At the time Marguerite Harrison, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack set out to film Grass, Western nations had keen interest in the Middle East. Inspired by the writings of British adventurers, including spies T. E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, tourism to the region thrived. In addition to the cultural fascination with the area, the American, British, French, German, and Russian governments were also interested in the politics and resources of the region. The British first established a foothold in the Middle East to gain access to India. Their discovery of oil in Persia in 1908 fueled even greater involvement and sparked intense rivalries among the industrialized nations. In 1923 the region was a cauldron of political intrigues as Turks, Persians, and Arabs struggled to assert their independence while Western countries and Russia sought alliances for their own benefit.
The three arrived in Turkey just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was establishing control over the country. The Turks were wary of foreigners, especially those speaking English, fearing they might try to aid the rebellious Kurds or Armenians.
As part of his nationalist plan, Kemal moved the country’s capital from Constantinople to Angora. So when Marguerite arrived in Constantinople, she could find no one in authority who could issue permits for the Americans to travel farther into the country. A representative of the Foreign Office told her she must apply for permission from Angora.
When Cooper and Schoedsack joined her some weeks later, they were disappointed to learn she had not concluded the arrangements for them to proceed to the Kurdish-occupied lands. After another week of waiting, the trio began filming in Constantinople.
They staged Marguerite’s arrival at the Golden Horn and filmed scenes of her being mobbed by baggage handlers as she stepped off a steamer. But as the days wore on, Cooper and Schoedsack grew impatient to reach the Kurds. They favored traveling to Beirut and through Syria to Iraq, where they hoped to connect to Kurds in the northern part of the country. Marguerite implored them to wait, wanting to observe developments in Turkey.
Just as she was about to give in to the men’s demands, the Turks granted permission for them to proceed to Angora. Their progress was fleeting, however. When they arrived in Angora, the foreign minister told them firmly they would not be allowed to take pictures in Kurdistan.
They had not come up with another plan.