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"My God, Pittsburgh! Don't do it," lamented the agent for actor Richard Basehart upon learning of his client's plans to appear as King Arthur in a made-in-Pittsburgh TV version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
The Public Broadcasting Service production, based on Mark Twain's novel, will be shown as a one-hour television special in April. It also features Roscoe Lee Browne as Merlin, Tovah Feldshuh as Sandy and Paul Rudd as Hank Morgan, the Connecticut Yankee.
"Nobody wanted me to do it," recalled Basehart in an interview between scenes. "My agent tried to dissuade me and said, "But this is the busiest time of the year".
"But once in a while you read a script and you say, "Damn it, that can be fun," and you have to do it, " said Basehart, perhaps most popularly remembered as Captain Nelson in the television series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
He recently starred in the movie Island of Dr. Moreau and also played Capt. Henry Wirz in the TV drama The Andersonville Trial, an Emmy award winner.
Basehart said money often enters into the decision whether to take a given role.
Saying his part in Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea was difficult to escape "as a role in any series is tough to live down," Basehart said, "But unless he is a wealthy man, an actor is always confronted with the question, "Should I do this because I need the money"?"
With his grimace becoming a smile, Basehart then returned to his role as King Arthur and said, "This is something you do for love and not for money."
The upcoming PBS special is based upon the adventures of Twain's Hank Morgan, who awakens in King Arthur's England after being knocked unconscious in 19th century America.
During his stay with the knights of the round table, Morgan tries to modernize the 6th-century society and gives lessons in such areas as the virtues of gunpowder, schools, a free press and modern communication. Merlin, the court wizard, dislikes competition and pits his magic against modern science.
The PBS production, which sports some 65 Arthurian citizens in full costume and even a bicycle brigade of knights, does not reemain absolutely true to the book. Such bloody scenes in the novel as the battle in which thousands die are either cut or changed in the film.
The production also tones down Twain's sermons on such subjects as modern warfare and slavery.
"Twain got carried away," said Dan Shor, who plays Hank Morgan's friend, Clarence.
"The PBS version is very succinct and pleasurable but still gets Twain's points across,"said Shor, whose credits include the TV soap opera Search For Tomorrow and the movie Johnnie Got His Gun.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is the first American production in Once Upon A Classic, a popular family series now in its second season.
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