a little beach time on Contadora.
The Shah eventually relocated to Egypt, until quite recently a haven for friendly strongmen and their pals. He is buried there and I was a little surprised to find his tomb in a mosque I had visited.
So, the Shah and Gilligan's Island. Total nonsense? Now, let's not be too hasty.
In 1958 the Shah and his family spent a three week vacation on Coconut/Gilligan's Island during its incarnation as a luxury resort. It is said that on arrival a lei was placed around his neck. He took it off immediately.