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Robert Newton

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Robert Newton
Newton in The High and the Mighty (1954)
Robert Guy Newton

(1905-06-01)1 June 1905
Died25 March 1956(1956-03-25) (aged 50)
Resting placeAshes scattered in the waters of Mount's Bay, Cornwall[1]
Years active1923–1956
  • Petronella Walton
    (m. 1929; div. 1935)
  • Annie McLean
    (m. 1936; div. 1945)
  • Natalie Newhouse
    (m. 1947; div. 1952)
  • Vera Budnik
    (m. 1952)

Robert Guy Newton (1 June 1905 – 25 March 1956) was an English actor. Along with Errol Flynn, Newton was one of the more popular actors among the male juvenile audience of the 1940s and early 1950s, especially with British boys.[2] Known for his hard-living life, he was cited as a role model by the actor Oliver Reed and the Who's drummer Keith Moon.[2]

Beginning his career in theatre in the 1920s, Newton appeared in numerous plays in the West End, including Bitter Sweet by Noël Coward. In 1939 he was Horatio in Hamlet at the Old Vic theatre opposite Laurence Olivier's Prince Hamlet. After serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, he had his major break on screen playing the lead in This Happy Breed (1944) and starring in Olivier's version of Henry V (1944). These appearances saw British exhibitors vote him the 10th most popular British film star of 1944.[3]

Newton is best remembered for his portrayal of the feverish-eyed Long John Silver in the 1950 RKO-Disney British adaptation of Treasure Island, the film that became the standard for screen portrayals of historical pirates. He starred as Edward Teach (Blackbeard) in Blackbeard the Pirate in 1952 and Long John Silver again in the 1954 film of the same title, which spawned a miniseries in the mid-1950s. Born in Dorset in the West Country of England and growing up in Cornwall near Land's End, his exaggeration of his West Country accent is credited with popularising the stereotypical "pirate speech".[2][4][5] Newton has become the "patron saint" of the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.[6]

Early life[edit]

Robert Guy Newton[7] was born on 1 June 1905 in Shaftesbury, Dorset, a son of the landscape painter Algernon Newton, R.A. He lived with his family in Lamorna near Penzance, Cornwall, from 1912 to 1918. He attended St. Petroc's preparatory school in Bude, where he won a shooting competition in 1916,[8] and then Exeter School and St. Bartholomew's School in Newbury, Berkshire.[9]

Early career[edit]

His acting career began at the age of 16 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1921. He appeared in many repertory shows until he went to Canada where he worked on a cattle ranch for a year.[10]

He returned to England and performed in many plays in the West End of London, including Bitter Sweet by Noël Coward, The Letter with Gladys Cooper, and Cardboard Lover with Tallulah Bankhead. He also appeared in Private Lives on Broadway, taking over the role from his friend Laurence Olivier. From 1932 to 1934, he was the manager of the Shilling Theatre in Fulham, London. He had a small role in the film Reunion (1932).

Newton was put under contract to Alexander Korda who cast him in small roles in the cinema films Fire Over England (1937), Dark Journey (1937), Farewell Again (1937) and The Squeaker (1937). He also had a part as Cassius in the abandoned version of I, Claudius and in 21 Days (shot in 1937, released 1940). Newton was borrowed by 20th Century Fox for The Green Cockatoo (1937). Newton had a good role supporting Charles Laughton in Vessel of Wrath (1938). He had another strong part in Yellow Sands (1939) and had his first film lead in Dead Men are Dangerous (1939). He made another with Laughton, Jamaica Inn (1939), playing the romantic male lead, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1939, he played Horatio to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet at the Old Vic, in a production that included Alec Guinness and Michael Redgrave. Newton kept busy as a film actor, appearing in Poison Pen (1939) and Hell's Cargo (1939).

Newton continued primarily as a supporting actor in films, appearing in Gaslight (1940), Busman's Honeymoon (1940), Bulldog Sees It Through (1940), Channel Incident (1940) and Major Barbara (1941), directed by Gabriel Pascal from the play by George Bernard Shaw. Newton got another chance as a star in Hatter's Castle (1942), opposite Deborah Kerr and James Mason. He consolidated his status by playing opposite Anna Neagle in the Amy Johnson biopic They Flew Alone (1942), playing Jim Mollison.

Military service[edit]

Newton enlisted in the Royal Navy and saw active service in the rank of an Able Seaman on board HMS Britomart, which fought as an escort ship on several Russian convoys during World War II. After two and a half years in the Royal Navy he was medically discharged in 1943.

Return to acting[edit]

On resuming his film career, Newton played the lead in This Happy Breed (1944), a role played on stage by Noël Coward. Directed by David Lean, it was a huge hit. So too was the Laurence Olivier version of Henry V (1944), in which Newton played Ancient Pistol. These appearances helped British exhibitors vote him the 10th most popular British film star of 1944.[3] During the war, he starred in the West End in No Orchids for Miss Blandish, which was a hit.[11]

Newton had the star role in a thriller Night Boat to Dublin (1946), then had a showy cameo role in Odd Man Out (1947); this performance later was immortalised in Harold Pinter's play Old Times. He stayed in leads for Temptation Harbour (1947) and Snowbound (1948). Lean cast him as Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist (1948), a huge success critically and commercially.


He then made a series of films with Hollywood stars and/or financing: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948), a film noir with Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster; Obsession (1949), a thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk, playing a cuckolded husband who exacts revenge on his wife. He played Long John Silver in Walt Disney's version of Treasure Island (1950), shot in the UK, with Bobby Driscoll and directed by Byron Haskin. Less well known is Waterfront (1950) in which Richard Burton appeared in his third film.

His final performance on stage was in the 1950 production of Gaslight with Rosamund John at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Newton and Linda Darnell in Blackbeard the Pirate (1952)

Treasure Island's success prompted Newton to return to Hollywood. He was one of several British actors in Soldiers Three (1951), an Imperial adventure tale. He returned to Britain for Tom Brown's Schooldays (1951) to play Thomas Arnold, then was cast by 20th Century Fox as Javert in their version of Les Misérables (1952). In 1951, he was voted the sixth most popular British star in Britain.[12]

Gabriel Pascal gave him the star lead in Androcles and the Lion (1952), another Shaw adaptation. It was made by RKO who cast Newton in the title role of Blackbeard the Pirate (1952).

Fox asked him back for The Desert Rats (1953) opposite Richard Burton and James Mason, playing a drunken school teacher who discovers bravery during World War II. He was one of several names in an airplane disaster movie The High and the Mighty (1954). He was in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents playing a tramp blackmailing a business man.

Back in Britain, Newton was given the lead in The Beachcomber (1954), a remake of Vessels of Wrath, this time in the part originally played by Charles Laughton. He again played Long John Silver in an Australian-made film, Long John Silver (1954). It was shot at Pagewood Studios, Sydney, and directed by Byron Haskin, who had directed Treasure Island.[13] The company went on to make a 26-episode 1955 TV series, The Adventures of Long John Silver, in which Newton also starred. Earlier in 1954, he quit the film Svengali for personal reasons to be replaced by Sir Donald Wolfit which left him open to a legal action while filming in Australia in 1954.

His last screen appearance was as Inspector Fix in Around the World in 80 Days (1956) opposite David Niven, Shirley MacLaine and the Mexican star Cantinflas. It won the Academy Award for the Best Picture in 1956.

Personal life[edit]

Newton married four times and had three children: Sally Newton (born 1930), Nicholas Newton (born 1950)[14] and Kim Newton (born 1953).

He was accused of kidnapping his son, Nicholas, when he took him to Hollywood in 1951,[15] the year his third marriage ended. After a court battle, Newton's elder son was placed in the custody of his aunt and uncle.[16]

He married his fourth wife, Vera Budnick, in June 1952. They had a son, Kim.[17]


Newton suffered in the latter part of his life from chronic alcoholism and died on 25 March 1956 at age 50, following a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California.[18] His body was cremated, and there is a plaque in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles in his memory. Years later, his son Nicholas scattered his ashes into the south coast of Cornwall in Mount's Bay, near Lamorna in Cornwall, where his father had spent his childhood.[19]


Box-office rankings[edit]

For several years, Newton was voted by exhibitors as among the most popular British stars at the local box office:

  • 9th most popular British star in 1947[21]
  • 5th most popular British star in 1950 (10th most popular star overall)[citation needed]
  • 7th most popular British star in 1951[22]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1953 Family Theatre Namgay Doola[23]


  1. ^ Robert Newton (1905-1956) Archived 23 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine (britmovie.co.uk).
  2. ^ a b c Angus Konstam (2008) "Piracy: The Complete History". p.313. Osprey Publishing, Retrieved 11 October 2011
  3. ^ a b "Motion Picture Herald". Quigley Publishing Co. 14 October 1945 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Parry, Dan (2006). Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean. p. 174. National Maritime Museum
  5. ^ "The Source of the Pirate's "Arrr!"". 28 April 2018.
  6. ^ Mark Baker (19 September 2003). "Avast! No lubbers today, ye scurvy bilge rats!". The Register-Guard. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  7. ^ Film Dope. 1991. p. 30.
  8. ^ Casson, Pamela (1990). St. Petroc's: Seventy Years of a Cornish Preparatory School. Edyvean Printers, St. Columb. p. 8.
  9. ^ "A Tribute to Actor Robert Newton (1905-1956)". Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  10. ^ "Robert Newton at Height of Career". The Advocate (Tasmania). Tasmania, Australia. 15 August 1947. p. 6. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "Bob Newton prefers staying home". The Australian Women's Weekly. Vol. 13, no. 37. Australia. 23 February 1946. p. 31. Retrieved 11 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Vol. LXXI. Queensland, Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ "THAT "VILLAIN," ROBERT NEWTON". The Sun-Herald. New South Wales, Australia. 25 April 1954. p. 39. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "WHO WE ARE – An Entertainment Company".
  15. ^ "Actor's Family Trouble". Barrier Miner. Vol. LXIII, no. 17, 381. New South Wales, Australia. 8 February 1951. p. 9. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  16. ^ Limited, Alamy. "Stock Photo - Aug. 08, 1957 - Five year old orphan son of Robert Newton arrives in London. Nicholas Newton the five-year-old orphan son of film star Robert Newton arrived at London Airport". Alamy.
  17. ^ "Robert Newton To Make Film Here". The Sun-Herald. No. 257. New South Wales, Australia. 27 December 1953. p. 7. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "ACTOR ROBERT NEWTON DIES IN HOLLYWOOD". The Canberra Times. Vol. 30, no. 8, 806. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 27 March 1956. p. 2. Retrieved 30 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ 'Cornwall's Strangest Tales', by Peter Grego. (Pub. Portico Books, 2013).
  20. ^ "timeout". Archived from the original on 8 January 2009.
  21. ^ 'Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown', The Washington Post (1923-54) [Washington, D.C.] 3 January 1948: 12.
  22. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  23. ^ Kirby, Walter (15 March 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved 25 June 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon

External links[edit]