Marine hero, turned deserter, turned film star fails to win hearts of Government

Wheels of power ground proposed Ardmore Studios film to death, writes Caroline O’Doherty.

HE was feted as a war hero and actor, but Ireland didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet when Terry Whitmore sought to come here to film his latest movie.

The American former marine was a deserter from the US Army living in Sweden where he had got refuge after smuggling himself along a perilous route from Vietnam, across Asia, the then USSR and into Scandinavia. Whitmore settled in Sweden and became a poster boy for the anti-war movement when he starred in a documentary about his experiences. In March 1971, John Jeremy, a producer with Silver Screen Productions, wrote to the Government with plans to make a film at Ardmore Studios about the adventures of US soldiers on a tour of duty at an air force base in Britain. Whitmore was the preferred lead actor but Jeremy sought assurances his deserter status would not run him the risk of being arrested or turned over to the US authorities.

The request was passed on to the Department of Foreign Affairs which was contacted four more times between March and May. Jeremy had an offer of filming facilities in Denmark and would have to locate there if no response was forthcoming. Ireland would be losing out on a $600,000 production, if he located elsewhere. Eventually, a reply from the Justice Minister said there was no objection in principle to “the alien’s entry”, if he had a work permit, a travel document valid for return to Sweden and that he not engage in political activity or publicity. Jeremy sought a firmer safeguard to which he got this reply: “Oral assurances may be given that there is no risk of the person concerned losing his liberty or being delivered to the US authorities because he is a deserter. You should avoid putting anything in writing.”

Naturally, Jeremy wanted something in writing and a further note was prepared. “This is going a bit far. There is no extradition agreement between Ireland and the US. There are no American forces here and US military personnel. Any solicitor could advise him that he has no fears of losing his liberty. To insist on a written undertaking is almost to imply that the State might find some way of conniving with the US authorities to apprehend him. Is Jeremy immune to common sense?”

Undeterred, Jeremy insisted he needed written assurances for the film’s insurers. A handwritten note suggests he was told subsequently that, if his insurers had any queries, they could be passed directly to the department.

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