Friday, February 5, 2010


I've played Mark Twain several times in the mid-1990's, culminating in a one-man piece I cobbled together called "Mark Twain: How To Tell A Story". The show was centered around an essay he'd written (of the same title) and incorporated a few other writings. One of the performances was recorded (audio only) and I'm seriously thinking of releasing on CD later in the year, along with other audio books I'm preparing.

The idea of playing Mark Twain came about in an unexpected way. Through the 1990's I was doing a lot of producing for a couple of events companies. Many times a client would want some sort of character to appear as a "greeter" to greet guests as they arrived at a themed event, and often interact with them. I had done a handful of characters over the years, but I had more fun taking a clients (often bizarre) requests, and finding and hiring the right actors to play the parts. In the events business, there are a great roster of actors who play historic or famous people. In the mid-Atlantic area, there were plenty of people to play Bill Clintons, George Bushes, Charlie Chaplins, Ben Franklins and the like.

One day a fellow called Jay Wachter, who runs and operates an events company called Entertainment Consultants, called in a slight panic. He had sold "Mark Twain" to The American Trucking Association as a key-note speaker at one of their annual meetings. Twain was to speak at the opening dinner for 45 minutes on the subject of trucking.

45 minutes. On trucking. The problem?

Wachter didn't have a Mark Twain.

So he called and asked if I would do it.

I had NEVER done Twain before. I didn't have anything handy to do a make-up; didn't own a white cotton summer suit; didn't have a clue what I would say for 45 minutes and if Twain even said anything himself about trucking. Frightening.

I told Jay I'd do it.

After we negotiated my fee (knowing immediately the amount of work that was going to be involved) I went to work on researching what Twain had to say about trucking. He had nothing to say. But, as Twain had a lot to say about a lot of things, I discovered that he had written an very good piece about transportation in general, particularly railroads and steamboats . This could be used with little adaptation. When the speech was finished, it timed perfectly for the needs of the event.

So then, on to the make-up. The wig and the lace mustache were store bought, and not made-to-order, but they worked very well. I used a subtle latex stipple technique to age and roughen the texture of the skin, and to bring the wrinkles out. I knew he'd be seen close-up, and wanted him to be as realistic a s possible. The suit I found in a vintage clothing store; an honest-to-goodness linen summer suit from the 1920's that I own to this day.

After working on the speech and the make-up for a week I was ready to go, and the appearance at the American Trucker's Association was a big hit. After it was over, and because I had put the time into it, "Twain" kept nagging at me and would let me go. What else could I do with him? The result was the longer piece, "Mark Twain: How To Tell A Story".

Wachter has tried to get me to play Twain again at conventions and events over the years, but those days are behind me. I've done my share of "grand-opening Groucho's" and "food fair Franklins".

But I wouldn't mind playing Twain in a film some day...


  1. do you have any interest in selling the Mark Twain wig/moustache and vintage white suit -- I have always wanted to play Twain and know much of his work -- size Mens 42 - Med to Large

  2. Hi Patrick--
    Thanks but I don't have the suit any more, and it would be a 40 regular, anyway! Try vintage clothing stores to find a good tropical suit that would work for Twain!