|After all these years, Mark Twain Still has plenty to say|
|Written by Lynn Greene|
|Tuesday, 23 August 2011 15:55|
Mark Twain, as performed by Tom Gilding, left, chats with Doug Watson of Watson’s Wild West Museum in Elkhorn.
(Read the story in the Aug. 24, 2011 e-edition HERE.)
BURLINGTON -- Mark Twain (bless his soul — he’s been dead all of these 101 years) has a lot in common with Tom Gilding of Burlington, Wis. Twain, who may be best known as the author of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer,” was also an American humorist and first rate lecturer.
On Friday, Aug. 26, at 5 p.m., Gilding will be performing at the Hartland Library.
At first glance, you see the resemblance: a head of graying hair, full expressive eyebrows and a mustache that twitches when he’s telling a story.
Not to mention, Twain wrote a few stories about a fictional character he named Tom Sawyer.
Gilding has a grandson named Sawyer Thomas, who enjoys the stories his grandfather tells. When he was first born, Sawyer had a visit from his grandfather. As Gilding tells it, he was holding the boy and congratulating the mother when the nurse came in the hospital room and said, “you can’t be in here!” So Gilding walked out with baby Sawyer still in his arms. Needless to say, he was further admonished.
This rascally attitude seems to be a trait common to both men. Twain and Gilding both love to play with language — Gilding is an English teacher after all. Both know how to hold a person’s attention through the use of language and delivery.
As a performer, Gilding holds a cigar in his hands. As Twain, it wasn’t lit.
“Twain wouldn’t have been smoking when he was on stage; he didn’t want anything distracting people from what he was saying,” Gilding explains.
It’s easy to forget Gilding is in character as Twain when he begins to reminisce about his recent vacation out west; he seems to pick up right where Twain left off. When Gilding is in that white linen suit, it is Twain talking and he has plenty to say, even after all these years.
“I’m just back from Virginia City, took another look at the opera house where I had performed out there,” Gilding-as-Twain said to his old acquaintance Doug Watson. The two had met up at Watson’s Wild West Museum in Elkhorn. The two friends poured over some maps and catalogs as Twain launches an all out attack on the reality of a personal timeline. Is it Gilding talking about his vacation, or Twain recalling the past? A little bit of both, I suppose.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in 1835 and started working as a printer’s apprentice at age 15 before joining his brother Orion Clemens at his newspaper. Clemens discovered a love for writing but he continued plying his hand at all sorts of jobs, becoming a licensed river boat pilot in 1859, just before the Civil War broke out.
Clemens took his pen name, Mark Twain, from his life on the river. In his book, “Life on the Mississippi,” Twain wrote about a old gentleman who wrote practical information about the river for the New Orleans Picayune. He signed them Mark Twain. As a young journalist, Twain said he needed a nom de guerre, so he confiscated the name of Twain, hoping that what he wrote under that name would be considered at least a semblance of the “petrified truth”.
“I was working for my brother Orion, who was a Territorial secretary back then, amongst running an abolitionist newspaper, but I had persuaded this old captain to take me on as a Cub pilot. Ignorance and confidence will get you everywhere, but he looked me right at the eye and said, ‘I’m going to teach you the river,’ and he did. That was the most wonderful time I had traveling the Mississippi. It was a full three miles wide but narrowed done at New Orleans.”
Gilding, under a bit of prompting — he was in character after al — can talk about his own riverboating as well as Twain’s. Gilding, you see, did his own share of piloting, having become a licensed Riverboat pilot back in ’82. He operated the Lady of the Lake for 27 years on Geneva Lake. As Twain, he’d take the helm and start in with the stories as he navigated Walworth County’s favorite water.
“There were plenty of times when people would look a bit surprised — they seemed to think someone else would come out to pilot the boat instead of this Twain character,” Gilding recalled. Twain, however, handled it all.
The story, as told through Gilding, was that Twain only had a scant year of no trouble on the river before Fort Sumpter was fired upon in 1860, which signaled the beginning of the Civil War. It’s all part of Gilding’s hours-long repertoire of Twain memories and recollections.
Gilding was honored last year as a special guest of the Missouri Department of Natural Resourses, during their celebration of the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death (April 21, 1910). Born in Florida, Mo., Twain grew up in nearby Hannibal. The cabin where Twain was born is part of the state historic site, bordering Mark Twain State Park.
“It was a real honor to be there for that event,” said Gilding.
Gilding’s company, Mark Twain Entertainment, presents a variety of theatrical and business performances, but unlike other performers, Gilding seems to relish the interaction with the audience, often displaying as much of his wit at Twain’s. But always responding as Twain – quite a feat.
It’s the combination of Gilding‘s and Twain’s voice that makes it all work.
Editor’s note: Learn more about Gilding www.marktwainentertainment.com.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 August 2011 11:19|