Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985 – 86)

American Playhouse, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1985 – 86)

Time and tenacity were important factors in the broadcasting of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn the following winter (1986) on educational television stations. There is no doubt that Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is an important American novel. Whether it is the American masterpiece will always be a topic of debate.

Twain’s compelling portrait of two dispossessed souls (Huck, a poor, beaten white boy, and Jim, a black man on the run from the degradation of slavery) is a powerful image. The television adaptation of Huckleberry Finn in four episodes over a month’s duration was not necessarily the most convincing way to bring this classic to the small screen. Although the story was approached with care and sensitivity, Jim, no matter how clean cut and sanitized, is still believed by many black Americans to be a cultural stereotype, so that he is articulate and does not rely on dialect does not raise his station.

Adventures of Huck Finn PBS Playhouse 1986 Lillian Gish

In the second episode, Lillian appeared as Mrs. Judith Loftus, an elderly lady who lives in a shack away from the town and senses that the young girl who calls herself Sarah Mary Williams or Mary Sarah Williams doesn’t catch a tossed lump of yarn like a young girl would.

While the production utilized the top drawer talents of Richard Kiley, Barnard Highes, Sada Thompson, Jim Dale, and Geraldine Page in supporting roles, their appearances, wrote television critic John O’Connor for The New York Times, “fell into the category of standard guest shots, mildly interesting and looking a bit hurried.”  (Stuart Oderman)

Lillian Gish Patrick Day Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Huckleberry Finn, a rambunctious boy adventurer chafing under the bonds of civilization, escapes his humdrum world and his selfish, plotting father by sailing a raft down the Mississippi River.

 

  • Director: Peter H. Hunt
  • Writers: Guy Gallo, Mark Twain (novel)
  • Stars: Patrick Day, Jim Dale, Frederic Forrest

The cast:

Huck Patrick Day ……………………………… Huck
Miss Watson Anne Shropshire ……………………………… Miss Watson
Widow Douglas Sada Thompson ……………………………… Widow Douglas
Tom Sawyer Eugene Oakes ……………………………… Tom Sawyer
Jim Samm-Art Williams ……………………………… Jim
Pap Finn Frederic Forrest ……………………………… Pap Finn
Mrs Loftus Lillian Gish ……………………………… Mrs Loftus
Col. Grangerford Richard Kiley ……………………………… Col. Grangerford
The Duke Jim Dale ……………………………… The Duke
The King Barnard Hughes ……………………………… The King
Blind Negress Butterfly McQueen ……………………………… Blind Negress
Sally Phelps Geraldine Page ……………………………… Sally Phelps
Billy Jason Hankins ……………………………… Billy

Based on the beloved tale by Mark Twain, this made-for-television movie follows tenacious young Huckleberry Finn (Patrick Day) as he fakes his own death to escape his abusive father, Pap (Frederic Forrest). Heading down the Mississippi River, Huck encounters a runaway slave, Jim (Samm-Art Williams), and joins him on his travels. Along the way, Huck and Jim run into an array of eccentric characters, including a shifty duo known as the Duke (Jim Dale) and the King (Barnard Hughes).

Adventures of Huck Finn PBS Playhouse 1986 Houston Chronicle Library
Adventures of Huck Finn PBS Playhouse 1986 Houston Chronicle Library

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