Steamboats in the Movies - Universal Studio's Riverboat ENTERPRISE

We all refer to the Universal Studios prop steamboat as the ENTERPRISE, since it was most remembered for its role by that name in the RIVERBOAT television series (1959-1961). Universal built the replica boat for the MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953) staring Tyrone Power. It sat on a lake on the back lots of Universal Studios. Ultimately the ENTERPRISE was consumed by fire on the Universal lot.

Here's a partial list of shows featuring this replica boat:

MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER 1953 Universal, 1953
THE FAR COUNTRY - Universal, 1954
THE GAMBLER FROM NATCHEZ - 20th Century Fox, 1954
MAN OF A 1,000 FACES - Universal, 1957
RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL - Universal, 1958)
RIVERBOAT - Revue Productions television series that was broadcast on NBC, 1959-1961
FOUR FOR TEXAS - Warner Bros., 1963

Universal Studios Prop Boat in MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER

Mississippi Gambler Night Bow Stunt Fight 65 percent

Named "JOHN B. DICKEY" for MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER, stunt men play the heroes and villains having a brawl on the bow of the boat filmed at night. Note the stunt man jumping overboard on the left appears to be wearing "sneakers" which stunt guys often used because they got better traction on slick surfaces and were less likely to slip than when they wore "everyday" or period costume shoes.

There's a light in the pilot house and another in the cabin on the boiler deck that are hitting us smack in the eye, the lighting cameraman probably had them put there because the motion picture camera was positioned at an angle where it wouldn't see them. This is the best view I've ever seen of the front of the boiler deck cabin of Universal's riverboat.


Here the motion picture camera is set up on the boiler deck looking down on the stairs where character actor John McIntire convenes with leading man Tyrone Power. "Boom operator" upper right holds the microphone above the actors to catch their dialogue for the sound recordist.

Enterprise Mississippi Gambler As John B Dickey HALF size

A nice selection of nautical lamps sit on the shore waiting to be installed by a studio electrician aboard the steamboat set which is floating on what appears to have been a much bigger back lot lake at Universal studio in 1953 than exists today.

For those folks who are captivated by "behind the scenes" movie photographs, here's the cameraman and microphone boom grip on the boiler deck of the movie set capturing the performances of Tyrone Power as Mark Fallon standing on the staircase below gambling partner John McIntire as Kansas John Polly.

General Electric get a nice plug here with a box of their light bulbs in a box lower right. Note that the sides and back of the pilot house have had their windows removed and black backing secured behind the stern and port side walls for some particular requirement of the director or cinematographer for a sequence the set is being prepared for.


Here's a unusual "behind the Scenes" photo taken during filming of MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER at Universal.

The lighting cameraman probably requested that the portside bulkheads of both the pilot house and the cabin below be draped with black fabric to facilitate shooting from a particular motion picture camera angle from down below. The horse drawn carriage lower right adds interest to the composition.


Tyrone Power as gambler Mark Fallon is seen standing in front of the pilot house above the name SULTANA as the boat was called in this sequence.


The frame on the upper left of the St. Louis landing was composed of live action and a matte painting which extended the stern of the boat, the river itself and added a boat in the distance and another one on the right. Upper left the boat's name was "JOHN B. DICKEY" and in the lower right "SULTANA."

Universal Studios Prop Boat in Four for Texas

steamboat movies In 1963 Warner Bros. rented the boat and filmed portions of FOUR FOR TEXAS on Universal's back lot "lake." There was a sequence where they transformed the boat from a neglected sternwheeler to this spic and span casino boat LA MAISON ROUGE, supposedly in Galveston, Texas. The two big stars of the movie were Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Here are two starboard views.

steamboat movies

The painting above was made to cross dissolve to the live action footage below. If you look closely the only human figure from the live action which is included in the painting is the deck hand at work on the sign board on the side of the pilot house. Whoever the artist was had to be an accomplished illustrator since the painting has that distinctive illustration style to it. Would be interesting to know if Universal preserved the art work or if it ended up in private hands.

old steamboats

As part of the storyline of FOUR FOR TEXAS the ENTERPRISE was transformed from the drab SULTANA to the elegant LA MAISON ROUGE. Nothing like paint, gingerbread and brass belts around the smokestacks to give a boat some pizzazz. - Dave

steamboat movies

The art department did a nice job freshening up the full sized prop from a neglected packet to the casino boat "La Maison Rouge," which in the screenplay is located in Galveston Bay off the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

Seen above, the prop boat's pilot house "dolled up" in day and night shots in FOUR FOR TEXAS.

Universal Studios Prop Boat in RIVERBOAT


Publicity still:
Darren McGavin as Captain Grey Holden
NBC-TV Saturdays 7-8 pm

in the movies

Publicity still of Darren McGavin as Captain Grey Holden in the pilot house set of the ENTERPRISE for the Universal TV series RIVERBOAT

Riverboat Series Promo 2 page spread without binding at center


The Barrier - Season 1, Episode 2

broadcast 9/20/1959:

"Vance Muldoon offers Government agent Carruthers a chance to earn some money - by sneaking liquor to a tribe of Indians."

Character names and Actors in the lower left corner identified LEFT to RIGHT:

Vance Muldoon: William Bendix (title character from "The Life of Riley" T.V. series)

Abigail: Elizabeth Montgomery (before she starred as Samantha the witch 5 years later on "Bewitched")

Carruthers: John Kerr (who played Lt. Joe Cable in the movie of the musical "South Pacific" the year before)

Ben Frazer, pilot of the ENTERPRISE: Burt Reynolds.

steamboats in movies

A number of episodes of the 1959 - 1961 TV series RIVERBOAT are available from NETFLIX. Attached 12 screen captures from the first DVD. 8 of the images are of a scale model. The distributor credit for the DVD's is Timeless Media Productions.

Riverboat Series Promo Title IMPROVED 40 percent EXP

This was from a very unusual promo booklet from 1959 promoting the upcoming RIVERBOAT series.

The steamboat graphic is of a boat that wasn't built until 40 years after the time period when the series was supposed to take place. The engraved illustration represented the REBECCA EVERINGHAM who was on a U.S. postage stamps 1996: usstampgallery.com/

The "Rebecca Everingham" was considered the most luxurious of the steamboats on the Chattahoochee River. It was build in Columbus, Georgia in 1880. It had more than two dozen ornate staterooms and a capacity of 120 passengers and about 1,000 cotton bales. It operated from Columbus and Apalachicola between 1880-84. It was destroyed by fire at Fitzgerald's Landing, four miles above Florence, GA, on April 3, 1884, with a reported 11 fatalities. The fire reportedly was caused by a falling particle of carbon from an electric light. The boat was mid-stream when the alarm was sounded.

Other Appearances of the Universal Studios Prop Boat

Far County X 4 65 percent even margins EXP

After its debut in THE GAMBLER, Universal's prop steamboat got pressed into service in the 1954 James Stewart Western directed by Anthony Mann entitled THE FAR COUNTRY that begins in Seattle in 1896 and ventures up to Alaska with a boat load of cattle during the Klondike gold rush. The top two frames were "matte shots" in which much of the upper portion of the scene was a painted in post-production, enhancing the steamboat and adding mountains in the distance

Some footage taken of the HENDERSON on the Columbia River for the 1952 James Stewart Western BEND OF THE RIVER, also directed by Anthony Mann served to give the illusion that the "CHINOOK" (as the boat is called in THE FAR COUNTRY) is paddling from Seattle to Alaska. Frames from BEND OF THE RIVER can be found among our earlier postings of movie stills.

Enterprise as Mississippi Queen Gambler Natchez HALF fixed

Universal's prop boat in THE GAMBLER FROM NATCHEZ - 20th Century Fox, 1954. The screenplay was inspired by the classic revenge story "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas, introduced as a serial in France in 1844 - 45. Appropriately this saga of a gambler from Natchez saga also takes place in the 1840's.

Returning to New Orleans, following four years of army service in Texas in the 1840s, Captain Vance Colby finds his father, a professional gambler, has been killed. The police tell him his father was killed while caught cheating in a card game by Andre Rivage, an arrogant young dilettante. Vance protests that his father was an honest gambler and never used marked cards, but the police inspector tells him there were witnesses. Aided by a riverboat owner, Captain Barbee, and his daughter, Melanie, Vance sets out to clear his father's name and avenge his death.

I have not yet seen the movie which is available on DVD from "Loving the Classics." Will be interesting to see if stock footage of a real steamboat or if a scale model was used to show the boat paddling away on the Mississippi. lovingtheclassics.com


Appearing in MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES, 1957.


The attached frame is from the Comedy/Western RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958), starring War Hero turned Actor Audie Murphy. Murphy's co-star Walter Matthau as "Judge Kyle" lived aboard the little shantyboat on the far left.