Concept

His Majesty O'Keefe

Summary
His Majesty O'Keefe is a 1954 American adventure film directed by Byron Haskin and starring Burt Lancaster. The cast also included Joan Rice, André Morell, Abraham Sofaer, Archie Savage, and Benson Fong. The screenplay by Borden Chase and James Hill was based on the novel of the same name by Laurence Klingman and Gerald Green (1952). Captain David O'Keefe, seeking his fortune in the 19th century South Pacific, decides to enlist island natives to harvest copra, but runs into a wall of cultural problems. Backed by a Chinese dentist, he obtains a ship and sets about harvesting copra while fending off cantankerous native chieftains and ambitious German empire-builders. The natives, happy with their existence, see no reason to work hard to obtain copra, either for a German trading company or for O'Keefe. He finally motivates them by showing them how to produce large quantities of Rai stones, the stone money of Yap, and their valued coinage. The story is based on the life of a sailor named David O'Keefe who in 1871 was shipwrecked on Yap in the Caroline Islands, where he found the natives highly prized Rai stones quarried at great effort and danger on the island of Palau. He organized the natives to produce the large stone disks by employing modern methods and then used them to buy copra for coconut oil. The stones he produced were not valued as highly as those obtained by traditional methods due to the lack of personal sacrifice in their production, and the effect of an inflationary over-production. O'Keefe's life was turned into a 1950 book by Lawrence Klingman and Gerard Green. The Los Angeles Times said the writers did "a magnificent job". The Chicago Tribune called it a "well told story". The New York Times called it "interesting" and "curious". Film rights were optioned in December 1950 by Norma Productions, the company of Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster. In April 1951 Lancaster announced Fred Zinnemann would direct. Lancaster was very busy at this time in his career and the film was not made immediately.
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