Unknown Reward Awaits Finder of Mark Twain's Voice
Mark Twain, America's first celebrity, traveled the world speaking and lecturing at the time new recording devices were being invented and marketed, yet no recording of his is known to survive. It is a "Holy Grail" worth an unknown amount to the finder.
PR9.NET October 04, 2012 - Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice - Mark Twain's voice is missing.
"Unless there is an amazing discovery somewhere on earth some time soon, no one will ever hear Mark Twain speak," said Rod Rawlings, a voice and stage actor who portrays the iconic author, speaker and best-known American of his era.
If the discovery should happen, it could be almost anywhere on earth, he said -- in the United States or Canada where the literary giant traveled and spoke most extensively, in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria or England where he lived for years, or in other parts of the world he visited, including Europe, Sweden, Russia, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, lived 1835 to 1910. While he was enchanting 19th century audiences with stories and speeches, Rawlings said, sound recording devices were being invented, improved and marketed widely.
Twain was known to personally make use of recording machines for dictation, and to have been recorded by others, but nothing containing his voice is known to survive.
"No institutional collection now claims a Twain recording," Rawlings said, "so if one is to be found, it lies elsewhere, unknown or unrecognized, and time is surely running out."
The dominant audio technology of his time employed non-electrical, wind-up devices to inscribe grooves of sound vibrations on rotating wax cylinders, a nearly simultaneous triumph of invention by Alexander Graham Bell and Twain's friend, Thomas Edison.
Wax cylinders are susceptible to degradation over time, primarily from temperature changes and the growth of mold. They can be damaged or destroyed if improperly played. Many thousands still exist around the world. Some are housed in museum collections. Others, Rawlings is certain, are stored in forgotten containers on dark shelves of attics, basements and back rooms.
He believes there is a credible chance that someone, somewhere not only captured Mark Twain's voice over a century ago but also safely stored it away for posterity.
In 1909 Edison visited his aging friend at Stormfield, Twain's estate in Connecticut, and brought his recent invention of a motion picture camera. The result was a silent film of less than two minutes. It is the only known film of Twain, and shows two scenes of the white-haired and white-suited celebrity, first as he vigorously walks around the home while smoking a cigar, next as he sits at a veranda table to take tea with his two adult daughters, Clara and Jean.
Did Edison record Twain's voice? It is purported that he did, but no one has verified it or produced the result.
Lacking an actual recording, Rawlings said that many Twain fans consider the voice of Hal Holbrook, the acclaimed actor who has portrayed Twain on stage for 58 years, to be nearest to Twain's.
Other "Twainiacs" content themselves with the tantalizing recording of William Gillette, an actor who had lived next to Twain as a boy, and who had performed his imitation in front of Twain as an adult, receiving the master's approval.
Gillette was recorded in 1934 near the end of his life when he was a guest of an English professor at Harvard University. In the recording, he portrays Twain narrating the introduction to the story of The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.
"So what we really hear," Rawlings said, "is a monologue of Gillette imitating Twain in the manner that Twain would imitate the speech of a fictional character in his story. That is three times removed from a true Twain voice, and just not close enough.
"I've posted a video with Gillette's recording on my website, but with a disclaimer."
Could Twain's voice be recognized if a recording were found?
Twain collectors believe it is likely that a recording could be authenticated, Rawlings said.
How much would a true recording of Twain's voice be worth?
"It's been called a Holy Grail, so depending on the recording's length, subject matter and audibility, it could be worth a great deal," said Rawlings. "Until it's found, the only certainty is that there would be an unknown reward.
"We are the posterity it may have been saved for, so who will find it, when and where?
"More questions than answers," he said, "just the kind of mystery Twain would relish."
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About Mark Twain Performs
Mark Twain, America's first celebrity, most-quoted author and incomparable humorist, appears live as performed by Rod Rawlings, stage and voice actor who has spent years developing the unique characterization.
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