The Morgan Goes to the Movies

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

The whaleship Charles W. Morgan was used in three movies, one while she was still an active whaler, and two after she was retired.  She first appeared in the film Miss Petticoats (1916) which was partially filmed in New Bedford.  Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) featured two whalers, the Morgan and the Wanderer , and starred Marguerite Courtot, Clara Bow and Raymond McKee.  Although critics were not especially enamored of an old and predictable plot, it was hailed for its depiction of whaling from the hunt to boiling the blubber in the try works.

The third film, Java Head, was produced in 1923 and based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Hergesheimer.  The Morgan was renamed the Nautilus and, as this photo shows, was in poor shape.

This motion picture poster for Down to the Sea in Ships is an artifact that represents the Morgan's time in the film industry.  The dramatic poster shows whale flukes overturning a whaleboat with the caption "See what a 90 ton whale does to a 30 foot whale boat!  The most stupendous piece of realism ever photographed."  Perhaps the movie poster shows a scene witnessed many times in real life during the whaling voyages of the Charles W. Morgan.

Since the times of her early movie days, the Morgan has appeared in numerous other movies and television specials. She has appeared multiple times on the Food Network and the History Channel. She was also featured, along with Museum staff, on Dateline NBC's "Revenge of the Whale." Back on the big screen, the Morgan is featured in the local production Mystic Nights & Pirate Fights. She is also in such major motion pictures as Gangs of New York and Amistad.

The Morgan'smost recent film appearance was in the Ric Burn's documentary Into the Deep: America, Whaling and the World was released in 2010.  From the dangers of whaling to the glamour of film, the Charles W. Morgan has certainly had a diverse career!

Questions for Further Thought

  1. When a critic reviews a film should the cinematography, if it is exceptional, trump a poor plot line? How would you construct a balanced review? What elements should you consider?
  2. Why do more modern accounts of Down to the Sea in Ships give more "space" to Clara Bow, even though she played a subordinate part to the star, Maguerite Courtot?
  3. How was the movie advertised?