Just about 100 years after his death, Mark Twain still captivates the American psyche.
Pre-orders for his three-volume autobiography to be released in November already are starting to top online best-seller lists. But that doesn't come as a surprise to Louis Hankins. The Sun City Hilton Head resident has been presenting a one-man Mark Twain show on and off for most of his adult life.
Hankins will perform as the man born Samuel Clemens in "An Evening with Mark Twain" at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island.
Hankins explains the appeal of Mark Twain:
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Question. What's your show like?
Answer. It's a ... first-person monologue. I have so much material committed to memory the show itself is very flexible. I can just go out and go with whatever strikes me at the time. We talk about Huckleberry Finn and the frustrations (Twain) endured in preparing that manuscript. His days working as a steamboat pilot, his days in Nevada, his life as a family man. There's just so much to him.
Q. How long have you been performing as Mark Twain?
A. Ever since I was a little boy I've been a Twain-iac. My father was an English teacher, and he introduced Sam Clemens to me and my siblings. Having grown up on the Ohio River in Kentucky, I could relate to him having the Mississippi in his backyard.
There was no plan with what I was doing. I had a few sisters and a brother who were school teachers and they would have me come talk about Sam Clemens. It just developed from there for the past 35 years. I worked for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company for 20 years after I retired from the Kentucky State Police. I did a one-man show of Mark Twain as part of that.
Q. Was it difficult to get the character down?
A. I used to do an act about an elderly farmer who was involved in an accident. In telling this story I developed a speaking voice as an old man. That ended up helping me later on. In my research for Sam Clemens, I found writings about how he spoke. There were no recordings of him that survived. He spoke very slow and drawn out and with a drawl. When he lectured, it was as though it was impromptu. He was the master of the pause. He said, "I'll play with a pause the way a cat will play with a mouse."