Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold: The Complete Story

Mickey, Donald and Goofy appeared together in many memorable short cartoons including "Lonesome Ghosts" (1937) and "Mickey's Trailer (1938). However, the trio didn't appear in a feature together until Fun and Fancy Free (1947) with this variation of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" story providing some amusing and exciting moments. In truth, this adventure is more featurette length than feature length.

Over the years, numerous ideas were submitted for a full length film featuring the three popular characters. To the best of my knowledge the very first full proposal utilizing the terrific trio was submitted October 21, 1939. Disney storymen Dick Creedon and Al Perkins wrote a typewritten proposal titled Pieces of Eight or the Three Buccaneers.

Creedon was credited as a writer on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I also know that Carl Barks worked with Creedon on a story for the "proposed but never made" Mickey Mouse short cartoon, "Mickey of the Mounted" (August 1936). Perkins was credited as working on the Reluctant Dragon feature.

The cartoon takes place at the Jolly Roger Inn in the old fashioned water front village called Fish Haven. The inside of the inn is fitted out like the inside of a ship and along the walls are pictures of famous pirates. In the cage above the bar is a crotchety, salty parrot who entertains patrons with wild sailor yarns.

The Inn is operated by Mickey, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. They complain about the lack of patrons and the fact that they are dead broke. Suddenly, in a gust of wind and rain, Pete enters and is given food and drink. Other strangers arrive and sit with Pete and tell Mickey and the gang to leave them alone.

Mickey notices that each of the strangers looks like the famous pirates whose pictures are on the wall. They are the descendents of the famous villains. Eavesdropping, Mickey and his gang discover that the pirates each have a fragment of a treasure map. The villains grab the parrot and run off to their ship, The Vulture.

Mickey and the gang follow and disguise themselves as sailors to get abroad the ship to try and rescue their parrot. However, their disguises fool no one and they are kicked off the ship. Saying goodbye to Pluto (actually tying him up on the dock), Mickey, Goofy and Donald hide themselves in empty burlap bags and are hauled onto the ship. However, Pluto breaks free and chases the ship and at a bridge across the mouth of the harbor, jumps into the crow's nest with such force that he knocks himself out.

On board, Pete and his men torture the parrot "in some menacing but harmless way such as tickling him" and get the parrot to reveal the location of the treasure. The gathering is broken up by howls that the superstitious crew thinks might be the ghost of Robinson Crusoe on whose island the treasure is buried. However, Pete is not fooled and chases Pluto into the hold where the pooch unwittingly reveals the hiding place of Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

The pirates decide to make the gang work for them during the voyage like peeling potatoes, swabbing the decks, etc. and then they will throw them to the sharks. During the course of the voyage, Mickey and the gang have hidden a lifeboat, but when they attempt to escape they spill most of their supplies into the ocean.

The trio of friends face a number of misadventures on the raft including mirages and near starvation. Eventually, the boat runs aground on the very island they have been looking for and they are rescued by lovely native dancing girls who fawn over them and feed them. However, Mickey has not lost the reason for them being there, and with Pluto sets off into the mysterious jungle. They do find a treasure chest, but it is empty. They follow a winding path up to a stockade and poke around until they find where Crusoe has hidden the pirate treasure.

While Mickey and Pluto celebrate, Crusoe and his Man Friday arrive. In the distance, they hear jungle drums getting louder and using his telescope, Crusoe sees the natives marching Donald and Goofy up to the crater of a huge volcano. Mickey, Pluto and Crusoe rescue Donald and Goofy and take them back to the stockade.

Pete and his crew have discovered the empty treasure chest and have tracked Mickey to Crusoe's home. The villains mount an attack but Crusoe doesn't care whether they take the gold or not. It has no value to him on the island and he intends to stay on the island the rest of his life. Mickey sparks Crusoe to action when he tells them that the pirates are holding Crusoe's beloved parrot hostage.

Crusoe's homemade defenses are pitted against machine guns, tear gas bombs and more. In the heat of the battle, Mickey vaults over the stockade to battle Captain Pete in hand-to-hand combat to rescue the parrot. This duo battle finally ends at the edge of the volcano crater with both combatants rolling over the edge toward the fiery lava below.

Pete's crew is turned over to the natives to be tossed into the volcano. Suddenly, a charred and ruffled parrot flies in to take everyone to the volcano where Mickey is not dead but hanging by the seat of his pants to a piece of lava sticking out from the side of the crater. With one hand, he hangs on to the rock and with the other he hangs on to Pete.

Mickey and Pete are pulled up to safety and the finale is Mickey and the gang sailing home with their ship full of treasure. All of the cutthroats are in chains doing the work on the ship. Crusoe who is newly reunited with his beloved parrot, waves from the shore.

Obviously, the popular novel Treasure Island provided a strong influence on the story proposal but as outlined by Creedon and Perkins the story offers some tremendous possibilities for gags and action.

Over the next two years, several storymen including Homer Brightman, Harry Reeves and Roy Williams reworked the idea and re-titled the story Morgan's Ghost. Nearly 800 storyboard drawings were attached to this new treatment, including an alternate ending as well as alternate gags for various scenes.

Mickey, Donald and Goofy are still the owners of a small tavern in a New England village called Fish Haven. On a stormy night, they are visited by a parrot with a peg leg named Yellow Beak. He is hiding from Black Pete because Yellow Beak has the treasure map of the pirate Henry Morgan. Yellow Beak offers to share the treasure if the trio can obtain a ship to get him to the island where the treasure is buried.

Pete overhears all of this discussion and disguises himself as an old woman and persuades the treasure hunters to lease his ship, the Sea Skunk. After a series of slapstick interludes at sea, Pete captures Yellow Beak and the map. He sets Mickey, Donald and Goofy adrift in a tiny raft. They wash ashore on a tropical island, the very one with the treasure. They find an old chest that contains not gold but the nutty ghosts of Henry Morgan and two of his crew. They have been trapped in the chest for a century and so they celebrate being released. They agree to help the trio rescue Yellow Beak and find the long lost treasure. The ghost of Captain Morgan can't tell the trio directly where the treasure is hidden because "Dead men tell no tales."

The trio and the ghosts rescue Yellow Beak and the map. A gap in the map has to be placed over the tattoo on Yellow Beak's chest to reveal the treasure's true hiding place. After battling man-eating plants, quicksand, and geysers, they find the gold.

There were actually two endings. One had Pete trying to take the loot but losing a game of "Who's Got the Drop on Whom?" with the good guys getting the treasure. An alternate version has Pete taking the treasure and the down hearted treasure hunters returning to their tavern. Their gloom is lifted when Donald bursts in with a newspaper and the headline that Pete has been arrested for passing counterfeit treasure. Yellow Beak announces that he just remembered that what they found was a decoy treasure chest. The location of the real treasure is tattooed on his rear end!

Why did this feature never develop further? This story was being developed during the outbreak of World War II when feature animation projects were put on hold to concentrate all the Disney Studio efforts were focused on work for the war from training films to Good Neighbor compilation films like Saludos Amigos as well as trying to keep up a series of theatrical shorts (many of which were also focused on the war effort) with a reduced staff.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Disney comic books being produced by Whitman/Western reprinted the Disney comic strips but by the mid-'40s the company was running out of material so it was decided to create original comic book stories featuring the Disney characters before the backlog of comic strips was completely depleted.

The West Coast editor of Western, Oskar LeBeck, was given permission to look through the Disney files of cartoon ideas that were shelved. He found the over 800 numbered sketches for Morgan's Ghost and was instantly struck that most of the work had already been done in terms of visualizing the story.

LeBeck felt it could easily be adapted into a Donald Duck comic book story substituting Donald's nephews for the Mickey and Goofy. Bob Karp, who was supplying gags for the Donald Duck comic strip at the time, was brought in to prepare a script based on the storyboard. Karp took Photostats of the storyboards and rescripted them for Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. Karp concentrated on the action sequences, limiting the dialogue in the final script.

He did make changes to make the story more consistent. Karp made some personal changes as well including changing Yellow Beak's desire for "sas" or sarsaparilla (a non-alcohoic drink similar to root beer) to "slumgullion" (a meat stew with vegetables).

John Rose, who was head of the story artists for the animated shorts suggested Carl Barks and Jack Hannah as artists to illustrate the script into the final comic book story. Not only storymen, Barks and Hannah were both talented cartoonists, as well and were professional artists before they were hired at Disney.

Hannah recalled in an interview with Disney Historian Jim Korkis and reprinted in the first volume of the book, Walt's People that, "A fellow named John Rose approached Carl and I and took us to meet Eleanor Packer who I believe was in charge of Whitman/Western Publishing. They wanted us to draw 64 pages of a Donald Duck story. I suspect the reason we were chosen for this assignment was that it was a more story related project. We were doing all the Donald Duck stories for the shorts and doing all the story sketches at the time so I'm just guessing that they probably felt we could work out this story as well, maybe even add in a few touches to help it flow properly.

"We were given a typewritten script broken down into panels. The script had a brief scene description for each panel and, of course, the dialogue that needed to appear in that panel. It was left up to Carl and me on how to divide up the pages. I can't remember now how we decided to divide the thing up but I'm sure it made sense at the time."

Barks remembers the same situation: "First, Bob Karp, who worked in the comic strip department, took Photostats of the storyboards, and from them he developed a typewritten script. That's why there's so little dialogue in 'Pirate Gold.' Bob took it from the storyboards. In animation, they wanted things moving on the screen; they didn't want characters in held positions moving their lips.

"Jack and I never saw the storyboards. We were given the typewritten script, broken down by panels. It would describe a ship or a dock or a room in some detail, to show what atmosphere should be developed in each panel. Then it would describe the action, like: 'Pete following a kid along dock—they go through a door.'

"We stuck to the script and didn't edit the material. Bob Karp was no dummy; he'd been writing the gags for the Donald Duck comic strips for many years. He was sharp on staging, and sharp on the amount of dialogue that was necessary. He wrote a good script. We were just beginners and assumed that we weren't allowed to do any tinkering."

Barks and Hannah divided up the drawing chores. Barks drew pages 1, 2, 5 and 12-40 with the rest being done by Hannah. In general, Barks drew the exterior scenes and Hannah the interior scenes.

"We had a little talk together as to which pages we enjoyed or felt one of us could draw better than the other. We decided that I would take most of the outdoor scenes, the ones that showed the ship and its rigging ... Jack took the indoor scenes. He had a wide knowledge of perspective and liked to draw shadow effects and furniture-that is...He took the ones he liked, and I took the ones I liked," Barks recalled.

Barks used the May 1940 issue of National Geographic magazine for inspiration for the sea port town and Black Pete's ship.

"At the time we were doing the comic book, neither Carl nor I had any idea that this was a proposal for a feature. It certainly seems strange that we never heard, because along with Jack King, we were directly responsible for all the Duck shorts coming out of the studio. Still, if it were being developed as a feature, somebody may have felt it wasn't any of our business because we were just doing the shorts and this was a feature so it would involve an entirely different group of people. They certainly never told us. We were just given a typewritten script to work from and that was it," Hannah remembered.

Hannah continued: "We divided up the pages and worked on weekends and evenings. It was understood that the comic book work was not to be done on studio time. I'm guessing I penciled about a page and a half to two pages a weekend. We would draw it up in blue pencil and then it would have to be seen by the publishing company before we went ahead with the inking. The inking went quicker than the penciling and I can't recall that there were any major changes we had to make on our blue pencil stuff. Carl and I had several meetings on the weekends so that the props we were drawing looked the same and that the room setting would be the same.

"There would be the same pots on the stove or that kind of thing. We didn't have any difficulty synchronizing our style. We both fell into it easily and I think we were both surprised at how close the drawing was, especially since we were doing it in two different homes. After all, when we did story sketches for the shorts, we had our own individual ways of drawing the story and both ways seemed to get the job done. Our art styles were a little different. So, in some ways, it was a real surprise to see the comic book work drawn so similar that it would be hard to tell which one of us drew the page. We never did any of the actual work on the story at the studio. We may have discussed the story at the studio but I can't recall it so that probably means that type of discussion was infrequent at best."

The book was released in the Dell Four Color series. It was Four Color No. 9 and officially titled Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (October 1942). It was so popular that it began a series of original comic book stories featuring Donald Duck stories. Barks even left the Disney Studios and became one of the main writers and artists for the duck comic book stories.

Donald and his nephews are out trying to catch fish for the inn they run, Bucket O' Blood Sea Food Grotto, but a brewing storm robs them of their catch. A parrot named Yellow Beak appears for shelter and some slumgullion. Pete and his men track the parrot to the inn, but Donald and the boys hide Yellow Beak.

When Pete supposedly leaves, but actually remains to eavesdrop, Yellow Beak reveals that the Captain Morgan's treasure map is hidden in the inn. When he retrieves it, he and the ducks make plans to get a ship the next morning and find the treasure. Pete has disguised his ship, Black Mariah, into the White Lily and Pete has disguised himself as a poor widow whose husband captained the ship but passed away two days ago so the ship is for sale cheap.

Yellow Beak buys the ship at the bargain price with the condition that the Widow Pete and her "brothers" are taken along as a crew. That night, Pete tries to locate the map and follows a sleepwalking duck nephew into the powder room and almost blows up the ship.

There are several comic misadventures on the ship including grabbing a Standard Oil Vacation Map by mistake. The truth about Pete and his crew is finally revealed and a comic chase ensues with Pete capturing Donald and Yellow Beak and making them walk the plank. The resourceful nephews have a waiting raft and the heroes sail to the island while Pete and his crew find a vital part of the treasure map is missing.

When Donald and his group find the treasure chest in a cave, only one ghost claiming to be the ghost of Henry Morgan appears and gives them the rest of the map to locate the fortune.

Unfortunately, it is really Pete is disguise again using Donald and the nephews to use their part of the map to locate the treasure and dig it up which they do. However, Pete and his crew show up and get the drop on Donald and Yellow Beak. Thanks to the resourcefulness of the nephews, the crooks are rendered unconscious by coconuts. The bad guys are taken back to the ship and chained up. While Donald and Yellow Beak argue who is going to be the captain of the ship, the nephews have already taken over and are sailing into the sunset with the treasure.

In 1946, a condensed version of Pirate Gold was reprinted as Donald Duck and Ghost Morgan's Treasure in Better Little Book No. 1411. It was an All Pictures Comics book. Instead of the typical Big Little Book that had a page of text facing a page of illustration, this particular book had no text pages but all illustrations, including all the dialog balloons. The panels from the original comic book were reformatted to fit the square panels in the book. Better Little Books were released by Whitman from 1938-1949 it an attempt to re-brand Big Little Books to compete with the explosion of comic books around the same time.

The same pirate tale with Yellow Beak, minus the Ducks, was recycled several times, as in "Four-Color" No. 227 (1949) in The Seven Dwarfs tale. A more elaborate version written by Del Connell for "Walt Disney's Peter Pan Treasure Chest" No. 1 (January 1953) appeared as the story "Captain Hook and the Buried Treasure." It was illustrated by Dick Moores with Captain Hook substituting for Black Pete and the Peter Pan characters replacing the ducks. Oddly, the story appeared yet again a decade later but this time in the non-Disney "Woody Woodpecker" No. 76 (1963) comic also published by Whitman, where Yellow Beak's appearance and name remained unchanged as he interacted with Woody. Disney comic book scholar Joe Torcivia discovered the Woody Woodpecker version.

In addition, after Hannah's death, I discovered that he had done two Cheerios giveaway comic books in 1947. One of them was Donald Duck and the Pirates which was an interesting variation re-telling of Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. It had a cover drawn by Carl Buettner but the artwork in the story is done by Hannah.

Donald and the boys are walking along the waterfront when in the alley they run across Yellow Beak, who has been attacked. They take him back to their house where Yellow Beak reveals his attackers were after his map to Captain Kidd's buried treasure. Pete who was one of the attackers is outside and hears that Yellow Beak has a photographic mind and has taken a mental picture of the map. Donald and the boys decide to get a ship and accompany Yellow Beak to locate the treasure. The next morning they see a sign on the side of a ship saying "For Sale. $8." However, when they pay the first mate the money, he laughs at their asking whether the ship is seaworthy.

The ducks think they have bought the ship but actually the sign was on a row boat hung on the side of the ship. Yellow Beak and the crew set sail, not suspecting that Pete and his cronies are the crew on the ship and were sleeping down below. The villains decide to hide so that they are taken to the treasure. While the ducks and Yellow Beak are sleeping, Pete grabs the parrot and puts him under an x-ray camera and takes a picture of his mental picture of the map. Pete and his two henchman have the ducks and the parrot walk the plank but since they are so close to the island shore, they easily swim to land and in the moonlight search for the treasure.

Pete and his crew take the row boat to the island and then destroy it under the belief that the others won't be able to swim back to the ship with a treasure chest. However, he is wrong because the ducks have built a raft, load it with the treasure, row out to the ship and then sail the ship away while Pete and his cronies are left crying on the island. I feel this is a wonderful variation on the original story and shows how many possibilities exist in the core story. A copy of this comic giveaway to read is available at this link.

When interviewed, Hannah remembered Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold as just another interesting anecdote in a career that included 20 years of directing animated shorts for the Disney Company, including have eight of those cartoons nominated for an Academy Award. "Oh, yes, I remember having a lot of fun with it. It was a new experience drawing comic books and this was my first attempt at it. I was able to pick up a little extra money doing something I liked."

There is a basic appeal to the story concept of Pirate Gold and it could easily be revived as an animated feature vehicle for Mickey and his friends. Personally, I'd change the pirate to Blackbeard and tie it in with the Disney live action feature, Blackbeard's Ghost but I would bet the Disney Company would prefer to make it Captain Jack Sparrow's treasure and maybe include cameos of the characters from the Pirates trilogy—like Davy Jones.