HUCKLEBERRY FINN to be seen for the first time in nearly 90 years at the 360 / 365 George Eastman House Film Festival
Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one of the most famous American novels of the 19th century. First published in 1884, the book has never been out of print. The character of Huck Finn has appeared in over 40 films starting with the 1917 version of TOM SAWYER, and was most notably played by Mickey Rooney and Eddie Hodges in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1939 and 1960 respectively). But the first film version of HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920), after its initial released, passed into film history and with the advent of talking pictures in the late 1920’s would be forgotten and almost lost forever.
Lobby Card for HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920)
William Desmond Taylor (1872 – 1922) who was under contract to Famous Players-Lasky (which would later take the name of its distribution company of Paramount Pictures) had directed TOM SAWYER (1917) starring Jack Pickford and THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1918). So Taylor was the logical choice to direct HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Lewis Sargent as Huck started his film career only a few years before with Fox Films, in ALADIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP. An actor with a lot of presence and charm, Sargent was a perfect Huck Finn. Wanting to be as faithful to the novel as possible, Taylor went on location to Mississippi to shoot the film. Upon its release in February of 1920, HUCKLEBERRY FINN was both a critical and commercial hit.
Less than two years after finishing HUCKLEBERRY FINN, William Desmond Taylor was dead. His body was discovered lying on the floor of his living room by his butler on the morning of February 2, 1922 with a bullet wound in the back. A major investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department followed, but to this day the murder remains unsolved. Like most people who worked in silent film his body of work is fragmentary at best. Taylor directed 64 films in the nine years he was working in Hollywood. As of this writing only 18 are known to exist. In Part Two of the blog on the 1920 HUCKLEBERRY FINN, I will talk about the current George Eastman House restoration of the film.
The restored HUCKLEBERRY FINN will have its premiere at The Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House on the evening of May 9th as part of The 360/365 George Eastman House Film Festival.
Anthony L'Abbate is a preservation officer in the Motion Picture Department. Some of the films he has worked on are HUCKLEBERRY FINN; ROARING RAILS and FLOWER OF DOOM. He also created new English language titles for repatriated American silent films.