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.


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.