Arrgh! Get ready to walk the plank if you don’t talk like a pirate on September 19 — the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
No one talked more like a pirate than Robert Newton in his role as Long John Silver in the Walt Disney production of “Treasure Island” (1950). The scene in the video above is when Jim Hawkins first meets Long John Silver. Of course, Robert Louis Stevenson put these words into Newton’s mouth. (See “Shiver My Timbers” link at the bottom of this post.)
Newton created the theatrical Pirate patois and is considered the “patron saint” of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Because of Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, nearly every actor playing a pirate has adopted some version of the same faux Cornish accent that Newton invented. Even the voice of Captain McAllister in the cartoon series “The Simpsons” is based on Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver. Newton successfully used his pirate persona in several later movies, too, such “Blackbeard, the Pirate,” “Return to Treasure Island” and “Long John Silver.” The Who drummer Keith Moon considered Newton a role model. (Not a very good role model, I’m afraid. Both Newton and Moon died early.)
Johnny Depp with his swishy pirate stylings as Captain Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” may be one actor who strayed from the Newton mold and fold. Depp credited Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards as his muse, but you can see a little of Newton in Depp’s version of a comically genial pirate hiding a devious heart.
The Walt Disney version of “Treasure Island” was one of my favorite childhood movies. It was one of the first Disney movies to be shown on television when it was first broadcast in 1955. I saw the movie when “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” re-broadcast it in the 1960s. I remember it best, though, when it was one of the free movies shown on Friday nights during the summer at our small town’s football stadium. I fell in love with Bobby Driscoll, the young boy who played Jim Hawkins. I think I was more in love with the idea of adventure and tropical islands and hidden treasure.
I’m a committed landlubber, but there’s something insanely exciting about jumping on a creaking, swaying little ship and heading off into the unknown on the vast and treacherous ocean. I can live vicariously through the sailors’ adventures without the risks and claustrophia. I’ve gone into a replica of The Mayflower and can’t even imagine being trapped below deck for months. I’m getting off topic here…..
I did get over my sailing ship phobia long enough to sail on the wooden sailing ship, Lavengro, off of Maui to watch humpback whales and snorkel near the sunken volcano Molokini. I learned a little sailor lingo there, like “lowering the boom” and what that actually means. “Watch out or you’ll get knocked overboard!”
International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy) to be celebrated on September 19, the birthday of Summers’ ex-wife so it would be easier for him to remember. To find out more go to International Talk Like A Pirate Day which has links to everywhere you could possible want to go in the Pirate realm, including the official site, Robert Newton’s sites, Treasure Island.
The link also provides some tongue-twisting Pirate jargon, some of which comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.” Stevenson invented many so-called pirate sayings, such as “Shiver My Timbers,” so that they would sound menacing but wouldn’t actually be obscene to his young readers.
Other seafaring movies I liked were “The Bounty” starring Mel Gibson (1984) and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (2003) starring Russell Crowe. I also enjoyed the eight Horatio Hornblower made-for-television movies (1998-2003).