Johnny Depp is famous for his good looks, his benevolence, his versatility in acting, and for embodying quirky, sometimes odd characters. But the role for which he is best known is that of the morally gray, charismatic, and usually inebriated Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film series. But Depp isn’t the first heartthrob to have a leading role with the Pirates of the Caribbean.
In 2003, actor Johnny Depp‘s name instantly became synonymous with a new film from Walt Disney Pictures. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl debuted at the box office on July 9 that year, and fans of adventure films (and of Johnny Depp) were immediately hooked. Between 2006 and 2017, Depp would star in four more Pirates films as part of a multi-billion franchise that continues to grow in popularity.
But long before Johnny Depp joined the scurvy band of pirates who sail the Caribbean on the big screen, another Hollywood heartthrob joined the swashbucklers at Disney World.
An Actor Named Roy Scherer, But Hollywood Called Him “Rock”
In 1946, after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, a 21-year-old man named Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., shook the dust of his hometown in Illinois off and headed to Hollywood, intent on becoming an actor. One year later, he was discovered by a talent scout who immediately gave him a new name–one that forever memorialized the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River. The 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful was none other than Rock Hudson.
Just two short years after arriving in Hollywood, Hudson starred in his first film with Warner Bros., titled Fighter Squadron (1948). The following year, Universal bought Hudson’s contract, and he set about the work of making movies–and making them quickly.
Over a period of just six years, Hudson starred in 28 films under contract with Universal, including Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and the film for which is best known, Giant (1956). By the end of the 1950s, Rock Hudson had established himself as an accomplished Hollywood actor–and he had the good looks to go with it.
In the 1960s, Hudson made the move from melodramatic roles to a series of roles for which he became known–many of them alongside actress Doris Day and actor Tony Randall. He starred in Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964) alongside Doris Day and Tony Randall, proving himself to be a talented actor in light comedic roles. And in Man’s Favorite Sport (1964), Rock Hudson gave a performance that had critics raving–and comparing him to actor Cary Grant.
Rock Hudson’s Ceremonial Roles in Disney World’s First Year
Following the many successes he enjoyed throughout the 1960s, Hudson saw another change in the type of acting in which he engaged. After starring in Ice Station Zebra, a thriller set during the Cold War, in 1968, Hudson’s screen career became less of a focus as embraced stage productions and starred in a popular series for television, McMillan and Wife, from 1971 to 1975.
During those years, Hudson also played roles for Disney, though they were roles in films produced by Walt Disney Studios for the box office. Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971, but because of the company’s televised misfortune on Opening Day at Disneyland on July 17, 1955, Disney World’s televised opening was planned for the end of October–though filming would take place days ahead–allowing for any mistakes or snafus to be worked out beforehand.
On the evening of October 29, 1971, NBC broadcast the official opening ceremony at Walt Disney World. The 90-minute special was seen all across the country and touted as a “TV special highlighting the Dedication Ceremonies of the ‘Vacation Kingdom of the World.'” As was the case when Disneyland first opened, dozens of celebrities were there for the dedication of Disney’s Florida park, and some took part in the television special. Rock Hudson was one of them.
On December 18 and December 19, 1971, Disney World held its first series of Candlelight Processional events on Main Street, U.S.A. More than 1,200 carolers made up the choir, singing as Rock Hudson took to the podium to serve as Disney World’s very first narrator during the annual event. The processional concluded with “The Hallelujah Chorus.”
Long Before Johnny Depp, Rock Hudson Was the Heartthrob in the Pirates of the Caribbean
Rock Hudson arrived at Disney World on December 15, 1973, having been invited as the celebrity narrator that evening and the following evening during the park’s third series of the Candlelight Processional event. On the same day as Hudson’s arrival, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction opened to guests at Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.
Two days later, on December 17, 1973, Rock Hudson was at Magic Kingdom to dedicate the new pirate-themed water ride. Hudson, the formidable Hollywood heartthrob, was responsible for cutting the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to the scurvy new attraction during the dedication–some 30 years before Johnny Depp would emerge in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film as the incomparable Captain Jack Sparrow.
The hunky actor would return again to Walt Disney World in 1974, 1977, and 1980–each time as a celebrity narrator during the annual Christmas Candlelight Processional. His final appearance at the Central Florida Disney Park was in December 1984, months before his death on October 2, 1985, at the age of 59.