Long John Silver

When my mother, the daughter of immigrants to New York City, turned 18 years old, she and her best friend Vera grabbed the first train they could find to Hollywood, California. There they both got jobs for Warner Brothers and soon each married actors. My mom’s marriage (to my older sister’s dad) ended in divorce a few years later, but Vera’s husband, Robert Newton, went on to work in a number of films before he died at age 50 from a heart attack.

I knew Robert Newton played Long John Silver in Treasure Island, but I didn’t know, as Cecil points out in this week’s column that his portrayal popularized the Pirate image and the “arrr.”

That makes me related to Kevin Bacon. Or something.

My dad’s first and middle names were Robert Newton, as were his father’s.

He also played Blackbeard in a movie of the same title. It’s partly the accent he had used years before when he played Frank Crutchley in “Busman’s Honeymoon”.

What really amazes me is that he was in the original cast of “Bitter Sweet”.

Who played Lord and Lady Peter?

Because of this column, I just did a little search and reconnected with Robert Newton’s son, who I knew when I was little.

Robert Montgomery and Constance Cummings. The film was produced by the British branch of MGM, which was created because of British tax laws that required MGM’s British profits to be reinvested in Britain. A decade or so later, that same law was responsible for Disney breaking into live-action films, including Newton’s first portrayal of Long John Silver. (The sequel movie and the TV series were Australian productions, unconnected to Disney.)

The movie was retitled “Haunted Honeymoon” in the US, on the theory that Americans were unfamiliar with both the word “busman” and the idiom “busman’s holiday”.

I’ll second Cecil’s endorsement of David Cordingly’s book Under the Black Flag, a historical look at pirates. I read it a few years ago; it was terriically interesting (and at times blood-chilling).

I loved Newton’s Long John Silver when I was a kid- still the definitive characterization- likeable but at the same time you believed he was capable of cold blooded murder. He also played the role in one of the first syndicated TV series whose grainy and badly chopped for ads repeats aired on Saturday afternoons for a while when I was a kid.

Charlton Heston wasn’t bad in the role in a 1990 production with Christian Bale as Jim, and of course Beery was good, but Newton’s the gauge. Worst Long John Silver of all time was very possibly, I hate to say it, Orson Welles.

With the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, and with Treasure Island long out of copyright protection, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a big budget remake. (They’d probably update it ala Great Expectations- now it’s a B&B with a dying mafioso- Billy “Bones” Giacomo- Deniro as Silver and Joe Pesci as the parrot.

Not that it matters, but the above should have read Guigelmo “Billy Bones” Giacomo running from in-hiding mob boss Giovanni “Johnny Silver” Argento, with Joe Pesci as his parrot.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when Silver is cautioning Jim about spitting overboard: “Allways spit ta loo’ard, Jim. If ye spit ta winn’ard it’ll come back at ye.”

Good advice I have always lived by when aboard pirate ships.

Keith Moon did a mean impression of Newton. Unfortunately for Keith, his neighbor Steve McQueen didn’t cotton to messed-up rock stars staggering along the beach shouting “ARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!” (they had other issues as well)

Steve-O shot out Moonie’s porch light to solve the matter.

Hee. This part made me laugh.


In Tony Fletcher’s biography of Moon (Dear Boy: Omnibus Press 1998) the author tells us that Keith built a giant French window overlooking the McQueens’ house.

He apparently confided to a close friend, name of Dougal, that he did this in the hope of spotting Ali McGraw in the nude. As an aid to vision Moon frequently resorted to using a pair of binoculars. McQueen wasn’t aware of his neighbour’s motives but he did take exception to some spotlights which shone over his house from Keith’s bathroom. He is said to have twice shot them out in the middle of the night to maintain his tranquility.

There’s nothing in the book about Keith articulating pirate cries on the beach, which is not to say it didn’t happen. McQueen was more accustomed to Moon dressing up as Rommel marching his ‘troops’ up and down the beach and in and out of the ocean.

When Jeff Stein was making “The Kids Are Alright”, he filmed Keith walking on the beach, dressed as a pirate. I assume that they shot the scene in Malibu.
Moonie the pirate on Newton fansite.

What I have always heard is that Robert Newton was a Welshman, and that the way he spoke as Long John Silver was just an over-the-top exaggeration of the classic Welsh accent (including the heavily rolled R’s).

I have some Welsh ancestry, and I can say that the accents are similar, it’s just that Newton’s as Silver is ten times stronger that what you’d normally hear…

I think it’s intended to be a West Country accent, specifically Bristol (which is basically Somerset with some Welsh inflection). Why Long John Silver is assumed to be a Westcountryman I don’t know but that is the accent most actors give him - though, iirc, Alfred Burke on the BBC many years ago played him as Cockney.

Well, Bristol’s the setting for the beginning of the book, so I assume that’s the connection. I’d be interested to read the opinion of any Dopers from that part of the country as to whether Newton actually does sound Bristolian – it sounds like pure Mummerset to me.

Newton was born in Dorset, south of Somerset. He often used a west-country accent.

He also played another Bristol pirate, Blackbeard.

Bristol is where Jim Hawkins meets Silver. He is given a note by the squire and takes it to Long John’s own inn, the Spyglass. Later, when Hawkins overhears Silver plotting mutiny with Dick on the Hispaniola, it’s clear from the exchange that Long John’s business interests and money were all in Bristol.

That’s correct. The scene was shot on Trancas Beach.