When Rex Harrison stood on the shores of Marigot Bay in 1967 filming the above scene from the movie Doctor Dolittle, neither he nor his colleagues had so much as an inkling that the fibreglass mollusc would become the subject of a mystery that would not be solved for almost half a century.
The movie was dogged with bad luck, which included upsetting locals on location both in Castle Combe in England and on Marigot Bay in St Lucia; production costs were three times the movie’s original budget, and the film’s revenue after release was only half as much as the film cost to make.
The timing of the Great Pink Sea Snail scene couldn’t have been worse, too. Children in St Lucia had been badly affected by a gastrointestinal illness, caused by freshwater snails; the appearance of the giant movie prop was seen as a great insult to the suffering of these children, and locals reacted angrily, throwing rocks at the prop. According to local legend, when filming finished the snail was dragged out into the Caribbean Sea and sunk, to be lost forever.
But, as so often happens in local legend, the story wasn’t quite correct. Perhaps the snail was dragged out to sea originally, but certainly part of it remained right here in Marigot Bay, or was washed in by the tide; and this large piece of fibreglass snail shell lay hidden in the mangrove swamps for nearly five decades, forgotten it seems by all and sundry.
Fast forward to February 2013, and a local villager by the name of Spadaro is reminiscing with Marigot Beach Club owner David Shimeld about the shooting of the snail scene. Spadaro was about three years old when the movie was made, but had memories of playing in the giant shell before it disappeared. One thing led to another, and Spadaro was persuaded to lead a search for the prop. And, to David’s surprise and delight, a large chunk of the shell was recovered from the mangroves last week.
What does the future hold for this wonderful relic from the much-loved classic children’s movie? It didn’t take David long to decide. The shell will take pride of place on the wall at our restaurant and bar which, if you didn’t know already, is called… Doolittle’s!