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Long John Silver (1954)

Rod Taylor plays Israel Hands, a villainous, blind, bearded pirate. He appears in the latter third of the movie, unrecognizable beneath a wild thatch of hair.

Although his screen time is short, this movie played a large role in launching Taylor toward Hollywood.

He landed the part thanks to scriptwriter Martin Rackin hearing him on the radio and seeing him in the Mercury Theatre's "Misalliance" in Sydney. "He asked me if I would play the part ... of Israel Hands, a mad, blind old man. So they fitted me out with white contact lenses, and I did it," Taylor recalled in a 1967 interview.

Taylor had recently won the Rola Award as best radio actor and was planning to take the prize money and go to England. "But then I delayed long enough to do ... 'Long John Silver,' and everyone said, 'Go to America,'" Taylor said in a 1961 interview.

Rackin was one of those who pushed the hardest. "Marty Rackin seemed to like me and was very enthusiastic about me," Taylor said. "He had apparently sent cables to a number of leading agents and studio heads about me."

When Taylor finally set off for England, he did stop in Los Angeles, at the request of a powerful Hollywood agency, MCA. A pair of MCA staffers met him at the airport, apparently didn't like what they saw, and Rod decided to stay!

Robert Newton with a cleaned-up Rod Taylor.

ON THE SCREEN

The Australian/U.S. production, also known as "Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island," takes up where "Treasure Island" left off, with Robert Newton remaining in the role of Long John Silver.

After a series of adventures, Long John and his crew do finally return to Treasure Island. Besides treasure, however, they discover Israel Hands marooned there -- and find that he's a pretty good shot for a blind man.

Hands supposedly was killed in "Treasure Island," but it turns out he was only blinded. Embittered, he seeks revenge against young cabin boy Jim Hawkins and pursues him through caves and over rocky cliffs in a further impressive display for the sightless pirate.

ON TOUR

Rod Taylor did a promotional tour for "Long John Silver" with scheduled stops in 26 U.S. cities, according to a Los Angeles Times report on Jan. 11, 1955.

In newspaper reports on stops in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New York, Rod touts the advantages of filming movies in Australia, laments the lack of work for Aussie film/TV technicians, and downplays his own chances of landing work in Hollywood.

Rod visited Bridgeport and Hartford, Conn., in early February 1955. An item in the Bridgeport, Conn., Telegram notes, "He doesn't quite know just how he came to be selected to make the American tour, but he is extremely happy about it." The column also says that Rod would like the experience of making a Hollywood movie, but sees little chance to have that dream fulfilled at this time.

He was in Pittsburgh, Pa., on March 2, 1955, and the Pennsylvania city's two newspapers had extensive coverage.

A column by Win Fanning in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on Rod's role in "Long John Silver": "The 25-year-old actor proves his versatility by enacting the role of a cackling blind horror bent upon murdering young Jim Hawkins, boy hero of the adventure yarn. His success in this novel feat has drawn interest by several major Hollywood producers who may persuade the Australian to dally in this country longer than he originally planned."

Fanning's column further notes that Rod has taped dozens of shows to keep his radio serial characterizations going back home. "If I do stay longer than I expected, there are going to be an awful lot of drastic 'accidents' on Australian soap operas as the various characters I play are written out of the script," Rod said.

In the Pittsburgh Press, columnist Kaspar Monahan wrote, "Warner Bros. is showing interest in Rod, who hopes they'll sign him for a couple of pictures. ... He has the thews and sinews of a professional strong man. In high school when only a youngster, he won the shot put with a heave of 41 feet, a record for [New] South Wales."

While in Pittsburgh, Rod also presented a prize to the winner of a hospital charity drive. The young woman who earned the prize had this mixed review about Rod: "I found Mr. Taylor to have a fine personality. He is not exceptionally handsome, but the type of actor capable of playing many different roles."

On March 10, 1955, a syndicated column, "My New York" by Mel Heimer, had a more glowing description, calling him "a ruggedly good-looking soul of 25" and praising him for avoiding the champagne-and-caviar set.

 

 

LINKS

IMDb // Wikipedia

 

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