Robert Newton

Robert Guy Newton (1 June 1905 – 25 March 1956) was an English stage and film 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 lifestyle, he was cited as a role model by the actor Oliver Reed and the Who's drummer Keith Moon.[2]

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

(1905-06-01)1 June 1905
Died25 March 1956(1956-03-25) (aged 50)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Resting placeAshes scattered in the waters of Mount's Bay, Cornwall[1]
Years active19321956
Spouse(s)Petronella Walton
(m. 1929; div. 193?)
Annie McLean
(m. 1936; div. 1945)

Natalie Newhouse
(m. 1947; div. 1952)

Vera Budnik
(m. 1952; his death 1956)

Newton is best remembered for his portrayal of the feverish-eyed Long John Silver in the 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island, the film that became the standard for screen portrayals of historical pirates. He continued to portray pirates in Blackbeard in 1952 and Long John Silver again in the 1954 film of the same name, which spawned a miniseries in the mid-1950s. Born in Dorset in the West Country of England and growing up in Cornwall near Lands End, his exaggeration of his West Country accent is credited with popularising the stereotypical "pirate voice".[2][3] Newton has become the "patron saint" of the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day.[4]

Early life

Robert Guy Newton[5] was born in Shaftesbury, Dorset, a son of the landscape painter Algernon Newton, R.A. He was educated in Lamorna near Penzance, Cornwall, where he lived with his family from 1912 to 1918, then at Exeter School and St Bartholomew's School in Newbury, Berkshire.[6]

Early career

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.[7]

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

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. After two and a half years in the Royal Navy he was medically discharged in 1943.

Return to acting

On resuming his acting 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.[8] During the war, he starred in the West End in No Orchids for Miss Blandish, which was a hit.[9]

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 the victim of an acid murderer. He played Long John Silver in Walt Disney's version of Treasure Island (1950), with Bobby Driscoll and directed by Byron Haskin. This was a big hit in Britain and widely seen in the US. Less well known is Waterfront (1950).

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

Treasure Island's success prompted Newton to relocate 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.[10]

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), 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).

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 a 1954 Australian-made film, Long John Silver. It was shot at Pagewood Studios, Sydney and directed by Byron Haskin, who had directed Treasure Island.[11] The company went on to make a 26-episode 1955 TV series, The Adventures of Long John Silver, in which Newton also starred. While filming in Australia in 1954, Newton was declared bankrupt with unpaid tax in the UK of £47,000.

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.


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.[12] 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 English Channel in Mount's Bay, near Lamorna in Cornwall, where his father had spent his childhood.[13]

Personal life

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 when he took him to Hollywood in 1951,[15] the year his third marriage ended. He married his fourth wife, Vera Budnick, in June 1952. They had a son, Kim, born 1953.[16] After a court battle, Newton's elder son was placed in the custody of his aunt and uncle.[17]


Box office rankings

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

  • 9th[19] in 1947
  • 5th in 1950 (10th most popular overall)
  • 7th[20] in 1951

Radio appearances

1953Family TheatreNamgay Doola[21]


  1. Robert Newton (1905-1956) Archived 23 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine (
  2. Angus Konstam (2008) "Piracy: The Complete History". p.313. Osprey Publishing, Retrieved 11 October 2011
  3. Dan Parry (2006). "Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean". p. 174. National Maritime Museum
  4. Mark Baker (19 September 2003). "Avast! No lubbers today, ye scurvy bilge rats!". The Register-Guard. Retrieved 26 October 2014.
  5. Film Dope. p. 30.
  6. "A Tribute to Actor Robert Newton (1905-1956)". Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  7. "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.
  8. "Motion Picture Herald". Quigley Publishing Co. 14 October 1945 via Internet Archive.
  9. "Bob Newton prefers staying home". The Australian Women's Weekly. 13, (37). Australia, Australia. 23 February 1946. p. 31. Retrieved 11 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  10. "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. LXXI. Queensland, Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 30 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  11. "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.
  12. "ACTOR ROBERT NEWTON DIES IN HOLLYWOOD". The Canberra Times. 30, (8, 806). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 27 March 1956. p. 2. Retrieved 30 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  13. 'Cornwall's Strangest Tales', by Peter Grego. (Pub. Portico Books, 2013).
  14. """".
  15. "Actor's Family Trouble". Barrier Miner. LXIII, (17, 381). New South Wales, Australia. 8 February 1951. p. 9. Retrieved 30 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  16. "Robert Newton To Make Film Here". The Sun-Herald (257). New South Wales, Australia. 27 December 1953. p. 7. Retrieved 30 August 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  17. 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.
  18. "timeout". Archived from the original on 8 January 2009.
  19. 'Bing's Lucky Number: Pa Crosby Dons 4th B.O. Crown', The Washington Post (1923-54) [Washington, D.C.] 3 January 1948: 12.
  20. "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  21. Kirby, Walter (15 March 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 46. Retrieved 25 June 2015 via
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