Mark Twain: Television Star

The following introduction and collection of television clips come from one source: David Bianculli, nationally known television critic, professor at  Rowan University, and contributor to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. CMTS is deeply grateful to Mr. Bianculli for his work on assembling these clips. CMTS hopes that this collection helps contribute to the academic discussion of Mark Twain’s portrayal in the television era and beyond.

David Bianculli

INTRODUCTION by David Bianculli

Examining the topic Mark Twain on Television would seem to be an absurdly easy endeavor. Samuel Clemens died in 1910, several decades before the earliest experiments in TV. So, no Mark Twain on television, period. And though he was photographed extensively for most of his adult life, Clemens was an elusive figure in other media. If there indeed were audio recordings of his voice made when he visited Thomas Edison’s workshop, none has yet been known to survive. And on the then-new motion picture medium, Clemens was captured for posterity precisely once – at his Stormfield home, with daughters Clara and Jean, in 1909, the year before his death. So for media historians, at the moment, that’s the final score for Mark Twain appearances: Movies 1, Television 0.

But Mark Twain the character, as portrayed by others? That’s a different matter entirely, and it’s fascinating.

On television, the entire Mark Twain TV canon can be divided into two camps: before and after Hal Holbrook’s 1967 Hal Holbrook CBS production of Mark Twain Tonight! Before Holbrook, portrayals of Twain were all over the map in terms of looks, voice, and other physical manifestations. After Holbrook, almost every portrayal of the elder Twain borrowed heavily, and unashamedly, from Holbrook’s brilliant portrayal – down to the then anachronistic, but visually striking, white suit.

That and one other seminal early portrayal of Mark Twain on TV, the 1960 The Shape of the River teleplay on the CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, both have been investigated and dissected at length by my TV-critic colleague and fellow Twain enthusiast, Mark Dawidziak. But that still leaves plenty of Mark Twain TV portrayals to revisit and examine – and spread over the entire history of television, it’s a strange, as well as long, list.

Yes, Hal Holbrook impersonated Mark Twain on television – but over the years, so did Bing Crosby and James Stewart, James Garner and Woody Harrelson, and William Shatner and Vanilla Ice. This video presentation includes samples of them all.

Some of the approaches, like many of the performances, are full of surprises. The character of Samuel Clemens showed up on three different episodes of NBC’s Bonanza, played over the years by three different actors. Clemens, as Twain, also appeared on other early TV Westerns, drawing on partly autobiographical writings and articles: NBC’s Laramie, ABC’s The Rifleman, and the syndicated Death Valley Days. The first portrayal of Clemens on TV was on an ABC anthology series in 1953, called Cavalcade of America, in an episode called “Riders of the Pony Express.” Over the years, among the most dramatized portions of the author’s life were the latter years, especially the tragic death of his daughter Jean. Shape of the River got there first, with Horton Foote’s still-potent account – but the same tragedy was presented by, among other TV shows and specials, PBS’s Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter in 1979 and the CBS series Touched by an Angel in 1997.

The portrayals of Mark Twain on TV do, indeed, range from the sublime to the ridiculous: the former represented by Holbrook’s triumphant one-man show, the latter by, say, the Mark Twain we see in 2013 on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. It’s all here to sample and enjoy – straight up, or on ice. Vanilla Ice.

COLLECTION

#1 – Mark Twain, 1909

The title card of this short silent film says it was “Photographed by Thomas Edison,” but there’s no proof of that. Filmed by someone from Edison’s film company, but still amazing. The only moving picture of the real Samuel Clemens, walking around his Stormfield property, and sitting with daughters Clara and Jean, in 1909. Both Jean and her father would soon be dead.

#2 – Cavalcade of America, “Riders of the Pony Express” (ABC, Dec. 15, 1953)

First TV appearance of the Sam Clemens/Mark Twain “character.” Twain doesn’t speak, but is filmed atop a stagecoach as he narrates quotes approximating those in Roughing It, witnessing a fleet rider from the Pony Express. Robert Cornthwaite plays the young Mark Twain.

#3 – Bonanza, “Enter Mark Twain” (NBC, Season 1, Episode 5, Oct. 10, 1959)

Sam Clemens, played by Howard Duff, writes under the name of Josh for Virginia City’s local paper, the Territorial Enterprise (just as Clemens did). Virginia City is right there on the Bonanza opening credits map, right next to the Ponderosa. Sam Clemens enters the newspaper office and introduces himself. First speaking role on TV.

Sam drinks with the judge’s wife, mentions Calaveras County and “fancy writing”

Sam Clemens plots with the Cartwrights to ridicule the judge and influence election. Then Adam reads a news clipping making fun of a “Professor Pronoun,” with the article signed “Josh.” (Keokuk’s The Gate City published such a story, signed by “Josh,” that was a dispatch from Clemens in 1863, under the headline, “Report on the Lecture of Prof. Personal Pronoun.”)

Clemens is writing story in the Enterprise office as bullets fly, and the Cartwrights defend him. Gives new meaning to the term deadline, and provides a “bonanza” about how the Mark Twain name really came about.

The Cartwrights read aloud from a new dispatch in the Enterprise about Professor Pronoun: “Prof. Personal Pronoun Won’t Be Around Any More.”

#4 – Laramie “Company Man” (NBC, Season 1, Episode 21, Feb. 9, 1960)

In Arizona in the 1870s, in Wyoming Territory, 12 miles outside Laramie, there’s a ranch that has a stage stop. One of the passengers is a villain named Jack Slade. Another is a man who wrote about him: Sam Clemens, played by Dabbs Greer, who identifies himself.

Sam Clemens leaves on the stage, discusses his next book with youngster Andy. Next scene, a package arrives for Andy: a copy of Twain’s Roughing It.

#5 – Playhouse 90, “The Shape of the River” (CBS, Season 4, Episode 16, May 2. 1960)

This was the penultimate production of Playhouse 90, written by Horton Foote, who focused on Twain’s last, difficult years and did a superb job. (So did Mark Dawidziak, who both wrote a book about this TV special and unearthed a copy of it, long considered lost.) Franchot Tone plays Mark Twain, and introduces the drama.

Lecture tour: snippets from Twain’s lecture tour, including quotes about kids and parents.

Jean dies in the bathtub on Christmas Eve day, 1909. The first of several TV depictions of this tragedy, and Twain’s reactions to it.

After Jean’s death, Twain discusses leaving for Elmira.

Twain writes of Jean’s death and the imminent return of Halley’s comet.

#6 – The Rifleman, “The Shattered Idol” (ABC, Season 4, Episode 10, Dec. 4, 1961)

Kevin McCarthy plays an embittered Clemens, who arrives by stagecoach, witnessed by Rifleman’s son.

#7 – Death Valley Days, “$275,000 Sack of Flour” (Syndicated, Season 11, Episode 2, Oct.1, 1962)

Credits and introduction, explaining premise of episode.

Sam Clemens is played by William Schallert, who enters a store in Clinton, sees Gridley (a friend from Hannibal, a.k.a. “Frogskin”), and suggests pulling a stunt in nearby Virginia City.

As the host explains in the conclusion to this episode, Twain wrote about this incident in Roughing It.

#8 – Bonanza, “The Emperor Norton” (NBC, Season 7, Episode 23, Feb. 27, 1966)

This is the second of three Samuel Clemens appearances on Bonanza, each played by a different actor. In this one, Sam Clemens is played by William Challee, and it’s a cameo, with Clemens arriving, briefly, as a character witness at someone else’s trial.

#9 – Mark Twain Tonight! (CBS, March 6, 1967)

This landmark TV special, capturing for posterity one of Hal Holbrook’s impressively researched one-man shows as Mark Twain, already has been authoritatively recounted, and again by Mark Dawidziak, this time in a presentation at Elmira 2013: The Seventh International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies. Most TV “appearances” by Twain can be divided into before and after Holbrook’s triumph. Before, the Twains could be wildly diverse. After, they are all, more or less, variations on Holbrook’s interpretation. In this opening segment, Twain discusses whiskey – and truth.

More Holbrook as Twain, talking of riding West on the Overland stage.

More Holbrook as Twain, discussing lies and Congress

#10 – Death Valley Days, “Ten Day Millionaires,” (Syndicated, Season 17, Episode 12, Dec. 21, 1968)

Tom Skerritt plays a young Sam Clemens, with Dabney Coleman as Calvin Higby, his partner during his short-lived Nevada mining-camp days. The second of two Death Valley Days featuring Clemens – this one in color.

The young prospectors reunite after a misunderstanding, and Clemens vows to survive wielding not a pick, but a pencil.

Conclusion to Death Valley Days, in which the host reads the opening to Twain’s Roughing It, dedicated to Higby.

#11 – Swing Out, Sweet Land (alternate title, John Wayne’s Tribute to America) (NBC, Nov. 29, 1970)

In this first TV special by John Wayne, he introduces Mark Twain and Frederick Douglass, played respectively by Bing Crosby and Roscoe Lee Browne.

Twain and Douglass chat, in a conversation culled from their letters to one another.

#12 – Bonanza, “The Twenty-Sixth Grave” (NBC, Season 14, Episode 7, Oct. 31, 1972)

This is the third of three appearances by an actor playing Mark Twain on Bonanza. The first was in 1959, the second in 1966, and this third one, maintaining the once-per-decade pace, is from 1972. Sam Clemens is played by Ken Howard, who later starred in Puddn’head Wilson for American Playhouse on PBS in 1984. Here, after a Twain quote about “26 Graves” is displayed directly and accurately on screen, Howard spins stories at the newspaper office.

#13 – Huckleberry Finn (ABC, March 25, 1975)

This 1975 made-for-TV movies stars Royal Dano as Mark Twain, who “hosts” this adaptation of Twain’s masterpiece. The casting says it all: Huck Finn is played by Ron Howard, and Tom Sawyer by Donny Most. Their hit nostalgia sitcom, ABC’s Happy Days (on which Howard played Richie Cunningham and Most played Ralph Malph) had premiered the year before. Also featured, though not in this clip: Jack Elam and Merle Haggard as the nonsensical King and Duke, and Antonio Fargas (who played Huggy Bear on another ABC hit, Starsky and Hutch) as Huck’s raftmate, runaway slave Jim.

#14 – General Electric’s All-Star Anniversary (NBC, Sept. 29, 1978)

This NBC special is another one which, for this portion at least, was hosted by John Wayne. In this excerpt, Michael Landon, in his Western get-up from NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, gets the chance to travel magically through time and interview one of his idols, Mark Twain (as played by James Stewart). Twain reminiscences, in particular, about his days as a riverboat cub pilot on the Mississippi River.

#15 – Mark Twain: Beneath the Laughter (PBS, Dec. 10, 1979)

In this often sad made-for-TV movie, Dan O’Herlihy plays Sam Clemens, who is greeted by reporters upon his return to America in Dec. 1909, and says he is anxious to get to his Stormfield home and spend Christmas with his daughter Jean. This special has a noteworthy collection of academic advisers in its credits, including Hamlin Hill, Frederick Anderson, William Gibson, Lewis Leary and Walter Blair.

In this Beneath the Laughter clip, as in The Shape of the River, Clemens is told of, and reacts to, Jean’s tragic death.

#16 – Great Performances: Life on the Mississippi (PBS, Nov. 24, 1980)

In this 1980 dramatization, a very young Sam Clemens is portrayed by David Knell, while the imposing riverboat pilot under whom he trains, Horace Bixby, is played by Robert Lansing. In this scene, young Sam applies for, and gets, the job as apprentice pilot.

#17 – Great Performances: The Innocents Abroad (PBS, May 9, 1983)

This movie-length dramatization quotes accurately from Twain’s Innocents Abroad, and this clip shows an example of that, followed by a scene in which young Sam Clemens, played by Craig Wasson, talks himself into becoming the Alta newspaper’s correspondent for the first-ever luxury tourist excursion cruise. Co-stars include Brooke Adams as Julia Newell as David Odgen Stiers as Doc.

#18 – Cheers, “Pudd’nHead Boyd” (NBC, Season 6, episode 9, Nov. 26, 1987)

Woody Boyd (played by Woody Harrelson) gets to understudy as Mark Twain in “Authors in Hell” play. Wears the white suit, adopts the persona, even when working as a bartender.

#19 – Mark Twain and Me, (Disney Channel, Nov. 22, 1991)

Mark Twain is played by Jason Robards, daughter Jean by Talia Shire, friend and biographer Albert Paine by R.H. Thomson. Amy Stewart portrays Dorothy Quick, the author of book remembering her time with Samuel Clemens in London, 1908. This clip features a preamble from Dorothy, and Clemens reflecting to Paine about his children after receiving a cable with bad news about daughter Susy.

#20 – Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Time’s Arrow,” Part 1 and Part 2 (Syndicated, Season 5, Episode 26, June 13, 1992; Season 6, Episode 1, Sept. 19, 1992).

Sam Clemens is played by Jerry Hardin. Crew members from the Enterprise travel back in time to Twain’s era, where he discusses his own fanciful time-travel musings in his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

#21 – Touched By an Angel, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” (CBS, Season 4, Episode 12, Dec. 21, 1997).

John Cullum plays Sam Clemens, who returns home to daughter Jean on Christmas Eve, 1909. She has a special gift for her father and slips it into the Christmas tree branches. He delivers some well-known Twain quotes, and tells Jean to get her rest.

Jean dies in the tub.

Clemens, that very day, writes of Jean’s death. Then Monica visits him, reveals herself as an angel – after which he angrily argues theology with her.

#22 – Mark Twain. Documentary by Ken Burns. (PBS, Jan. 14-15, 2002)

Kevin Conway as the voice of Mark Twain. The end of his life, including the prediction of Halley’s Comet returning as he died, is recounted in this nonfiction study.

#23 – Roughing It (Hallmark Channel miniseries, March 16, 2002)

James Garner plays Samuel Clemens, giving a speech to his daughter Susy’s graduating class at Bryn Mawr college outside Philadelphia. But she never graduated from there, and did not remain long. Regardless, Garner, in the famous Mark Twain persona (anachronistic white suit and all), gets to reminisce from the lectern about his old salad days, setting up flashbacks to his time in the Nevada territory, and the events recounted in the book Roughing It. Robin Dunne plays young Sam in flashbacks, with Adam Arkin as Henry and Jill Eikenberry as Livy Clemens.

#24 – Drunk History, “San Francisco.” (Comedy Central, Season 1, Episode 5, Aug. 6, 2013)

After series credits are shown, inebriated storyteller Derrick Beckles introduces his version of how Mark Twain’s literary career was launched. Steve Little plays Mark Twain.

The story is told, drunkenly, of how an overheard “Jumping Frog” story proved to be Twain’s “jumping-off point.”

#25 – Murdoch Mysteries (Alternate US title: The Artful Detective) “Marked Twain” (Ovation, Season 9, Episode 2, Oct.12, 2015)

William Shatner guest stars as Mark Twain, making a somewhat unpopular speaking appearance in Toronto as an avowed anti-imperialist visiting Canada on an international speaking tour. At his first speech, he’s shot at.

In this clip, undaunted, Twain returns to the podium at a later date – and gives a very modern speech about women’s rights.

#26 – The Ridiculous 6 (Netflix, Dec. 11, 2015)

This made-for-TV movie is a comedy Western, co-written by Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, in which several familiar Western-era figures congregate tro play poker. General Custer, for example, is portrayed by David Spade – and Mark Twain steals the show, and concludes this presentation, as portrayed by…..Vanilla Ice.

Relive Twain’s Summer of 1884 with the Final Lecture of the “Trouble Begins” 2018 Season

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, November 7 when presenter John Bird takes the audience through Twain’s summer of 1884 at Quarry Farm.  The final fall lecture begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

 

Mark Twain working in the Study, circa 1880’s.

Bird, emeritus professor of English at Winthrop University, will present “‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm.”  As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of his current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, Bird’s presentation will let audiences relive Twain and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read a proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives the audience a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

 

Bird is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

 

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Author of Award-Winning Novel “Flood” Continues the Fall Trouble Begins Series

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, October 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Writing from Roots in ‘America’s Hometown’: Flood, a Novel” by Melissa Scholes Young, American University

Literature and life often claim you can’t go home again, but what happens if you have to? In this book talk and author reading, Melissa Scholes Young will chronicle how Mark Twain’s own exodus from Hannibal parallels Laura Brooks’, the protagonist of her debut novel, Flood, who like the Mississippi River, once ran in the wrong direction in order to recalibrate. She’ll share her historical research and creative writing process as well as explore whyTwain’s origin in rural America is more relevant than ever.

“Filled with pithy dialogue and cultural references, Scholes Young’s writing ties Laura’s journey of self-discovery squarely to Hannibal and its famous young troublemakers. As Laura reckons with her past, Scholes Young reckons with Twain’s influence on the region. This debut is a wonderful story of home, hope, and the ties that bind us to family.” – Publishers Weekly

Melissa Scholes Young is an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of the anthology Grace in Darkness. Her debut novel, Flood, set in Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown she shares with Mark Twain, was the winner in Literary Fiction for the 2017 Best Book Award.

Here is Kevin Mac Donnell’s review of Flood: A Novel from the Mark Twain Forum Reviews.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series
In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

TV Critic David Bianculli Explores Mark Twain’s Representation on the Small Screen in the Next “Trouble Begins” Lecture

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, October 17 in Peterson Chapel, Cowles Hall on the Elmira College campus. The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

The lecture, “Mark Twain, TV Star,” will be presented by David Bianculli of Rowan University and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The real Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens, appeared in only one film in his lifetime, shortly before his death: a short silent movie of him walking around his Stormfield home, photographed by Thomas Edison’s Edison film company in 1909. But since then, Mark Twain has been on television dozens of times – immortalized, and impersonated, by a frankly startling array of actors on the small screen. The best of them, Hal Holbrook in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, you know, and should. But the rest of them? Other actors portraying Mark Twain, in various programs over the 70-year-history of television, have ranged from Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby to Woody Harrelson and William Shatner. The character and image of Mark Twain have been kept alive by shows ranging from Bonanza and The Rifleman to Touched by an Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bianculli will discuss and show clips from all these and more.

TV Critic David Bianculli

Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he has worked as a TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. Currently, he is a full-time professor of television and film history at Rowan University, and editor of the website TV Worth Watching (www.tvworthwatching.com), which he launched in 2007. Bianculli has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV Became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’; Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously; and Dictionary of Teleliteracy – and has written chapters for and co-edited, with Douglas Howard, Television Finales: From ‘Howdy Doody’ to ‘Girls,’ to be published by Syracuse University Press in November. Bianculli has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series
In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Lecture focusing on Twain’s friend from New Orleans starts the Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Series

The fall portion of the 2018 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins Wednesday, October 10 in the Barn at Quarry Farm.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

Portrait of Grace King

The first lecture “Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” will be presented by Miki Pfeffer, from Nicholls State University. New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series.  The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

CMTS’ Fall 2018 Trouble Begins Lectures Series Set

The fall portion of the 2018-2019 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies features four lectures, with the first event set for Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm.  All four lectures begin at 7:00 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 10 in The Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Getting to Know Mark Twain through the Eyes of Grace King, a Southern Woman of Letters” Miki Pfeffer, Nicholls State University

Grace King

New Orleans writer, Grace King, enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Sam and Livy Clemens and their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. King visited the family in Hartford in 1887 and 1888 and in Florence in 1892. She wrote to her family about the Twain homes, meals, dress, and habits. From New Orleans, she exchanged letters with each Clemens, especially Livy, with whom she became a confidante. As each family member died, she kept in touch with the living, right through Clara’s brief messages around 1918. Miki Pfeffer will read from some of King’s captivating letters that offer a fresh view of the Clemenses and of Mark Twain as loving homebody, father, and generous friend to this ambitious southern woman.

Miki Pfeffer holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature and a Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of New Orleans. She is a visiting scholar at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Louisiana. Her book, Southern Ladies and Suffragists: Julia Ward Howe and Women’s Rights at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair, was awarded the 2015 Eudora Welty Prize for scholarship in Women’s Studies and Southern Studies from the Mississippi University for Women.Her current mission is to see Grace King’s letters published and appreciated, and she offers the collection of the family of Twain in a book to be published in 2019.

 

 

Wednesday, October 17 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus 7p.m.

“Mark Twain, TV Star” David Bianculli, Rowan University and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Woody Harrelson as Mark Twain

The real Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens, appeared in only one film in his lifetime, shortly before his death: a short silent movie of him walking around his Stormfield home, photographed by Thomas Edison’s Edison film company in 1909. But since then, Mark Twain has been on television dozens of times – immortalized, and impersonated, by a frankly startling array of actors on the small screen. The
best of them, Hal Holbrook in his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, you know, and should. But the rest of them? Other actors portraying Mark Twain, in various programs over the 70-year-history of television, have ranged from Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby to Woody Harrelson and William Shatner. The character and image of Mark Twain have been kept alive by shows ranging from Bonanza and The Rifleman to Touched by an Angel and Star Trek: The Next Generation. David Bianculli will discuss and show clips from all these and more.

David Bianculli has been the TV critic for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, where he also appears as occasional guest host, since 1987. Beginning in 1975, he’s worked as a TV critic for newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, most recently for the New York Daily News from 1993-2007. Currently, he is a full-time professor of TV and film history at Rowan University, and editor of the website TV Worth Watching (www.tvworthwatching.com) which he launched in 2007. Bianculli has written four books – The Platinum Age of Television: From ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘The Walking Dead,’ How TV Became Terrific; Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’; Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously; and Dictionary of Teleliteracy – and has written chapters for and co-edited, with Douglas Howard, Television Finales: From ‘Howdy Doody’ to ‘Girls,’ to be published by Syracuse University Press in November. Bianculli has a B. S. in Journalism and an M. A. in Journalism and Communications, both from the University of Florida.

 

Wednesday, October 24 in the Barn at Quarry Farm 7 p.m.

“Writing from Roots in ‘America’s Hometown’: Flood, a Novel” Melissa Scholes Young, American University

Literature and life often claim you can’t go home again, but what happens if you have to? In this book talk and author reading, Melissa Scholes Young will chronicle how Mark Twain’s own exodus from Hannibal parallels Laura Brooks’, the protagonist of her debut novel, Flood, who like the Mississippi River, once ran in the wrong direction in order to recalibrate. She’ll share her historical research and creative writing process as well as explore whyTwain’s origin in rural America is more relevant than ever.

“Filled with pithy dialogue and cultural references, Scholes Young’s writing ties Laura’s journey of self-discovery squarely to Hannibal and its famous young troublemakers. As Laura reckons with her past, Scholes Young reckons with Twain’s influence on the region. This debut is a wonderful story of home, hope, and the ties that bind us to family.” – Publishers Weekly

Melissa Scholes Young is an associate professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. and a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of the anthology Grace in Darkness. Her debut novel, Flood, set in Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown she shares with Mark Twain, was the winner in Literary Fiction for the 2017 Best Book Award.

 

Wednesday, November 7 in the Barn at Quarry Farm

“‘At the Farm’: Reliving Mark Twain’s 1884 Summer at Quarry Farm” John Bird, Winthrop University

Quarry Farm in the 1880s

As he did for many summers, Mark Twain packed up his family (including dogs and cats, and in this case, a bicycle) and left Hartford for an extended stay at Elmira’s Quarry Farm. Part of my current work-in-progress, a micro-biography of Twain in the year 1884, my presentation will let audiences relive his and his family’s experience that summer. Even though Twain wrote his friend Joe Twichell near the end of the stay that he had not accomplished anything of value during the summer, he actually had an interesting and productive summer: he read proof of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and made some important revisions; he began a sequel even before he published his novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Among the Indians; he became fully engaged in national politics during the presidential campaign; and he sat for the bust Karl Gerhardt made (twice) at Quarry Farm for the frontispiece of Huck Finn. Just as importantly, he engaged with his family, writing a short but charming personal memoir, “At the Farm,” with humorous and heartwarming anecdotes about his daughters. Living with Mark Twain day-by-day for this summer brings him and his family back to life and gives us a window into life at Quarry Farm, a place central to his work and his life.

John Bird is Emeritus Professor of English at Winthrop University. He is the author of Mark Twain and Metaphor, as well as a number of articles on Mark Twain. He is a past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America.

 

About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series

In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.

Dwayne Eutsey’s Talk Focuses on Joseph Twichell’s Sermons at Elmira’s Park Church

The 2018 Mark Twain Lecture Series, hosted by the Chemung County Historical Society and the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes on Thursday, August 23 at the Chemung Valley Museum (415 East Water St., Elmira).  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Never Be in a Hurry to Believe”: How Joe Twichell’s Visits to Elmira and Cornell May Have Saved Huck Finn’s Soul” Dwayne Eutsey, Independent Scholar

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is known for its biting skepticism toward religion.

Joseph Twichell and Mark Twain

However, there is also a deeper and more complex religious undercurrent coursing through Twain’s classic that is often overlooked or misunderstood by contemporary readers. Dwayne Eutsey will explore how the “conservative-progressive” theology of Twain’s good friend and pastor, Joe Twichell, may have influenced these depths with visits to Elmira’s historic Park Church and Cornell’s Sage Chapel in 1876 as Twain was beginning to write his masterpiece.

Dwayne Eutsey is an independent scholar in Mark Twain studies who is writing a book that examines the significant influence of religious liberalism on Mark Twain’s life and writing. Entitled “There is No Humor in Heaven”: Mark Twain and the Religious Liberalism that Shaped His Life, the book will contribute to the ongoing discussion among scholars and the public regarding Twain’s complicated views on religion.

Mr. Eutsey has also written several pieces for MarkTwainStudies.org, which you can read here.

About Chemung County Historical Society

Founded in 1923, the Chemung County Historical Society is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, and presentation of the history of the Chemung Valley region. First chartered by New York State in 1947, today CCHS operates two cultural repositories, the Chemung Valley History Museum and the Booth Library. We are the largest general history museum in our region. Open year round, CCHS tells the history of Chemung County through interactive exhibits, educational programming and lectures for visitors of all ages. The Chemung County Historical Society is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

 

M.M. Dawley Lectures on Mark Twain and the “American Adam”

The 2018 Mark Twain Lecture Series, hosted by the Chemung County Historical Society and the Center for Mark Twain Studies, begins on Thursday, August 9 at the Chemung Valley Museum (415 East Water St., Elmira).  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“‘Well, ain’t you innocent!’: Mark Twain’s Attack on the American Adam” M.M. Dawley, Boston University

Illustration by Frank Carter Beard from AMERICAN PUBLISHER, July 1872

The trope of the innocent, who reveals cultural absurdities through his seemingly foolish observations, dates back to the earliest satires of Rome and Europe. This innocent brims with certainty that his ignorance is both apt and virtuous, and inspires audiences to laugh at his idiocy. I argue that during what was most commonly referred to as the Gilded Age, a clear thread of satire begins to emerge, one that shifts the innocent from the butt of the joke to the one who slyly delivers the punch line. Although the era was imbued with a faith in progress that led to its moniker “the Confident Years,” it was also a period rife with confidence men who utilized the national obsession with innocence to their advantage. With a wink and a nod to the latter, the satirists of the Gilded Age transformed the American innocent from one to be laughed at to one to be laughed with. There is no better example of the satiric approach to the trope of “the American Adam” than Mark Twain’s iconic character Huckleberry Finn—unless it is Twain’s own Adam. I would like to present a fresh reading of Twain’s approach to the American Adam based on the satire presented in some of the author’s last works of fiction, Letters from the Earth and The Diaries of Adam and Eve. The way in which Twain skewers the notion of innocence in his later writing allows for a new lens through which to examine Huck, as well as the writer’s own atheism. Twain toys with America’s naïve exceptional self-image through the persona of a sympathetic Satan, who ridicules Adam and Eve for their innocence and exposes much national self-delusion in the process. While in his earlier fiction, Twain satirized religion more subtly, by the early twentieth century his open mockery of Christianity took clear aim at the American mythos of exceptionalism, and the many ways in which the nation needed to reorder its priorities.

M.M. Dawley has a Ph.D. from the American & New England Studies program at Boston University, and teaches in the Humanities department at Lesley University. Her current book project for Penn State University Press’s series Humor in America focuses on the literary history of satire in the Gilded Age. Her article, “‘You’d Oughter Start a Scrap-Book: Gossip and Aspirational Culture in The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country,” appears in the Fall 2017 issue of the Edith Wharton Review. M.M. Dawley has also collaborated with Gene Andrew Jarrett on contributing to the African American Studies module of Oxford Bibliographies Online, published by Oxford University Press.

About Chemung County Historical Society

Founded in 1923, the Chemung County Historical Society is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, and presentation of the history of the Chemung Valley region. First chartered by New York State in 1947, today CCHS operates two cultural repositories, the Chemung Valley History Museum and the Booth Library. We are the largest general history museum in our region. Open year round, CCHS tells the history of Chemung County through interactive exhibits, educational programming and lectures for visitors of all ages. The Chemung County Historical Society is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

Kerry Driscoll lectures on her new book, concludes 2018 Park Church Lecture Series

The 2018 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, concludes Wednesday, July 11 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“Mark Twain and The Native Other” Kerry Driscoll, University of St. Joseph

In his 1899 essay “Concerning the Jews,” Twain states: I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” Although the writer refused to name the one bias he admits to harboring, abundant evidence in his work suggests that the allusion is to Native Americans, whom he referred to in print as “reptiles, “vermin,” and “good, fair, desirable subject[s] for extermination.” This presentation explores the origin and evolution of Twain’s attitudes toward indigenous peoples and probes the reasons underlying his animus.

Kerry Driscoll is Professor of English (emerita) at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. She is the past president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, a member of the editorial board for the Circle’s journal, the Mark Twain Annual, and serves on the Board of Trustees at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. In addition to numerous essays she has published on Twain’s work, she is the author of Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples (University of California Press, 2018), the first book-length study of the author’s conflicted attitudes toward, and representations of, Native Americans.

The lecture will conclude with a reception and tour of the The Park Church.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

CMTS’ Own, Barbara Snedecor, To Present at Next Park Church Lecture

The 2018 Park Church Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, begins Wednesday, June 20 in the historic and cultural landmark, The Park Church, 208 W. Gray Street, Elmira.  The lecture begins at 7:00 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

“’…there is only one thing of real importance…’: The Letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens” Barbara Snedecor, Elmira College

Olivia Langdon Clemens

The letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens reveal her deep emotion as well as the more ordinary impulses of her thought. In communications with friends and family, and with her world- famous spouse, Olivia exposes her intelligence, fortitude, gentleness, kindness, humor, love for husband and children—along with her anxieties, self-deprecation, and flaws. Possibly the following statement, written to her husband during their plunge towards bankruptcy, best indicates her world view: “I feel so strongly these days that we have not a great while to stay here and that there is only one thing of real importance to us. To do all the good that we can and leave an irreproachable name behind us” (9 April 1893). The presentation will summarize critical views of Olivia as well as highlight selections from her letters.

Barbara Snedecor directed the Center for Mark Twain Studies and was an Assistant Professor of American Literature at Elmira College. In 2015, she was awarded the Living Heritage Award by the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, she received the Henry Nash Smith Award. She has published novels, personal essays, and poetry as well as Mark Twain in Elmira, Second Edition, and scholarly essays connected with Mark Twain Studies. She currently is preparing a collection of the letters of Olivia Langdon Clemens for publication.

About The Park Church
Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain.  Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies
The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.