A Mexican Odyssey: Escape to Paradise by William Reed with Sylvia Garces de Reed

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Reviewed by Alan Cogan

Cogan’s Reviews

Where on earth do you start with William Reed? It’s as if he’s done everything in his first 75 years.

His career beginning makes him seen quite unlikely for what was to follow. For example, he closed that first chapter on November 30, 1967, when he quietly retired from the U.S. Navy after 20 years of service. Most of that time was spent in Naval Intelligence attached to the super top-secret NSA, sister of the CIA. At one stage he had the distinction of briefing President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had his adventures, too, having been shot at by Greek bandits on Cyprus, his two Turkish companions both being killed in the incident. On another occasion he was even accused by the Navy (wrongly, of course) of being a spy and was subsequently relieved of his duties. He later was given complete clearance and top level apologies. However, the incident pointed to the end of his USN career.

Five years later, in October 1972, who would have recognized Bill Reed on the beach in Puerto Vallarta in raggedy cut-off shorts and sporting a long beard. In that five year period there were a lot of stops and starts — including a divorce, remarriage and divorce, plus the publication of a couple of biographies and the management of a publishing company. Also included in that period was college attendance where he completed a bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree in Spanish Borderlands History. He even had 18 accredited units towards his doctorate. Quite a mover and shaker, this man. In the end, however, he decided he wanted to go to Mexico and eventually got in his car and drove off alone.

In this “odyssey” he tells us his own personal story here and what a tale it is.

Most of the action takes place in Puerto Vallarta where Reed has lived since his move to the beach in ’72. He seems to have met everyone who ever went there – including some very well-known ones, such as actor Richard and Elizabeth Burton, Peter O’Toole, Xaviera Hollander and many, many others.

Two people who figure most prominently in the story are movie director John Huston and Johnny Weissmueller (Tarzan himself). In both cases Reed wrote biographies of the two men. John Huston actually takes up a good portion of the story as Reed was associated with him for several years. He actually spent four of those years on the Huston bio which turned out to be not much of a success and wasn’t worth all the effort when it was eventually published. Also, the relationship ended rather badly, partly because Huston was devoted to a Mexican lady who didn’t like anyone who got too close to her man, including Reed, and who did all she could to ruin the relationship. In the struggle for Huston’s affections, William Reed was the loser. It all adds up to quite a story.

During that period he managed to fill out several careers — as a tour boat operator, art gallery owner, troubadour, deep-sea fisherman, author of eight books, poker player and scuba diver to name just the main ones. He even survived a couple of minor strokes, plus a shipwreck from which he almost didn’t survive.

Early on in the piece he was lucky enough to find the love of his life, his co-author, Sylvia, and it sounds like the kind of love affair we all should enjoy. They’ve been together since 1973. Indeed, she writes an interesting foreword in this volume.

Reed writes with good humor and doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at himself. For instance, this book starts out with the statement: “I was 60 years old when Madam Sex died.” And later in the story, in a more serious vein, he makes a rueful confession: “I brought many of my problems upon myself because I drank too much. A social habit I could handle easily for most of my life became a habit I could not control.”

As far as I can tell, he’s still writing, working in his 75th year on a book called “Sentenced to Life.” I hope I get to read it someday.

An interesting feature of A Mexican Odyssey is the copious use of photographs. There are dozens of them throughout the book, almost on every page. Also, the book is an excellent informal history of the past 30 years of Puerto Vallarta.

A Mexican Odyssey: Escape to Paradise.
By William Reed with Sylvia Garces de Reed
237 pages. Garces Press, Puerto Vallarta, 2004

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback

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Published or Updated on: February 15, 2004 by Alan Cogan © 2008
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