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  • Writer's pictureWayne Ewing

The Rum Diary Back-Story: Episode Two

Updated: 6 days ago

This Episode opens with Hunter and historian Doug Brinkley exploring the “War Room” in the basement of Owl Farm where Doug found the original manuscript of The Rum Diary. This scene is the only time I ever saw Hunter in the War Room or filmed with him there. Back in the 1970’s when he had a family in residence –his wife Sandy and his son Juan – the War Room was the lair in which he worked. There was even a fireplace to keep him cozy, and a cellar door to the outside, like on a tornado shelter, so that he could come and go unnoticed by those upstairs. After the divorce and his family left Owl Farm, Hunter moved up into the kitchen, where he sat on a stool at the wooden counter we called “Mahogany Ridge” with his back to the stove and his face to typewriter. And that’s pretty much the spot where he lived, worked and played for over twenty-five years until he ended his life sitting right there.


Just as Hunter’s inimitable traits provided the inspiration for the lead character Paul Kemp in The Rum Diary (played by Johnny Depp in the movie), Hunter reveals at the end of this Episode that Sandy was the model for the character Chennault (played by Amber Heard in the film). Like Amber, Sandy was clearly a gorgeous young woman. This picture taken by Hunter in Puerto Rico can be found in Gonzo an excellent, over-sized book of Hunter’s photos. He obsessively documented his life and times with a keen eye. I highly recommend the book, which also has an insightful, well-written introduction by Johnny Depp.

“I live 5 miles from town, on the beach, 4- room house, motor scooter, no job, writing freelance stuff for Stateside newspapers, also fiction, so many bugs I can barely breathe, wife here and cooking, no money, vagrant artist from New York also living here, all in all life is not bad.” The Proud Highway, letter from Loiz Aldea, Puerto Rico 5/25/1960

Given Hunter’s incredible sense of self (who else would saved almost every letter they wrote, certain they would be published one day?) he undoubtedly figured that his life in Puerto Rico was like a movie, and sure enough, now that’s true. The question is: would Hunter like what Johnny Depp and the director Bruce Robinson have done with his story? Having seen quite a bit of the film, my guess is he’s smiling right now as he rests up for his eventual return to this world as a “Road man for the Lords of Karma,” as he predicted in Breakfast with Hunter.

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