"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Documentary Films in Redding

One of the shadiest and littlest-known stories of Twain's life involves the conspiracy against him that occurred near the end of his life when his secretary Isabel Lyon and his personal assistant Ralph Ashcroft tried to defraud him of his fortune. Now that story will be the subject of a PBS documentary, which recently filmed some "recreation" footage in the town of Redding, Connecticut, where Twain lived when the original events unfolded.

Lyon, who secretly was involved with Ashcroft, lulled the recently widowed Twain into a flirtatious friendship, even hoping to marry the ailing, elderly author. Meanwhile, Ashcroft had treacherously acquired power of attorney over his employer's finances. With the help of his daughter Clara, Twain was finally able to identify the threat and dismiss both of them. After her father's death, Clara saw to it that any mention of the conspirators was removed from Twain's public papers, which is why the details of the story were a mystery for so long.

But using collections of the author's private works and journals, Karen Lystra was able to finally piece it all together in her 2006 book Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years. And it's that book which has inspired the documentary currently being produced by History Film Inc., according to the Redding Pilot.

Producer Richard Altomonte made the trip to Redding, former site of Twain's famous Stormfield mansion, to film some key sequences, using several Twain aficionados from the town to play the parts of people like Clara and Jean Clemens, as well as Lyon herself. The film is expected to air on PBS later in the fall. For more info, visit historyfilm.com.

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