It was the last week in June, 2003, that pirates sailed into the Caribbean, led by what may be the strangest pirate that ever lived. Captain Jack Sparrow. Not even Blackbeard could have guessed that Johnny Depp, in Disney’s swashbuckling film, Curse of the Black Pearl would plunder the hearts and wallets of pirate fans around the globe for years to come.
What most people don’t realize is that when Johnny Depp began to portray his character as a saucy, almost effeminate pirate, several of the executives bristled. Depp won out, and Disney was buried under an avalanche of cash. They didn’t complain much about that. Grossing over $654 million, Curse of the Black Pearl went on to become the most successful film of the year.
Other films in the series include Dead Man’s Chest (2006) which earned $1.1 billion. At the World’s End (2007) earned $960 million, On Stranger Tides (2011) over a billion dollars, and Deadmen Tell No Tales in 2017 plundered nearly $800 million. Not a bad take for a bunch of hapless, unwashed pirates.
Depp never won an Academy Award for Curse of the Black Pearl. He never won an Academy Award for the other five Pirates of the Caribbean either. In fact, of all the movies he’s appeared in, and that includes: Sweeney Todd (2007), Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory (2005), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Sleepy Hollow (1999), he’s never once won the coveted award. Is he that bad of an actor or do the people who vote on such things actually live with their heads up their astral?
Pirates never get old. Each generation must face the possibility of encountering some very real ones out on the high seas. Yet, as the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted from around 1700 to 1720, fades into history’s rearview mirror, the appeal of pirates has never been stronger. Within a span of 14 years, Disney has sensed this, and continues to pillage the box office around the globe for the foreseeable future.
There are a few things that might surprise you about pirates. In fact, there are a few things that might surprise you about Johnny Depp. For example, did you know that he carries his pirate costume around with him so he can visit sick kids in the hospital? He’s not going to intimidate too many people with that kind of attitude. In fact, after playing the role of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, he found out the horse he rode was going to be put down so he adopted it. Softie!
Johnny Depp has been close friends with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones for years. Depp used him as an inspiration for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow.
Anyone who’s seen Sweeney Todd is probably aware of what an excellent singer Depp is, but don’t ask him to dance anytime soon. It’s one of his biggest fears.
When God made Johnny Depp, he threw away the mold. As a man of contradictions, he isn’t easy to explain away as the executives in Hollywood know only too well. When he was cast as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not many people knew he was allergic to chocolate as a kid. While he was filming the first Pirates of the Caribbean, he fell in love with an island he came across in the Caribbean. He was so enamored by it that he bought it for $3.6 million. My brother-in-law would be proud of him. Everything there runs on solar power.
If you think Captain Jack Sparrow is a strange character, you’ll be more than amused at the real-life character of Depp. He has 30 tattoos on his body. In fact, he once said: “My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” I don’t know if any of those tattoos are of saucy wenches or skull and crossbones, but he is known to have tattooed Winona Forever on his body. When he and Winona Ryder broke up, he had it altered to Wino Forever, a nod to his wine-keeping hobby.
You can’t say Johnny Depp hasn’t immersed himself in the persona of a pirate over the years. He was once accused of having trashed the room of a five-star hotel in New York City, something he flatly denies. To this day he swears an armadillo did it after jumping out of a closet. When questioned by police where it went, he pointed to the window. “Jumped out!” he exclaimed.
All the films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series serve up a lot of fun even if they are a little lean on historical accuracy. For example, did you know that most pirates never made anyone walk the plank. If they got around to disliking you, they simply threw you overboard.
Then, of course, there’s the Flying Dutchman. The historical account is actually simpler than what the movies portray. A Dutchman trying to round the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa kept being pushed backwards by ferocious winds and mountainous waves. Exasperated, he swore to the devil that if he would let him through, he would sell him his soul. Since then any sailor who sees the Flying Dutchman is doomed to die prematurely.
As for the depravity and slovenly dress of pirates, the crew of the Black Pearl got it right. The more unkempt and dirty pirates were, the happier they seemed to be though Jack Sparrow dressed more closely to real-life pirate Jack Rackham who sported fancy clothes. As for pirates’ finances, I’m afraid my financial planner would starve if he were around pirates of the Golden Age. When in port, most spent every last doubloon on wine, women, and debauchery. Of course, there were exceptions. Buccaneer, Henry Morgan, whom all that rum has been named after, saved a generous portion of his booty and bought several plantations in the Caribbean.
When the next Pirates of the Caribbean comes out, I wonder where the adventure will take us. It doesn’t matter much. When Johnny Depp transforms himself into Captain Jack Sparrow, and his mascara is barely dry, we’ll be running for our lives trying to keep up with him. See you then. I’ll be the one in the movie seat behind you, swinging my cutlass wildly and curdling your blood with the fiercest scream I can muster. “Aarrggh!”
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It’s been a busy month for pirates… at least those rascally bucaneers who pillaged and plundered the Caribbean three hundred years ago.
Disney was right to name their amusement attraction and film series by the name Pirates of the Caribbean. Both helped capture the essence of what has made pirates attractive over the centuries though some people I talk to are shocked when I point out Jack Sparrow was just a fictional character.
Books and films have propagated some of the common myths we cherish about pirates like burying treasure every chance they got or entertaining themselves endlessly by making their victims walk the plank.
The fact is pirates were too busy donating their money to impoverished innkeepers in exchange for a little rum to find time to bury it. Why they were even known to assist lonely women down on their luck and their backs in return for a couple of life’s simple pleasures. Their generosity left them broke.
As for walking the plank, it’s difficult but not impossible to find references to this diabolic deed. You can read more about it in me upcoming book Uncommon Mariners. Let it suffice to say, once pirates captured a ship, like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, they set straight to work, searching for all that hidden gold.
Disney would have you believe as would Homer Pyle the painter of pirates that those who didn’t cough up their belongings were forced to walk the plank while a crew of gnarly, smelly pirates chortled and snarled “Aarrrgh.” Sometimes spelled aarrrrgh or arrr, the accent being on the last three letters. The truth is, if murderous pirates were sufficiently annoyed with you or their underwear was too tight that day, they simply threw you overboard.
A lot of people including a number of historians over the years put Blackbeard in this category, but that’s only because they came to believe the Hollywood hype and Blackbeard’s own press releases. Of course, Blackbeard didn’t actually issue press releases. He didn’t have to. His physical demeanor gave the aura of being the nastiest, meanest, most ornery, ferocious pirate in the Caribbean. One look at his snarly beard bedecked with burning fuses struck more fear in a shipload of sailors than a hundred press releases.
The reason I’m telling you this is because December the 10 has slipped into oblivion again this year, the date Stede Bonnet, was hanged in Charleston in 1718. Bonnet was a gentleman pirate and one of Blackbeard’s consorts, but It would be stretching the truth to call him his friend.
Bonnet became a pirate for the most unlikely of reasons. He was tired of his wife’s nagging. If you had to pick him out of a lineup of ten pirates, you’d be wrong nine times. He looked more like a Wall Street type than a thick-bearded ruffian ready to cut your heart out.
Still the fact remains he was a pirate. Strangely enough, he had to buy his ship not steal it, and he didn’t even understand how the whole pirate thing worked: First, you pillage, then you plunder, drink some rum, then pay the crew. Pirates called it: “No prey, no pay!”
Stede’s first mistake was paying his crew before they even left port. Actually, his first mistake was becoming a pirate.
After being resoundly beaten in one of his earlier encounters, he limped into the pirate base of Nassau where it was love at first sight. Not what you’re thinking I guarantee you. Blackbeard was on the dock, and when he laid his eyes on Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, he knew he had to have it.
The amusing thing is Blackbeard through wit and coercion had Stede Bonnet join his fleet with the gentleman pirate pretty much a hostage on his own ship. “You read yer books in yer fancy library,” he no doubt told Stede, “and I’ll find ye a fine sailing captain to manage the dirty work. Arrrrgh!” I’m not sure Bonnet was ever aware Blackbeard had relieved him of his ship.
A lot of adventures passed under the ship’s keel before Blackbeard and Bonnet parted ways, but you can be sure it wasn’t over until the master of intimidation said it was over.
Bonnet didn’t last long after that. The luckless pirate was caught by mistake off North Carolina when pirate hunters were searching for someone else. He was brought to Charleston, South Carolina where more than a few common folk threatened to riot when he and his men were scheduled to be hanged.
Many of these locals were ex pirates from Nassau and smugglers who made more money than an inside trader on Wall Street. But the thriving days of piracy in the Caribbean were on the wane, and Stede Bonnet’s days were numbered.
Stede Bonnet may not have cut the colorful swath in history Blackbeard did, but you deserve to know that despite the myths, he was Blackbeard’s peer and should be respected for that.
As for this well-educated man with a refined background turning to a life of crime, I have to ask you. What would it take for you to live your pirate dreams?
See you out there on the high seas of life. Arrrgh!
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Happy Veteran’s Day to all those men and women who have sacrificed so much so that all of us Americans could enjoy our freedom. Whether you served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard, our debt to you is profound. We honor and respect you and thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.
Arrrrgh! Sorry I be’s late with this communicado, but me and me pirate wench have been held incommunicado this past weekend. We were bivouacked at the Waccamaw Artists Guild’s Art in the Park at Chapin Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
My wife creates Little Books of Mirth that she absconded from fairies who live in the woods behind our humble abode. She learned that trick from the best of pirates. But she be just as famous for her beautiful shell wreaths made with shells from beaches around the world where many a pirate and mariner have been marooned.
As fer me, me art comprises of photographs I took while pillaging’ and plunderin’ from Cape Cod to the Caribbean. One of me favorites is a diorama I discovered celebrating Homer Pyle’s painting Marooned. It depicts a solitary pirate sitting on an abandoned beach, a bandana wrapped about his head, shoulders slumped, lost in thought, no doubt contemplating the events that led to his situation. No doubt, one of those somber thoughts, is about what is to transpire with no worldly possession in reach other than a swallow of rum and a pistol.
Ye see, mates, pirates were frequently marooned on an inhospitable island with nothing more than a bit of rum and a pistol with one ball to speed his end at his own hand. It was a fate assigned to that pirate who didn’t play well with other pirates.
Howard Pyle is also known for two other easily recognizable paintings of pirates. One is of a blindfolded man, hands tied, ready to walk the plank. In the background, several pirates leer gleefully, exhorting the victim to the edge.
No doubt, Pyle got his ideas of pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Alexander Exquemelin who served as physician among pirates. While Exquemelin’s embellished accounts in The Buccaneers of America are grounded in fact, Stevenson’s poetic license resulted in the creation of several pirate myths that thrive to this day.
The truth is there are only one or two accounts of pirates making their victims walk the plank. Not being well known for their patience, pirates devised a much quicker method of disposing of unwanted mariners. “Run a saber through the bloke and throw the body overboard. Alive or dead. Makes no difference to me,” pretty much captures their attitude.
However, considering that some captains and crews were, indeed, sadistic, it’s not hard to visualize pirates delighting in the torment of a blindfolded victim teetering on a plank extended over the sea.
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Last time we visited, ye took a little test to see how much ye really knew about us buccaneers. Did ye know enough to escape the gangplank or was ye swimming with the sharks. Think you’ll survive a second broadside from me cannons? Good luck, mates. Ten right answers and ye merit sailing with Blackbeard himself. Three wrong answers and anyone will know yer a landlubber fer sure and no mariner of the high seas.
So you think you know all about pirates, eh, matey? Was it Jack Sparrow who taught ya a thing or two? Or maybe ye learned it from that scalawag Robert Louis Stevenson. Well, open yer one good eye cause yer about to enter the real world of pyrates. Just answer true or false. Three wrong answers and ye be walkin’ the plank!