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'Iguana' days and nights ... oh, and Liz was there, too

THOSE VIOLET eyes. Those sparkling violet eyes. That's what I remember most about my lunch with Elizabeth Taylor in that hotel dining room in Puerto Vallarta.

THOSE VIOLET eyes. Those sparkling violet eyes. That's what I remember most about my lunch with Elizabeth Taylor in that hotel dining room in Puerto Vallarta.

I was close enough to reach out and touch her if I dared. I didn't dare.

Those violet eyes were flashing hostility. Why not? She had been through tough times with Eddie Fisher, and he was Jewish and from Philadelphia, and I was Jewish, from Philadelphia, and a writer, and if that wasn't a toxic trifecta, it sure seemed that way gazing into those violet eyes.

Richard Burton was there. He was starring in a movie called "Night of the Iguana."

Deborah Kerr was in the movie, too. Her husband had once had a fling with Ava Gardner, who was in the movie.

Sue Lyon, of "Lolita" fame, was in the movie. She brought along her boyfriend, Hampton Fancher III, skinny as a pool cue, always carrying a book of poetry. I do remember Ms. Taylor snarling, "If he kisses her elbow one more time, I'm gonna throw up."

John Huston was the director. His daughter, Anjelica, was coming to visit, so he had to send his girlfriend home.

And, oh yeah, Ms. Gardner, who had it in her contract that she didn't have to talk with the media, decided to take water-ski lessons from a handsome instructor.

Water-ski lessons? That represented a menace to Ms. Gardner's health and the movie timetable, so two burly security guys lugged the water-ski instructor to the airport and handed him a one-way ticket to Mexico City.

Which helps you understand what I was doing in Puerto Vallarta shortly after covering the 1964 World Series.

I was there to chronicle the madcap behavior of this gaudy bunch of Hollywood folks making a movie based on a Tennesee Williams play.

It was J. Ray Hunt's idea. He was the managing editor, and the price of the Daily News was going from a nickel to a dime, so he thought that a series on celebrities gone wild might boost circulation.

He told me to book a flight to Puerto Vallarta.

He didn't tell me that the airport lacked landing lights so you had to fly there during daylight hours.

He told me not to warn the movie people that I was coming. He didn't tell me that I'd find a town without telephones or air conditioning or television sets or newspapers.

I got a hero's welcome from the movie crew. They were desperate to know the details of the World Series.

I told them about Joe Pepitone losing a ball in the background of white shirts, and about Johnny Keane explaining his use of Bob Gibson in game seven: "I had a commitment to his heart."

And if that wasn't enough, Grayson Hall was in the movie. Got an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress in it.

Her real name was Shirley Grossman, and her mom lived on the Parkway, and she felt sorry for this Philadelphia writer, so she whispered some significant gossip and that helped.

Burton was terrific, a man's man, an eloquent storyteller, a baseball enthusiast (he'd hit a home run in the Broadway show league while appearing in "Camelot" and had fallen in love with the sport).

I taught him 8-ball and 9-ball at the tattered pool room, and wound up predicting that his relationship with Taylor would not last long, which was dumb and wrong.

I got to interview the main characters, except for Gardner, and ached with loneliness, so I headed home two days early.

The Daily News trucks were carrying my photo as "Our Man in Puerto Vallarta," so I didn't dare show my face.

I hunkered in our second-floor apartment near the Art Museum for two days before checking in at the paper with the first two installments of the series.

Years later, having dinner with Sheila, who had lived downstairs in those days, talk turned to my Mexican adventure.

I described sneaking home and hiding out for two days, and her face flushed and she shuddered in relief.

"I had heard a man's footsteps," she confessed. "I knew Stan was in Mexico and I thought, 'If Gloria is entertaining someone, well, that's none of my business,' but it's great to hear, after all these years, that it was really you."