Claire Prentice’s “The Lost Tribe of Coney Island”
Claire Prentice was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was working as a journalist in New York when she chanced upon an old black and white photograph of a group of tribespeople wearing g-strings. She knew from the moment that she set eyes on them that she had to uncover the real story of the tribespeople in the picture.
Here Prentice dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century:
On March 29, 1905 Dr Truman K. Hunt boarded the RMS Empress of China at Hong Kong Harbor, bound for Vancouver. Hunt was almost forty, a medical man from Iowa who had served as Lieutenant-Governor of the remote Bontoc region of the Philippines. And he wasnʼt traveling alone. With him were 50 Bontoc Igorrotes, tribesmen, women and children from the far north of the Philippines.
Ahead of them lay 20 days and nights at sea. And when they arrived on dry land they had another vast journey ahead of them, this time by train. It would take them across the United States to their new home, Coney Island. There, among the fairground rides and ʻfreak shows,ʼ the Igorrotes would perform a distorted sideshow version of their tribal life for the public who paid a quarter to gawk at the “dog eating, head hunting savages” [these were their managerʼs words]. Within weeks the Igorrotes were the talk of America.
Hunt would be a dream role for a gifted character actor. In fact he was a gifted actor himself. A brilliant self publicist, he sold stories about the Igorrotes to newspapers across the country. A charmer with an eye for the ladies, and the capacity to impose his will by flattery and force of personality, by the end of the summer he shows a darker side to his nature. He is a hero who turns villain, a chancer who believes his own tall tales. It would be a great role for Matthew McConaughey, with his trademark glint in his eye.
There are a number of other juicy parts in the film.
Julio Balinag, the principled, ambitious and dandyish translator is a role made for the talented Filipino Broadway actor Jose Llana, and Iʼd cast Vanessa Hudgens to play Julioʼs wife, Maria. Aljur Abrenica would be great as the popular outspoken tribesman Feloa, who isnʼt afraid to stand up to Truman Hunt.
Frederick Barker is the high minded, dogged and handsome government agent who proves to be Huntʼs nemesis. Far more than just eye candy, the actor who plays him needs depth and has to be someone who would be a convincing opponent for the wily and unscrupulous Truman Hunt. Iʼm casting James McAvoy (a great actor and a fellow Scot). If James McAvoy wasnʼt available, my next call would be to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Trumanʼs formidable female lawyer Antoinette Funk would be the perfect part for Kathy Bates to get her teeth into, while Tina Fey would make for a charmingly eccentric Baroness Adele von Groyss, the bohemian Austrian society hostess who invites the Igorrotes to perform head hunting dances at her avant garde parties designed to thrill and shock her friends.
Finally, Iʼd love to see Robert Downey Jr and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively as the “Kings of Coney,” Frederic Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy. Talk about dream casting! The movie takes the tribespeople from the wilds of the Northern Philippines to the wilds of Coney Island in the summer of 1905. At the climax Hunt even takes the Igorrotes on the run across America and into Canada by train, pursued by Barker and Pinkerton detectives.
Weʼre talking about a big film which would need a big budget. Now all thatʼs left is to sell the film rights and find some suitably deep pockets…