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After making war documentaries, director John Huston returned to Hollywood ready to begin work on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Thankfully, Humphrey Bogart was able to keep the studio interested in the project while the director had been away, and Huston quickly began adapting the novel into a screenplay.
Published in Germany in the 1920s, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was inspired by “The Pardoner’s Tale” from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Huston wanted to remain faithful to the source material, so he was interested in speaking with the author.
That's where he met a problem. Who was the author? The novel was credited to a "B. Traven," but that was a pseudonym.
So Huston turned to his agent for help, and he was able to get a letter to the mysterious Traven. The author was excited that his novel would be adapted and even more so that Humphrey Bogart was involved.
Huston consulted Traven on the changes he made to the story, and the author not only approved but gushed about them.
In one letter, he wrote, “I simply feel obliged to say that I don’t know anybody, or can imagine anybody, who could have written a script better liked by me than the one you wrote.”
Rather than using studio sets, Huston wanted to film in Mexico. When he went to scout locations, he arranged to meet the author, who was allegedly living there. However, instead of finally meeting Traven, he met his emissary, Hal Croves, a small, thin man with gray hair.
Given his connection to Traven, Croves was hired to be a technical advisor for the film and was paid $100 dollars per week. Many on the crew suspected Croves was actually Traven, but whenever asked, Croves became quite cross.
Huston made the mistake of claiming Croves was Traven in a review, and the emissary wasn't pleased.
Croves said, "John Huston, by being convinced, as he himself, that I was Traven, and then paying me a lousy $100 a week, only shows publically in how low an estimation he is holding Traven, the man, or the woman, as the case might be, whose story gave Mr. John Huston the chance of his lifetime."
Given Huston's betrayal, Traven vowed never to let him adapt another one of his stories.
Interestingly though, after Crove's death, his wife affirmed that her husband was in fact Traven.
Despite this, however, Traven's identity remains a tangled mystery. Others have written theories as to who they believe him to be, but a definitive answer has yet to be unpacked.
“Traven has worked very hard at being mysterious, and I'd hate to see so much effort go for nothing,” Huston later reflected.