The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an American children’s television series that originally aired on NBC from September 15th, 1968 through February 23rd, 1969.

Produced by Hanna-Barbera and based on the classic Mark Twain characters, the program starred its three live-action heroes, Huck Finn (Michael Shea), Becky Thatcher (LuAnn Haslam), and Tom Sawyer (Kevin Schultz), navigating weekly adventures within an animated world as they attempted to outrun a vengeful “Injun Joe” (Ted Cassidy).  After the show’s original run, the series continued to air in reruns as part of The Banana Splits and Friends Show syndication package.
The pilot episode opens with a live-action prologue which sets the premise for the series.  It’s late afternoon in Hannibal, Missouri and Twain’s classic characters, (Tom’s) Aunt Polly and Mrs. Thatcher (Becky’s mother) appear distressed in their concern for the youngsters who are said to be late arriving home.  Next, we see our three protagonists, Huckleberry Finn (Michael Shea), Becky Thatcher (LuAnn Haslam) and Tom Sawyer (Kevin Schultz) taking a short-cut home through the town’s graveyard when they encounter “Injun Joe” (Ted Cassidy).  Furious at the two boys for testifying in court to seeing him murder Doctor Robinson, Injun Joe chases the three children into McDougal’s cave.  Once inside, the three youngsters quickly become disoriented within the cave’s complicated mazes and find themselves lost.  As the spry children outrun him, an angry Injun Joe vows revenge, calling out to them “You’ll never get away from me!  No matter where you go, I’ll get you!”  This prologue would be re-edited with a voice-over by Michael Shea as Huck Finn summarizing the events, and would serve as the opening sequence for each subsequent episode.
Although we never see the three youngsters emerge from the cave, it is presumed that they eventually find a way out since, as each episode proper begins, we join our three young live-action heroes as they now inhabit an animated world.  Throughout the series, the children embark on a quest to return to their families in Hannibul, Missouri, traveling to various exotic animated lands (Tropical islands; Egyptian deserts; Aztec cities; etc.) and make friendships with an array of fanciful animated characters (leprechauns; pirates; sorcerers, etc.).  In addition to the new friends they meet, each episode also features an evil animated antagonist who bears an uncanny resemblance to Injun Joe (voiced by Cassidy).  The likeness is not lost on the three children, who are routinely startled by the striking similarity to their nemesis back home, however, an explanation as to how, or why, Injun Joe is constantly able to remain one step ahead of them in order to assume these various identities is never provided.  As the series only lasted one season, an episode explaining how, or if, the three children ever make it back home, or if it may, in fact, all be some sort of surrealistic “dream”, is never seen.
In February 1967, Hanna-Barbera Productions announced it was in the process of developing a record number of six new animated television series.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the six new series in various stages of production at the time were Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor, Zartan (aka: The Herculoids), Shazzan, Samson & Goliath, Fantastic four and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Also nearing the end of post-production at the time was Hanna-Barbera’s Jack and the Beanstalk, an hour long special which featured Gene Kelly dancing alongside various cartoon characters and aired on February 26th, 1967.  Jack and the Beanstalk had served as a “trial run” for the technology of combining live-action with animation.  NBC had to be convinced that combining people with cartoon figures would work. It was a big success and so NBC went forward with the series.  At the time of production, The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the first weekly television series to combine live-action performers and animation.  During development of the series, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera also stated the show was to be the most expensive half hour ever put on television.  In a July 1967 interview with columnist Hal Humphrey, William Hanna expressed high hopes for the innovative new concept, saying “When you say the word ‘cartoon,’ people think of children only, and we limit ourselves – although plenty of adults watch cartoons. We think combining the live action with the animation will give our company a special identification.”
After NBC green-lit the series, preparations began to find the youngsters to portray the series’ three leads.  The show was produced by both Hanna-Barbera and NBC.  As a result there were a lot of people to make happy when it came to choosing the cast.  As its understood, Hanna-Barbera cast the show and sent some kind of screen test/pilot to the NBC executives in New York.  NBC didn’t like the choices that had been made.  They decided that they wanted the cast to be younger.  Hanna-Barbera had to start all over.  In casting their lead, Hanna-Barbera and NBC eventually found their ideal “Huck” in 14-year-old veteran child actor Michael Shea, reportedly selecting him out of 1,300 boys.  Fourteen-year-old newcomer LuAnn Haslam was chosen to play “Becky.”  In recounting how she landed the role, Haslam stated, “I got a call from my agent to go to Hanna-Barbera for an interview.  Carmen Sanchez was the casting director.  As I walked into her office she was on the telephone.  She turned, looked at me and said to the person on the telephone, ‘I have to go, Becky just walked in.'”  Rounding out the series live-action cast was 13-year-old Kevin Schultz who was cast as “Tom.”  At the time, Schultz was best known for starring on the television western series The Monroes alongside his twin brother Keith, who had reportedly also auditioned for the role of “Tom” before Kevin was selected.  And finally, character actor Ted Cassidy was cast to voice the role of the animated antagonist “Injun Joe.”  In an August 1967 interview with columnist Mel Heimer, Cassidy stated that he was looking forward to his upcoming role on the new series, saying, “I think I’ll get more of a chance to do some acting than I did in (The Addams Family).”
With the series’ three young live-action stars in place, the complicated filming process began.  During the months the series was in production, each day of filming reportedly began at 9:00 a.m. Under California law at the time, child actors were required to attend school for three hours a day and periods of instruction had to last at least 20 minutes at a time.  When asked about the filming process, Michael Shea described an average day on the set, saying, “First we’d get made-up and dressed, and then we’d go to school while the shot was being set up.  By coincidence, we were all taking the exact same subjects, so we were tutored together.”  The young actors’ scenes were filmed in front of a royal blue backdrop and the cartoon background and characters were animated in later.  A technique still in its infancy, the young cast was required to master the art of engaging in conversational exchanges without having their animated co-stars to interact with.  Shea recalled, “Injun Joe, for instance, was a cartoon character, so when I had to talk to him, I’d run my eyes slowly up the blue screen until the director told me to stop.  Then I’d just try to remember where that point on the screen was.”  Since the voice-actors would record their audio tracks after principal filming, character actor Bruce Watson, whom Shea described as “the greatest dialogue coach in the world,” would perform the lines of all the animated characters for the young live-action stars to interact with during filming.  Each episode reportedly took approximately 4 hours to film and six months to animate.
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