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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sam

"Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved."
--Pudd'nhead Wilson

It was on this date some 173 years ago, back in 1835, that Samuel Langhorne Clemens first entered into this world, the sixth child born to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton in the little town of Florida, Missouri.

America, and the world, has never been the same.

Thank you, Mr. Clemens, you incorrigible genius. And happy birthday.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hal Holbrook's Life as Twain

Of all those actors who have taken on the mantle of Mark Twain, Hal Holbrook is the most iconic and the most renowned. He's been doing his "Mark Twain Tonight!" one-man show since 1954--when he was 29! And Holbrook is still going strong today, and is in fact on tour at the moment playing Mr. Clemens to the delight of viewers and critics--now at age 83.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat published a feature on Holbrook and his show last Thursday that's well-worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Late George Carlin Awarded Mark Twain Prize for Humor

Being a great comedian is one thing, but being compared to Mark Twain in the field of American humor and satire is quite another. Yet the late, great George Carlin is now in that category, having posthumously received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor Monday night at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Past winners Steve Martin, Billy Crystal and Lily Tomlin were on hand to honor Carlin, as well as other social humorists like Jon Stewart, Denis Leary and Bill Maher.

Possessing the ability to both comment bitingly on nearly every aspect of culture, and to simultaneously make that commentary brilliantly funny, Carlin was a worthy successor to Twain's mantle, and it's fitting that he receive such an accolade. Just a shame he didn't make it to receive the award in person.

In a development that no doubt would've put a twinkle in the comedian's eye, protesters outside the Kennedy Center held up signs that read, "George Carlin is Going to Hell". Well, as Twain himself said, "Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Musician Favored By Twain to Get CD Release

After hearing Polk Miller & His Old South Quartette perform in the 1890s, Sam Clemens commented, "I think that Polk Miller, and his wonderful four, is about the only thing this country can furnish that is originally and utterly American." Now that's what you call a compliment.

And now, some rare recordings by Miller and his group will see the light of day, as Tompkins Square Records gets set to release a CD containing 14 tracks--seven of which were recorded on Edision tube in 1909, and the other seven some 19 years later on disc.

A word to the politically correct of our post-modern age: the music of Miller and company was intended as a tribute to plantation music and Negro spirituals. Although it may sound a bit troublesome to some sensitive 21st century ears, one should also note that Miller's music contained none of the low farce or black-face then common in so-called "coon songs".

The new CD comes with a booklet featuring photos, memorabilia and notes by African American music historian Doug Seroff. You can order it here, as well as take a listen to Miller's tune "Oysters and Wine at 2a.m."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Clint Eastwood to Direct Mark Twain Biopic

The UK film website Moviehole.com broke the news on Saturday that the next project Clint Eastwood will direct will be called Remembering Mark Twain. The tidbit was revealed by producer Albert S. Ruddy, who will be working with Eastwood on the project, as he previously did with Million-Dollar Baby.

Stepping in front of the cameras once again, Eastwood will also play Mr. Clemens himself at the end of his life, in hospital scenes that will bookend the movie. Ruddy describes it as "a really sweet, beautiful movie." Keep an eye on this one, it could very well be an Oscar contender next year.

Astonishingly, there has only been one other theatrically released Mark Twain biopic, and that was 1944's The Adventures of Mark Twain, starring Fredrich March.