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History of Female Pirates and the Redhead

(Be advised that this blog was originally published on June 30, 2017, on my old website. Some of the info in here talks about things coming up, but they have already passed.)

Disney is changing the infamous Auctioneer scene in Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean in 2018, along with Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean. We get the frequently spoken line “We wants the redhead,” from this attraction. Pirates first opened on March 16, 1967, just four months after Walt Disney passed away. Walt was only able to experience the Auctioneer scene before his passing.

Walt visited the show building in Disneyland and went on a tour with Marc Davis and a few other Imagineers. The boats’ water channel was not filled yet and all the sets were framework, so they were able to walk through. The Auction Scene was set up with the Auctioneer moving about. This would be the last Walt ever saw of the attraction’s sets, because of his failing health and then eventually his death.”

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 508

Marc Davis was the original concept artist for the “gag scenes” on the attraction.

Marc Davis took his pirate design inspirations from author and artist Howard Pyle. More specifically, his final work Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates, was published in 1921. We see and design pirates today because of Howard’s artistic outlook on them. Howard published a total of 24 books in his short lifetime, some of which were tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood.”

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 504

Marc’s wife, Alice Davis, was brought in on the project as well.

Walt asked Alice Davis to come in and design the wardrobe for the pirates. She last worked on the “it’s a small world” attraction for the World’s Fair. She had said, “I went from sweet little children to dirty old men overnight.” The pirates were a challenge for her because they did not move like people in order to put clothing on. She used a lot of Velcro so that the clothing could be taken off and replaced quickly. She also learned from her small world experience that the fabric wears down in certain areas from constant rubbing, and leaking hydraulic fluid and oil is also a problem.“

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 506

Imagineer Leota Toombs, Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion, was brought in to do the finalizing of the pirate figures, including the redhead.

The question is, should Disney change the scene and make the redhead a female pirate? There are different answers to this question.

On one hand, the redhead ended up becoming a pirate anyway.

In the room where the skeletons are drinking, there is a painting of a redhead. This is supposed to be the same redhead you see later being sold at the bride auction as it is showing the future. The painting was done by Marc Davis and is titled “Portrait of Things to Come.”

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 513

Do we want to alter the intended timeline of events created by the Imagineers in the mid 1960’s. The same geniuses that brought us all those first few decades attractions. Make the redhead a pirate in the past instead of turning her into a pirate in the future, which is the origin stories of most female pirates.

On the other hand you don’t want to offend anybody who is on the attraction. Not that drunk pirates setting a town on fire, looting houses, drowning the town mayor, or brandishing weapons and firing them off all over the place isn’t offensive either. Should Disney stay the course of history as it happened? Or should they change it to appease the offended few?

Female pirates have existed for a long time. In fact, one of the most powerful pirates in history was female. More on her later. Maybe adding in a female pirate is a good thing. Sure the portrait of the redhead, also just named Red, exists early on in the attraction, but will youngsters understand that concept? Most likely not. If you have a gun brandishing focal point female pirate to grab the attention of young riders that might make it more obvious. It shows girls that they can be pirates as well as boys.

When Disney first added the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique they were there to makeover young girls into princess. What about the boys? Disney ended up adding a prince makeover, which wasn’t very popular. Then they added the pirate makeover. But why would a girl want to be a pirate when all they have seen in the park are boy pirates? Sure the forward thinking youngsters will be whatever they want to be. That leaves the kids out who want to be like a specific character. If boys can be like Captain Hook, and girls can be like Cinderella, why can’t other girls be like the redhead pirate?

If you look into pirate history you can see is speckled with the triumphs of female pirates. Here are a few of them. The bios were taken from

Pirate Queen Teuta Of Illyria (years of reign 231 BC-227 BC)

After her husband, the King of the Ardiaei tribe in Illyria, died she took over the crown. She supported the pirates of her Kingdom and with that support they captured merchant vessels of Greece and Rome. This lead to the capture of two Ambassadors of Rome, one killed and the other held captive. Eventually, Rome was forced to declare war. Once Queen Teuta surrendered Rome declared that no ship should sail under her reign.

Jeanne de Clisson (years active 1343 AD-1359 AD) Also known as Jeanne de Belleville and the Lioness of Brittany

Jeanne de Clisson was British and lived in Brittany when she married Olivier III de Clisson a wealthy nobleman. After failing to defend Vannes he switched allegiances to the English and was later captured by French and executed under orders of King Philip VI. Jeanne swore vengeance on the king and sold her lands and bought three ships calling them the "Black Fleet" because of their black exterior and red sails. She assembled a crew and took to the seas defeating any ship belonging to King Philip VI leaving only a few alive to tell that she had struck again. After his death, she continued to capture ships. She later retired to Britain.

Grace O'Malley (years active 1563 AD-1603 AD) also known as "The Sea Queen of Connacht" and “The Pirate Queen Of Ireland”

She was the Queen of Unmaill she was a fearless leader from Ireland who rejected the ways a woman was "supposed" to act. Instead, she took to the seas commanding 20 fleet ships to stand against Britain. She raided ships of the English and Spanish. She was legendary for her escapes and her captures. She continued to pirate until her death in 1603.

There have been plays, television specials, and videos made about this woman.

Anne Dieu-Le-Veut (years active sometime between 1661 AD-1710 AD)

After being deported from France for criminal behavior Anne married Pierre Length. One night in a bar fight Pierre was killed by Laurens de Graaf. Anne challenged Laurens to a duel and when he drew a sword and her a gun he was so impressed he proposed. She said yes and together they sailed the seas. They took over ships and raided Jamaica. Anne and her two daughters were captured and what happened after they were freed is unknown.

Christina Anna Skytte (years active between 1650’s AD-1660’s AD)

After this Swedish pirate and her fiancé joined her brother in the pirate business they soon found she was no one to be messed with. They attacked a Dutch merchant ship killing the crew and stealing the cargo. This lead to the capture and execution of her fiancé and forced her to flee.

Jacquotte Delahaye (years active in the 1660’s AD)

This Haitian woman had a hard life after her mother died after giving birth to her brother, and her father killed. To take care of her brother she had to turn to piracy. She had to fake her own death in order to escape the government. After living as a man she returned to pirating and is thought to have sailed alongside Anne Dieu-Le-Vuet.

Rachel Wall (years active 1781 AD-1782 AD)

Wall was the only known American pirate. She married George Wall and tried to settle in Boston. The two were always poor so when she procured a small boat she saw oportunity. She used the boat to go out after storms pretending to be ravaged. After boarding the unwitting ship they would murder and steal. This ended when a storm passed through and destroyed her boat and killed her husband. She continued to steal on land and was arrested. She wrote a confession of her sins trying to sway the authorities. It didn't work and soon she became the last woman hanged in Massachusetts.

See, there have been plenty of female pirates of the past, and plenty more not listed. Now what about the female pirates depicted with Disney? First off, in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), Ching Shih is portrayed, one of the most powerful female pirates in history.

In the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End (2007), actress Takayo Fischer portrays the character Mistress Ching. That character is a person from real life. Ching Shih lived from 1775-1844. She was originally a prostitute who was captured by pirates and ended up marrying the pirate captain Zheng Yi. Six years after they were married, he died and she took over his command of over 300+ ships, employing 20,000-40,000 sailors. She is well known for being extremely strict and followed through with her punishments of whipping, flogging, and beheading. She defeated the Chinese government’s attempts to stop her by beheading every prisoner who didn't join her. She terrorized the Chinese seas from 1807 until she received amnesty in 1810. After she retired, she kept all of her loot and opened up a gambling house. In 1844, she died at the age of 69.”

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 158

In Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), we see Zoe Saldana portray Anamaria, a very strong independent female pirate that actually earns the ship Jack Sparrow “liberated.”

In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), we are introduced to the strong willed and excellent swordswoman Angelica, who is portrayed by Penelope Cruz.

Let’s also not forget Elizabeth Swann, who was in the first three films and had a cameo in the fifth. She was one of the main characters and was eventually made the Pirate King by the Brethren Court.

These are just the depictions in the films. What about on the attraction? Before you even board, you pass paintings on the wall designed by Marc Davis. One is of Anne Bonny and the other is of Mary Read.

Anne Bonny (March 8, 1700 - possibly April 25, 1782) – Anne is famous mostly in part to being only one of two known women to be convicted of piracy in the Caribbean. She married famous pirate James Bonny, and also had a relationship with the pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackham. She later hooked up with Mary Read and they became a trio of pirates with Calico Jack until they were captured in October 1720.

Mary Read (1670-1698, no one knows for sure - 1721) - Mary grew up being dressed as a boy by her mother, to disguise the fact that she was a girl. She became a deck hand, married a Flemish soldier, dressed as a woman until he passed away, and then started dressing like a man again. Her ship was taken over by Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. Mary joined their crew and became friends with Anne. Mary, Anne, and Jack terrorized the Caribbean until their capture in October 1720. She later passed away in prison during child birth.”

-Discovering The Magic Kingdom: An Unofficial Disneyland Vacation Guide - 2nd Edition page 509

There is a bronze statue depicting Anne and Mary in the Bahamas.

Marc Davis created concept art for Mary and Anne for a scene that never made it into the attraction.

We now circle around to the redhead again. She is depicted as a pirate in the painting as a pirate already.

What do you think? Should Disney change it and make the redhead a pirate to be more public sensitive, or should they leave the scene as it was when Walt first experienced it?

Here are some examples of the redhead from the attraction found in Disney merchandise. Notice the action figure in which she is holding a gun.


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