His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Aryamehr, former shahanshah of Iran, king of kings, shadow of the almighty, center of the universe, occupant of the peacock throne, has a blister.
He got it from playing too much tennis.
"Obvioously he hadn't played much tennis recently until he came here," says his tennis pro John Antonas. "You can see he used to be a much better player. But if he keeps playing his game will pick up."
The shah keeps playing-every other day, usually in the early evenings when the courts at the Ocean Club are mostly deserted.
As the sun goes down and the lights on the courts are turned on, men with automatic rifles begin to appear as if out of nowhere, surrounding the tennis court, looking behind bushes, lounging casually in corners next to the tenniz hut. The crown prince has just finished a two-hour lesson. Sweating with exhaustion, he races on to the court to pick up the balls lying around so it will be clear for his father.
Suddenly there is a flurry of movement to one side of the court and a small slim man in white tennis shorts emerges from the shadows behind a villa carrying a tennis racquet, his entourage sporting machine guns, pistols, rifles, walkie-talkies and binoculars.
He steps out into the lighted court. He is wearing a white glove on his right hand. He looks down at it with contempt.
After all he's been through, now a blister.
He is in good shape. Muscular tanned legs, a trim waist, a tanned face and a neat haircut. His tennis shorts are tight and well-fitting.
"Did you see Borg beat Connors 6 to 2?" he asks Antonas. "I was watching it all afternoon."
His expression, the way he holds his body, indicate an enormous tension. His face is grim, his body stiff, unbending.
He and Antonas never actually play a game. For nearly an hour they just volley, the shah standing taut and motionless in one place as the pro hits the balls directly at him time after time. He has a strong forehand which he uses methodically. There is no passion, no joy in his game. It is an exercise to be endured. He keeps looking down at the gloved hand. Occasionally he will say, "It is not the same, not the same with the glove."
When he misses a ball he will show little emotion, only letting out his breath in disgust.
Once the pro hits a ball to one side and the shah has to run for it. He misses. The pro apologizes.
"No, no," says the shah. "I need to run a little."
Finally the blister is too much. He nods discretely to the bodyguard at his right. The others mobilize, reappearing from the gloom around the courts. He walks over to the net to shake hands with Antonas.
"Your majesty," asks the pro timidly. "Would you mind if my grandfather here took my picture with you for my scrapbook?"
An old man pulls himself out of a nearby chair and approaches with a camera. The shah stiffly poses next to the pro.
"Smile," whispers the old man, almost under his breath.
The shah's mouth opens slightly exposing his teeth in an expression that might pass for a smile in a photograph. Then, before they can thank him, he has signaled to his bodyguards and disappeared once more into the darkness.
Paradise Island, latest choice of the peripatetic peacock throne. Former choice of Howard Hughes, Robert Vesco, Richard Nixon, Bebe Rebozo, George Smathers, Ron Zeigler, William Hundley (John Mitchell's Watergate attorney) and Henry Kissinger. Owned by Resorts International-casinos, night clubs, tourists, limbo dancers, rum punches, expensive women, shady characters, mob overtones, a sultry, slightly deenergizing climate, the Havana of the 1970s.
Why Paradise Island?
The locals have a theory. It's quite a fantastic story, actually, sort of like a spy novel and without hard evidence to back it up. It goes like this:
Resorts International (which owns casinos in Atlantic City as well) has, they say, CIA connections. Its security operation, Intertel, was chosen by Howard Hughes to represent him. Howard Hughes lived for three years on the eighth floor of the Brittania Beach Hotel, part of R.I. They still talk about his midnight swims. He would appear draped in terrycloth at 11:30 at night, surrounded by bodyguards. The armed guards would throw everyone out of the pool. He would have his swim and disappear once more back into the night, the bodyguards trailing behind him.
This theory, again without any evidence to support it, goes that Intertel might have had a CIA connection while it protected Hughes and his interests, that Resorts International was used by the CIA to shepherd undesirables and agents from other countries in and out of the states.
And now the shah.
The shah was, after all, overthrown in 1953 and was brought back to Iran by the CIA, which arranged the overthrow of his enemy, Mossadegh. If they did it once, why not again? They sort of owe it to him, the locals say, and besides, they have a stake in him.
But what do they do with him until they can manage to depose Khomeini?
Launder him through the Bahamas, of course.
Now, this theory may sound crazy. But there are a lot of other really suspicious things going on down here.
For one thing, everybody's lying.
The American Embassy spokesman, Arthur P. (Perry) Shankle, said in an interview, "We had absolutely no idea that the shah was coming here until he had arrived. It was completely arranged through the Bahamian government. We know nothing about what's going on over there on Paradise Island and we don't want to know."
Now thath's not true because an embassy source who works for the ambassador called up the local newspaper the day before the shah arrived and told the paper exactly what time the shah was arriving.
The national chairman of the government's Progressive Liberal Party, Andrew Maynard, said in a speech before a group of leftist Bahamians protesting the shah's presence: "To the best of my knowledge the Bahamian government had no prior knowledge of the shah's coming here."
Now that's not true because the government had the head of internal security and the commissioner of police at the airport to greet them.
Neither the U.S. government nor the Bahamian government has made any official statement of the shah's presence in the Bahamas since he arrived March 30.
"I think this whole thing was a setup between the United States and the Bahamian government," said Marion Bethel, a lecturer at the College of the Bahamas and the organizer of the protest meeting. "The U.S. won't house the shah but they feel guilty about him. And the Bahamian government is acting like a puppet for the U.S. government."
"I believe that the U.S. told our government to take the shah until they resolved the situation," said Canon William Thompson, a minister at the protest meeting. "All they had to do is threaten us with requiring U.S. tourists to have visas to come here and it would cut our tourism in half."
Reports have been circulating that the Bahamian government has ordered the shah to leave by May 10. Higher-ups in the Bahamian government and spokesmen for the shah denythis.
Spokesmen for the shah also denied that he went to the dentist a few weeks ago until they were shown a picture taken by a wire service showing the shah in the dentist chair. So much for official denials.
This all sounds fascinating and mysterious and weird.
But there's more.
A 'Loose Arrangement'
The shah has hired a PR firm to represent his interests and handle his affairs. This PR firm is a public and governmental relations firm called the Stuart Porter Agency. The chairman of the board is a man named Robert Armao. Robert Armao is also the official greeter for the city of New York. That's right.
Since the shah arrived, Robert Armao has been down in the Bahamas, staying at the Ocean Club where the shah is staying, which is owned by Resorts International. He was on Nelson Rockefeller's staff when Rockefeller was the vice president, as his labor specialist. He quit and went to New York after Rockefeller left. He was very close to Rockefeller, he says, and it was through his friendship with Rockefeller that he got to be tight with the Pahlavi family. He is a short, dark-haired young man, a congenial, affable sort.
"I am," says Armao, "coordinating the shah's operation."
You name it. Finally he emerges from his upstairs room in a suit and tie, very untropical looking. He has been greeting foreign ambassadors, he says, who have come to pay their respects to the shah. He won't say who.
What he will say is, "I'm doing a favor for His Majesty. I was asked by members of the family to help out. They called me from Morocco. I've known the family a long time through Nelson. Nelson was a close friend of the shah's. I have no contract with the shah. Only a very loose arrangement. If anybody has any kind of communications with the shah or the family it would have to go trhough me."
The reason the shah chose the Bahamas, he says, is very simple. "The shah's sister, Princess Ashraf, recommended this as a vacation spot. She had been here before and liked it very much. They took her advice. This is billed as a vacation, you know."
Armao hesitates before he will answer whether or not he is in contact with the American government, then shrugs. "From time to time," he says.
Then, innocently, "Who's the American ambassador here?"
(The American ambassador, it turns out, is William Schwartz, a close Atlanta friend of Jimmy Carter's. Jerry Rafshoon and his wife just happened to take a vacation there two weeks ago. But it was strictly a vacation, says Rafshoon.)
When Armao decided to take the shah's case he dealt directly with the Ocean Club's sales office. He said he rented the house (the only house at the club) from Jim Crosby, chairman of the board of Resorts International, without ever talking to Crosby at all. And the rest of the rooms and villas for the entourage were arranged the same way. He hired the guards through Wackenhut International in Coral Gables and got the Bahamian hotel police to help guard the house. There are about 40 or 50 guards on duty at a time.
He also indicates that the Bahamian government was lying about not knowing the shah was coming. "When we applied for their visas the government was notified," he says.
The shah and his family, says Armao, have been beseiged by phone calls, letters and visitors, all of which he is handling.
The formerly ubiquitous former ambassador to Washington, Ardeshir Zahedi, who had been in hiding since the shah left Iran, even appeared for several days a couple of weeks ago and promised to be back before they left. People have called offering their houses to the shah and several American friends and businessmen have also come to call.
But alas, this tranquil vacation scene-reminiscent, in some ways, of one of the idyllic after-the-fall interludes of Nicholas and Alexander-is soon to end. The shah and his family, according to Armao, have finally decided where they are going to go permanently. And members of the government where they are planning to go have been negotiating with Armao. "They have had to consider the education of their children and the safe future of their majesties," says Armao. "Any of the things any normal family would have to consider."
It has been rumored one of the places the shah will go is Acapulco, but Armao isn't Talking.
"The decision as to where they will go is confidential," he says. "For security reasons, the announcement will be made after the move."
Beach House and Bodyguards
The layout at the Ocean Club is much less secluded, much less private than one would imagine. The Ocean Club is at one end of Paradise Island, the ritzy end. It was built, then sold by A&P heir Huntington Hartford. Now it is the posh part of Resorts International. Five minutes away in the middle of the tiny island, which is connected by a bridge to Nassau, is the casino plus the Paradise Island and Brittania hotels. The other end is the sleazy end.
The Ocean Club is not a club at all but a very private club-like hotel with bougainvillea-filled gardens and courtyards, tennis courts and swimming pools. There are four small private villas adjacent to the courts and one medium-sized beach house right on the beach. That is Jim Corsby's house, where the shah and shabanou are staying. The children, along with their bodyguards, nannies and tutors, are occupying the villas. And many of the 70 rooms in the hotel are being taken up by the shah's entourage and visitors.
The small cream-colored house where the shah is staying has a glass front. It is surrounded by a rusty barbed wire fence and a buch of bodyguards who flirt with bikini-clad tourists who walk up and down the beach, trying to get a peek at the shah.
It is not the most secure set-up-or the most private, for that matter.
Since reports, spread all over the local front pages, that Yasser Arafat has ordered special PLO guerrilla groups to kidnap the shah, security outside the house has been stepped up. When the island had a blackout recently, the royal family was reported to have feared it was a PLO attack. The Wackenhut guards laugh neverously about how they will fend off the PLO
"I plan to be at the bar of the Paradise Island Hotel when they attack," said one.
"What, we scared of the PLO?" said another, feigning terror.
But even as they laugh, the sound of a motorboat coming toward the house puts them all on the alert, with rifles pointed and binoculars raised.
Sally Carey is the hostess of the Ocean Club. A dyed blond former hairdresser, she is ebullient, and out-going. Her job is to "tablehop," to make sure the guests have a good time. "I'm on a first-name basis with all of them," she explains.
Sally Carey worships the shah. "Ever since I was a school girl in England, when the other girls were swooning over Cary Grant, I had a crush on the shah of Iran. He was my idol. I'm in love. I never dreamed I'd see him."
It is Sally Carey who has been in charge of the little things, like arranging for 50 bouquets of flowers to be put in their rooms before they arrived. "And we only had one hour's notice that they were coming." It was Sally Carey who had to inform the other guests in the hotel that they were being thrown out of their rooms for the shah's party. Some of them, she admist, weren't too happy. One guest even asked her what the shah would do if he refused to move. "I guess," she told him. "The shah would have to buy the hotel."
At first Sally Carey was reluctant to talk. "With all the PLO threats," she says, "we've been told to keep quiet." But she finally parts with a few morsels of gossip.
First of all, she says, they arrived with seven dogs from Morocco, and the dogs were admittted without the quarantine. Secondly, the dogs have to have the best steak to eat. Nothing else will do. The Bahamian leftists have also been complaining that their police are used to walk the dogs.
The shah has to have a haircut every 10 days. The first time he wanted a barber, Carey says, she had about two minutes to find one. The only prerequisite was that the man be somebody who wouldn't talk. She thought he meant somebody discreet. In fact that meant somebody who wouldn't talk to the shah. When she found one, the man was told to speak only when spoken to.
The shabanou went out to a hairdresser and had the whole place cleared until she had her hair done. Now she has the hairdresser come to her.
The shah caught a cold and gave it to the shabanou. She is just getting over it.
They all went fishing once in a boat but were followed by reporters from a British newspaper who harassed them so they have yet to venture out again.The prince goes out occasionally.
They have been out to dinner once, to DaVinci's Italian Restaurant. They took over the whole restaurant, and had it closed for them. The whole family cruised the casino a week ago Sundy night at the Paradise Island Hotel. They all ended up in the disco where the prince and princess danced up a storm.
They actually had a party in their house. They hired a Bahamian band and some limbo dancers and had a lot of booze brought in. They even invited actor George Hamilton, whom they had never met. He was staying at the Britannia and the princess heard about it and asked if they could invite him since she wanted to meet a movie star. He came.
The shabanou wanted orchids for Easter. The kids were provided with Easter baskets and bunnies and the security guards hid the eggs for the Easter egg hunt.
They watch a lot of television and they have a TV tape deck that they use to show movies on.
Their guests have included one oil sheik in robes who stayed three or four days.
Sally Carey says that from every thing she hears from those who surround the royal family, the shabanou, Farah Diba, is the real pillar of strength. It is she who is holding the shah and the four children together.
The Pro and the Press
John Antonas is known as the best tennis pro on the island and he also owns the tennis shop at the Ocean Club. Since there is very little else for the royal family to do they have been playing a lot of tennis and Antonas has probably seen more of them and their entourage than anyone else. He says that the people surrounding the shah, whom he calls the "colonels," have been very upset recently over all the executions in Iran and that they talk about it a lot. They say the shah is very concerned and is riveted to any news reports he can get. But antonas says they are upset about something else. "The way the press is handling the reports about the shah, the situation in Iran and connected stories."
He casually refers to visitors to the shah from the U.S. as "CIA people."
"A lot of the people they are bringing in from America," says Antonas, "but particularly the CIA people are very upset by the coverage. They say the reports are totally erroneous."
Antonas says he doesn't really pay too much attention to all that, though. "I'm being paid to teach tennis," he insists. He says the shabanou played only a few times in the beginning, sporting silver and satin shorts and a top. "Very flashy," he says. "She was very outgoing, it seemed like she wanted to talk."
The teenaged princess, he says, is talkative and likes to play tennis and disco. She watches a disco program in the afternoon on TV. Little Prince Ali, he says, is different. "He looks like an aristocrat, like the chairman of the board." He brings his racquet and hits the ball occasionally. The tiny princess, he says, likes to be ballgirl for her father, the shah.
"In the beginning," says Antonas, "if I talked to the prince the guards were all over me. Now they're relaxed."
In fact, though all four children were around the courts over the weekend, if anyone made the slightest attempt to approach them, the guards moved in.
For Antonas this has been a marvelous experience. Except for a few small problems. "Oh, I'm not complaining, mind you," he says.
"It's just that I do have to stay here over hours working with them at night. And of course, in the beginning they did occupy a lot of rooms, so it wasn't too good, tennis-wise. It was the deadest I've seen it in five or six years. I mean they have really cost me as far as sales in the shop are concerned. I haven't been able to sell. And a lot of people are scared to come over to the club because of the PLO threats. The waiters and the bellmen are complaining because they're not getting the kind of tips they're used to. But I'm complaining."
There is just one other tiny little thing that worries Antonas, though again, he's not complaining.
"When I'm out there having fun on the courts with them, every now and then in the back of my mind I have this thought. What if the PLO does come in here and try to kidnap him or somethig. I mean, I am putting myself in some danger."
'They'll Go Soon'
There are a lot of Bahamians who are quite pleased the shah is staying on Paradise Island. The wife of one government minister says that "Robert Vesco has been here for many years investing his money and he has given us good exposure. But I think it is time for us Bahamians to keep our mouths shut."
The assistant manager of the Paradise Island Hotel agreed with her. "They say the shah had people killed. Well, we don't care about that as long as he doesn't do it here. We have a history of receiving criminals here."
At the meeting to protest the shah's presence on the island, however, there was considerable outrage at the idea of letting someone with the shah's reputation take harbor.
Andrew Maynard, the head of the government PLP party, was asked if the Bahamians would allow Idi Amin of Ian Smith into their country. He waffled.
They asked him if the Bahamas should be a den of international thieves and shady characters. "Don't shuck and jive man," said the questioner. He waffled.
They asked him why the Bahamian government didn't say to Jimmy Carter, if his stable is overflowing he shouldn't use their back yard for his mess. He waffled.
Finally he raised his hands to silence the jeering crowd, and said meaningfully, "I believe we'll all find that in the not too distant future the shah, his family and all will pack up and go someplace else."
Paradise and 'Persepolis'
It is 8 1/2 years since the shah of Iran celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire. Eight and a half years since he erected a tent city at the foot of Persepolis in the desert to entertain one emperor, eight kings, three ruling princes, two crown princes, 13 presidents, 10 shieks, two sultans, the vice president of the U.S., various other vice presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and one cardinal.
That event was also a celebration of the reign of the self-proclaimed emperor or Iran, Shahansha Reza Pahlavi, who liked then to compare himself with Cyrus the Great.
Persepolis and the Persian Empire were destroyed by Alexander the Great and never restored. And the Persians have a saying that each man must face once in his life his own "Persepolis," or moment of truth.
For the shah, the distance from the splendor or Persepolis to the sordidness of Paradise Island may well be his. CAPTION: Picture 1, The Shah on the beach at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, by AP; Picture 2, after his crowning in 1967, by UPI; Picture 3, with Express Farah Diba and children after arriving in Nassau March 30, Copyright (c) , The Miami Herald; Picture 4, The shah waves to the press outside his Bahamian compound; Copyright (c) The Miami Herald