Twain impersonator brings humorist to life
By RAYMOND L. SMITH
NILES — Samuel Langhorne Clemens talked to a few dozen people in the McKinley Birthplace Memorial Auditorium Saturday about fame, politics and health in ways that were nuanced, humorous and incredibly modern.
Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, wearing his classic white suit, with gray hair and mustache, and holding a long brown cigar, paced back and forth, saying he could quit smoking anytime he wants.
“I’ve done it a thousand times,” he said.
Twain was played by re-enactor Mark Dawidziak, a newspaper television critic, who has written five books about Twain and is working on a sixth. He was joined by Sara Showman, his wife, who played many of the characters written by Clemens.
Dawidziak and Showman are part of the Largely Literary Theater Company.
They were in Niles as part of the McKinley Memorial’s 100th anniversary celebration that will continue throughout the year. There will be a series of programs through the remainder of the year.
“This was built to be a place of public gathering and education,” said Trish Scarmuzzi, curator of the museum. “We are trying to bring more people into it.”
The centennial re-dedication of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial will take place Oct. 14. It was originally dedicated on Oct. 5, 1917.
During Saturday’s performance, Dawidziak, as Clemens, talked about his love for adulation and praise.
“I scarcely in my lifetime listened to a complement so beautifully phrased or so well deserved,” Clemens said. ” We had in our own presence a most rare of a creature, that a humorist who was really funny and a congressman who kept his hands in his pocket.”
“They say you cannot live on bread alone, but I can live on a good compliment,” Twain said. “I can live on a compliment for about two weeks.”
Twain died on April 21, 1910, but many of his insights and general observations about human nature are equally relatable to today as they were 100 years ago.
During Saturday’s performance, Twain talked about being able to stop smoking anytime he wants.
“Total abstinence is so excellent a thing that it cannot be carried to too great an extent,” he said. “I practice it myself on occasion. I make it a rule not to smoke more than one cigar at a time.”
Expressing his disdain for critics, Twain described he wanted to write for everyone, not just for the highly educated.
“It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden,” he said.
Dawidziak said he began reading Twain as a pre-teen. He studied Twain extensively, but did not begin playing him until he was an adult.
He said Twain had extensive connections to Ohio.
“He wanted to live in Ohio,” Dawidziak said. “He planned to marry in Ohio. His plan was to mary Olivia Langdon, heiress from upstate New York. He was going to buy into the Cleveland Herald.”
That did not happen, because he could not get the right price from the newspaper.
“He always loved Cleveland,” Dawidziak said.
Dawidziak said Twain’s and McKinley’s paths would have crossed, but they did not know each other very well.
“He was not as close to McKinley as he was with Ulysses S. Grant and General William Sherman,” he said.