Michael Shea (actor)
Michael Shea (born November 4, 1952) is an American former child actor. Beginning a prolific career at the age of ten, Shea is perhaps best known for portraying the title role in the NBC children's television series, The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as for his feature film roles; as Nick in the Ivan Tors family film, Namu, the Killer Whale, as Jimmy in the MGM western, Welcome to Hard Times, and as "Cav" in the Walt Disney drama, Ride a Northbound Horse. Although born and raised in New York City, Shea was primarily cast as the wholesome small-town "country boy" throughout most of his career as a child star.
Michael Shea as Huckleberry Finn, 1968.
Michael D. Shea
November 4, 1952
Michael Shea was born on November 4, 1952 (some sources mistakenly reporting his year of birth as 1951) in Glendale, New York to parents Mr. and Mrs. Frank Shea. He spent his early years raised in New York and grew up with four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. At the age of nine, a neighbor reportedly approached Shea with the idea of entering show business, however, the thought of stardom frightened him. In a 1968 interview, Shea recalled the early experience saying, "I ran into the woods and started crying. I kept saying, 'I don't want to be a star.'"
At the age of ten, Shea reconsidered the possibilities of a professional acting career. In 1968, he recounted his reasoning saying, "I thought I'd like to try acting, but I wasn't sure I'd want to stay in it, so I asked my neighbor if I could get out if I didn't like it. He said 'sure.'" Shea's neighbor was Aliam Dunn, casting director of The Ed Sullivan Show, who used his industry connections to introduce Shea to a New York talent agent. Soon, Shea was landing work as a child model and actor, appearing in television commercials for Campbell's Soup and Scooter Pies among others.
After learning the show business ropes as a working actor in commercials, Shea made his theatrical debut, appearing in two "experimental" off-Broadway productions by Edward Albee, and made his television debut in The Bell Telephone Hour Christmas special. In 1965, Shea was signed to play the title role in a proposed western television series titled Joshua, which prompted the Shea family to relocate from its New York home to California. However the series never made it to television.
After Shea was released from his obligations for Joshua, the family remained in California where he was soon landing guest-starring roles on such popular television shows of the time as Blue Light, Camp Runamuck, and The Fugitive. In 1966, Shea made his feature film debut in the Ivan Tors family drama Namu, the Killer Whale appearing as Nick, one of the antagonists to a family caring for a killer whale, inciting fear and hostility within their small seaside community.
After Namu, Shea returned to television roles, guest-starring on episodes of Mission: Impossible, Bewitched and The Virginian. In 1967, Shea landed a co-starring role in the western film Welcome to Hard Times as Jimmy, an orphan boy who is taken in by Will Blue (Henry Fonda) after his father is murdered by a vicious stranger terrorizing their small town. In the months that followed, Shea continued to appear on television, guest-starring on episodes of The Wild Wild West and The Danny Thomas Hour, before taking the role that would make him a star.
In 1968, Shea landed the lead role in the Hanna-Barbera television series The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, loosely based on the characters from the Mark Twain novel. Reportedly beating out over 1,300 other boys for the role, Shea starred as the titular "Huck Finn" alongside LuAnn Haslam as Becky Thatcher and Kevin Schultz as Tom Sawyer, navigating weekly adventures within an animated world as they attempted to outrun a vengeful "Injun Joe", played by Ted Cassidy.
Premiering on NBC on September 16, 1968, the program was the first weekly television series to combine live-action performers with animation. In her review of the series, television critic Kathy Brooks described Shea's boy-next-door appeal, writing, "a more freshly-scrubbed looking Huck would be hard to find." All less than a year apart in age, the show's three teenage stars were tutored together for three hours a day on the set between scenes, with each episode reportedly taking approximately four hours to film and six months to animate.
In a departure from the network's usual Saturday morning cartoon schedule, the series aired Sunday nights and made its three young stars popular teen idols of the era. The series aired in over 15 countries and its three young leads were routinely in demand to make celebrity appearances to meet with fans across the United States during the show's original run. Although the series lasted only one season, it continued to air in reruns as part of The Banana Splits syndication package, becoming well known to subsequent generations for the next four decades.
After Huck Finn ended in 1969, Shea appeared in the Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color film Ride a Northbound Horse. Premiering on March 16, 1969, the special presentation starred Shea as "Cav Rand", a 15-year-old orphan in the old west who buys a prize race horse, only to have it stolen by a con-artist played by Carroll O'Connor. Although airing in two-parts over a period of two Sundays in the United States, the story was presented in European markets as a stand-alone film.
In 1970, Shea made two appearances on the television series Headmaster and in 1971, began a recurring role as Dick Van Dyke's son Lucas Preston for two seasons on The New Dick Van Dyke Show. During this time, Shea also continued to guest-star on other popular series of the time, appearing on two episodes of the high school drama series Room 222, as well as appearing in two episodes of the religious anthology series Insight, the second of which would be his final television appearance in the July 1973 episode entitled "Celebration in Fresh Powder".
After Huck Finn ended, Shea attended classes at Van Nuys High School in the San Fernando Valley where he lived with his family. Shea graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1971 and, after leaving show business in 1973, began working in a patio furniture shop in Studio City, Los Angeles. In 1979, Shea became a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.
In 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported that one of Shea's duties with the LAPD included serving as the head of security for celebrities riding in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, exactly 25 years after he'd ridden in the same parade himself as the celebrity guest of honor during the height of his Huck Finn fame. In the same article, the L.A. Times also reported that Shea was married and resided in Castaic, California with his wife and children.
In September 2010, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce posted a video on its official YouTube channel of Shea at the 7th Annual Hollywood PAL Benefit where he had been honored for his "incredible dedication and hard work" and "community involvement" as a law enforcement officer. At the ceremony, it was announced that Shea had recently retired from his 31-year career with the LAPD as a Senior Lead Officer.
|1966||Namu, the Killer Whale||Nick||—|
|1967||Welcome to Hard Times||Jimmy Fee||—|
|1969||Ride a Northbound Horse||Cav Rand||European release|
|1964||The Bell Telephone Hour||Himself||Christmas Special|
|1965||The Defenders||(Unknown)||(Unknown episode)|
|1966||Blue Light||Klaus||"How to Kill a Soldier"|
|1966||Camp Runamuck||Hefflefinger||"Commander for a Day"|
|1966||The Fugitive||Rick||"In a Plain Paper Wrapper"|
|1966||Mission: Impossible||Pieter Stakovar||"A Spool There Was"|
|1966||Bewitched||Johnny Mills||"Soapbox Derby"|
|1967||The Virginian||Jamie Adams||"Bitter Harvest"|
|1967||The Wild Wild West||Boy||"The Night of the Falcon"|
|1968||The Danny Thomas Hour||David Rubin||"The Last Hunters"|
|1968–1969||The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn||Huck Finn||Starring|
|1969||Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color||Cav Rand||"Ride a Northbound Horse" - Parts 1 & 2|
|1969||Me and Benjy||Teenage Boyfriend||Possibly unaired episodes|
|1970||Headmaster||Fred / Wayne||2 episodes|
|1972||Room 222||Scott||2 episodes|
|1971–1973||The New Dick Van Dyke Show||Lucas Preston||Recurring|
- "'Huck Finn' Star At Six-Gun Territory". Oscala Star-Banner. December 29, 1968.
- "'Huck Finn' TV Star At Six-Gun". Oscala Star-Banner. December 19, 1968.
- "Scene Action - Michael Shea and Kevin Schultz?". The Evening Independent. January 2, 1969.
- "Former Actor Gets New Role for Hollywood Parade". Los Angeles Times. November 27, 1993.
- "Right Out of Pages of Mark Twain Book". The Deseret News. September 18, 1968.
- "Namu - Tamed". The Sumter Daily Item. January 9, 1971.
- "Janice Rule, Henry Fonda Star in Early Settler Drama". The Hartford Courant. December 10, 1967.
- "TV Sunday". The Milwaukee Sentinel. September 14, 1968.
- "New Huck Finn Freshly Bathed". The Calgary Herald. November 22, 1968.
- "TV Previews - Sunday". The Free Lance-Star. September 13, 1968.
- "TV Mailbag - Michael Shea?". The Hartford Courant. March 16, 1969.
- "Huck Finn Featured in Series". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. September 10, 1968.
- "Beyond Becky Thatcher: The Life and Times of LuAnn Haslam". KiddieMatinee.com. May 30, 2005. Archived from the original on July 7, 2012.
- "The Bedford Files". Centre Daily Times. April 5, 2002.
- "Boy Steals Own Horse". Schenectady Gazette. March 15, 1969.
- "Weekend Television Highlights - Sunday". The Evening News. March 15, 1969.
- "Television Previews - Sunday". The Evening Independent. March 21, 1969.
- "Amusements - The New Dick Van Dyke Show". The News and Courier. October 2, 1971.
- "TV Week - Today". The Boston Globe. January 28, 1973.
- "Guests Chosen for Personality - The New Dick Van Dyke Show". The Palm Beach Post. May 26, 1984.
- "Michael Shea Honored at 7th Hollywood PAL Benefit". Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. September 21, 2010.