December 15 is a big day in Disney history.
The date marks the anniversary of the passing of the man who started it all: the legendary genius animator and creator, Walter Elias Disney. Disney passed away at the age of just 65 years old on December 15, 1966, and the world seemed more bleak than it had in years. Walt’s imagination and knack for making dreams a reality touched the lives of millions around the world, and his legacy still lives on today.
But the 15th day of December is also a day of celebration for Disney Parks, as it marks the anniversary of the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida.
Pirates of the Caribbean Opens at Magic Kingdom in 1973
The attraction, which features scores of scurvy swashbucklers and pilfering pirates, first opened on December 15, 1973, just over two years after Disney World first began welcoming guests.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the opening of the attraction has to do with the Hollywood heartthrob who played a role in the Pirates of the Caribbean (ride) long before Johnny Depp ever donned his first swashbuckling sash. His given name was Roy Scherer.
Hollywood Heartthrob Dedicates the Attraction
But the name Roy Scherer never made it any further than the Illinois dust the actor shook off his boots years before the opening of the Disney World attraction.
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 decided the young man needed a new name, so he gave him one that was inspired by the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River.
The 22-year-old Hollywood hopeful was none other than Rock Hudson.
Rock Hudson’s Disney “Career”
Just two short years after arriving in Hollywood, Hudson starred in his first film with Warner Bros., and the very next year, Hudson began making movies–and very quickly, we might add.
In just six years’ time, Rock Hudson starred in 28 films under contract with Universal Studios, 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 late 1950s, Hudson was an established and very accomplished Hollywood actor. (Not only could he act, but he had good looks to boot!)
For all his acting credits, Rock Hudson never starred in a Disney production–that is, he never starred in a film production for Walt Disney Studios.
He did, however, play three very important Disney roles in the early 1970s, the first of which took place on October 29, 1971, during the NBC broadcast of the official opening ceremony at the Walt Disney World Resort. As was the case when Disneyland opened in July 1955, numerous celebrities were on hand to play various roles in the opening ceremony at Disney World, and Rock Hudson was one of them.
Almost two months later, on December 18 and 19, Hudson served as the resort’s very first celebrity narrator during the Candlelight Processional, which took place at Main Street, U.S.A., inside Magic Kingdom.
But Hudson’s most memorable appearance in a Disney production was one that took place on December 15, 1973. The Hollywood heartthrob had been invited back to Disney World to serve as the celebrity narrator for a second time during the resort’s third annual Candlelight Processional.
Before nightfall, however, Rock Hudson took part in the opening dedication of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland.
Changes to the Attraction Over the Years
Since the attraction first opened, it has undergone numerous changes.
In 2006, the ride was refurbished to include tie-ins to the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Captain Jack Sparrow animatronics were added to three scenes in the ride, and Captain Barbossa replaced the pirate captain originally seen in the room that features a battle. Davy Jones’s face was also added as a projection onto a waterfall in the attraction.
A projection of Blackbeard was added to tie into the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011.
Later, in 2018, Disney closed the attraction to make changes to the scene in which the women in the town were being auctioned off as brides to the highest bidder–a scene that some found controversial. When the attraction reopened, guests were introduced to a new scene in which the “redhead” had transformed into a pirate herself, helping the auctioneer to sell off ill-gotten loot from the townspeople.
Happy 50th anniversary to Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom!