Steamboats in the Movies, Page 8


Mickey Rooney as HUCKLEBERRY FINN (MGM 1939) aboard his raft with the FLORA belching black smoke and barreling downstream on the Sacramento River.


Interior of a pilot house on an MGM sound stage for their 1960 version of HUCKLEBERRY FINN starring 13 year old Eddie Hodges wearing his "cabin boy" costume as "Huck" at the pilot wheel under the supervision of the 82 year old Scottish actor Finlay Currie as "Captain Sellers" in an onboard steamboat scene that was not in Mark Twain's HUCK FINN but created by screenwriter James Lee, inspired no doubt by the relationship of cub pilot Sam Clemens with Captain Horace Bixby in Twain's 1883 memoir LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI.



"Hi yo Silver . . . Away!"

Cover of THE LONE RANGER #28 March 1977. GOLD KEY COMICS. "The Smugglers." Faithful horse Silver is swimming gamely in the distance far right as the Ranger gamely climbs aboard the fantail of the MISSISSIPPI BELLE. In the comic this particular stunt doesn't appear in the story line.

Also included is a publicity photo of Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger in the pilot house of the MARK TWAIN at Disneyland.

Disneyland opened in 1955 when Moore was in the 2nd year of his second and last RANGER TV series (1954-57). It's possible this photo was taken with these five children (the first youngster is barely visible on the far left) on opening day July 17, 1955.

In May of 1942 The Lone Ranger radio program featured an episode set on a steamboat which can be heard or downloaded at this link:


The Lone Ranger 1942-05-27 (1458)
Steamboat on the River.mp3 File Size : 6.49Mb

Air Date: May 27, 1942
Program #1458/671. Syndicated.

"Colonel Parkman"/"Steamboat On The River".

"The Triangle" gang is trying to sabotage the transcontinental railroad by attempting to blow up a steamboat that is bringing badly needed blasting powder to the construction site.


BACK STREET 1941 Universal Pictures

Based on a 1931 Fannie Hurst novel and the previous 1932 film version, also made by Universal.

The film begins in the early 1900s in Cincinnati. Here Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan meet at the ticket booth for an Ohio River sternwheeler.

This elaborate full-sized set must have been built on a soundstage with the stern of the boat and paddlewheel visible in the background.

The steamboat seems to have been based on the Sacramento River style of nautical architecture.


Twain musical flows along jsonline.com 'Life on the Mississippi' at Door County's American Folklore Theatre at Peninsula State Park
By Mike Fischer
July 23, 2010
Special to the Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Fish Creek—Mark Twain borrowed more from and gave more to American folklore than any of our canonical writers.

It's therefore no surprise to see Door County's American Folklore Theatre celebrate its 20th birthday - and commemorate the 100th anniversary of Twain's death - by giving birth to "Life on the Mississippi," an original musical commemorating the two-year period when a young Samuel Clemens became a steamboat pilot on Old Man River.

Drawing heavily on Twain's own memoirs, Douglas M. Parker (book and lyrics) and Denver Casado (music) focus on Sam's apprenticeship under the salty Captain Bixby, as well as Sam's close relationship with his younger brother Henry.

Twain would remember these pivotal years as the time when he grew up, and there is no question that as the musical begins, Sam Clemens has a lot to learn about a world where people - like the river - have much more going on than one can see on the surface.

"Every day," Bixby tells him, "the river tells a story," and as the action unfolds, Sam learns to read the stories because he learns to listen, morphing from a brash and cocksure youngster into a keen observer and budding writer.

This makes Sam a vintage straight man - one who becomes a writer by stepping back and allowing the quirky characters around him to do the talking.

As Sam, Chase Stoeger clearly understands his role, and he generously allows himself to be upstaged by the motley crew he encounters.

Playing multiple characters, Lee Becker and Mark Moede bring us onto familiar AFT ground, serving up large slices of cornpone humor while spinning the sort of tall tales that would make Twain famous.

Chad Luberger's irrepressibly enthusiastic Henry reminds us of the boy Sam once was, while Doug Mancheski's Captain Bixby foreshadows the cantankerous but also warm-hearted man Sam would one day become.

Loved by both of the Clemens brothers, Molly Rhode's Adele gives us two beautiful ballads showcasing her first-class pipes.

In "Looking," Adele makes clear that on the river and in life, what counts is the journey rather than the destination.

In "He's Still Here," Adele insists that the only way we can cheat death is through the stories we tell, helping us remember those who are gone while keeping ourselves alive.

It is a lesson Sam Clemens never forgot, ensuring that he and his stories would live forever - not only in Twain's writings, but in thoughtful, well-crafted musicals such as this one.


Six frames from the 1973 musical film version of Mark Twain's TOM SAWYER (1973). Filmed on the Missouri River at Arrow Rock, MO with Dennis Trone at the wheel of his own JULIA BELLE SWAIN (upper left). The JULIA went by her own name in the night scene (see name on the hull) and as the RIVER QUEEN in the daytime scenes.

Don Taylor (director)
Mark Twain (novel)
Robert B. Sherman (screenplay)
Johnny Whitaker (Tom Sawyer)
Celeste Holm (Aunt Polly)
Warren Oates (Muff Potter)

Julia Belle Swain Mark Twain's America IMAX x 4 HALF size

Four screen captures from the DVD of the 3D IMAX motion picture MARK TWAIN's AMERICA which was filmed in many locations in the U.S.A. where Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) lived or visited and which celebrate his memory today.

Captain Dennis Trone steered his beloved JULIA BELLE SWAIN past the camera and in 3D on a huge IMAX screen the steamboat looked as big as life.

Dennis is visible in the pilot house in the lower right frame, framed between the stacks at dusk.

The DVD, released in 2005 and available from amazon.com is not in 3D but worth viewing for scenes of the JULIA BELLE; Hannibal, MO; Virginia City, Nevada & Hartford, Connecticut among other places.
Mark Twain's America in 3D (1998)
52 minutes - Documentary -
Directed byStephen Low
Screenplay by Alex Low & Stephen Low
Narrated by Anne Bancroft


A promotional poster for the PBS LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI TV movie in 1980 was issued with photographs of locations in Hannibal, Missouri that were associated with Sam Clemens. I reformatted the lettering and replaced their photo of the JULIA BELLE SWAIN inside the oval frame with a detail from Hippolyte Sebron's 1850 painting of steamboats at New Orleans.


Dennis Trone's JULIA BELLE SWAIN was remodeled to play the first "prestige" steamboat that Sam Clemens steered: the ALECK SCOTT when he was cub pilot under Horace Bixby.

This was for the T.V. movie of Mark Twain's LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, filmed on the Illinois River and first broadcast on PBS in November 1980.