For the lead in Walt Disney’s new comedy, Blackbeard’s Ghost, his swashbuckling garb had to be aged some 200 years to be authentic since the film takes place in contemporary New England, the actual site of the real pirate’s pillaging.
“We took one problem at a time,” confessed Chuck Keene, Disney Costume Department Head, “and fitted him with off-white canvas pants, a beige raw silk shirt, brown velveteen vest, navy blue wool full-length coat, and auburn velour hat; all of which were tailored to design specifications of our chief designer, Bill Thomas.
“His boots were specially designed cavalier boots, coming knee high with an extra-wide cuff. Constructed of black kangaroo leather, the boots had to be sturdy enough to support his massive hulk, yet still be comfortable to his wide foot and high instep. At the cost of $175, they were made by a craftsman who does nothing but make footwear for stars in specific roles.
“To age these boots two centuries, we sandpapered the leather and bruised it without breaking the support features down,” continued Keene. “Then we sprayed them with a brown aging solution, waxed and powdered them. It’s not really a complicated process, but it certainly gets results.
“We use the same process to age clothing. But in addition to sanding the material, we sometimes sandblast it, and that ages it in a hurry. His blue coat became an antique in a matter of seconds, buttons and all. A light brown spray of the aging solution was followed by a generous dusting with ‘rottenstone,’ a grey and brown powder, which discolored the navy fabric to a non-descript blue. Blackbeard’s other garments were made old in similar fashion.”
“I felt like a walking antique,” quipped Ustinov, “wearing these relics from the costume department where they became museum collector’s items overnight.”
Filmed in color by Technicolor, Blackbeard’s Ghost 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.