Thursday, June 02, 2011

Disney Producer Walsh Shows Approach to Comedy with Blackbeard's Ghost

06.02.11 - If a much sought after formula for successful motion pictures really exists, then Disney producer-writer Bill Walsh, whose current offering is Blackbeard's Ghost, has found it.

Track coach Steve Walker (Dean Jones) tells Peter Ustinov he wants no part of his weird, wild and "spirited" antics after accidentally conjuring up the rotund pirate's ghost in Blackbeard's Ghost, Walt Disney's newest comedy-fantasy in color by Technicolor.
When examining the greatest successes in Walsh's 22-year Disney career — films like The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat, and Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. — his approach to comedy-fantasy becomes evident.

"The first portion of each film," comments Walsh, "takes time to establish characters and to delineate situation. Although this initial part may move more slowly than the rest of the film, it is a necessary and deliberate movement. Walt used to call this part of the picture winding the clock." Once the stage is set, the action picks up momentum as the picture unfolds.

"Too often comedies begin at a nervous clip, moving at a fast pace until they run out of gas, without having told a good story. The most important single consideration of any picture is the script," explains Walsh who has co-scripted 13 of his 16 features. "We are always on the lookout for fresh material that would be suitable for screen adaptation. Blackbeard's Ghost was developed from a very funny novel by noted illustrator Ben Stahl which tells the exploits of a long-dead pirate's spirit who is cursed to wander in limbo until he performs a good deed."

The second most important consideration is the cast. "Comedy-fantasies require actors who can play un-believable situations for real. Fred MacMurray and Dean Jones are that type of actor. Peter Ustinov, who has the title role in Blackbeard's Ghost, is another marvelous example."

"The success of Dean Jones, who has starred in three of my productions, including Blackbeard, lies in his sincerity. The nuttier the situation gets, the more he believes in it. Actors often go wrong in fantasy. They become cute with the material and lose audience contact.

"The supporting cast and secondary parts must also be all topnotch people who understand comedy. For example, Joby Baker, Elsa Lanchester and Richard Deacon beautifully complement the headline stars, Dean, Ustinov and Suzanne Pleshette, in Blackbeard."

Blackbeard's Ghost, filmed in color, stars Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette. Robert Stevenson directed the Bill Walsh-Don DaGradi screenplay, which is based on a novel by the noted illustrator, Ben Stahl. Walsh is co-producer of the Buena Vista release.

From the original 1968 Blackbeard's Ghost press materials.


  1. What a great article! Thank you for posting it. I just watched this movie for the first time this weekend and found this via Twitter.

  2. Thanks for the comment :)

    You may like this article as well:


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