> Bim was Pond's son. Photos of young Bim can be seen in the book
> "Overland with Mark Twain." Holbrook recounts meeting his old friend
> Bim in the introduction to his published edition of "Mark Twain
> Tonight" but does not reveal how he had already developed a friendship
> with him (Bim) long before he (Holbrook) had developed his stage show.
> -Alex Effgen
For many years Bim Pond gave slide shows and lectures about famous people,
using his father's archives. I have his materials for his Mark Twain show,
and a large archive of other James Pond archives, including the negatives,
prints, and the other original materials published in the book about Twain's
last tour across America, plus several letters written by Clara during that
tour that are not published. Anyway, it's quite possible that Holbrook met
Bim earlier at one of his slide shows.
The Goober/Grant routine is pretty funny, but of course William Gillette
wasn't a goober. He went on to a remarkable career, enshrined more or less
accurately on wiki. Gillette gave many performances imitating Twain; I have
an audio tape of one (thought to be Gillette, but uncertain), plus some
correspondence by Gillette about his Twain show. I also have a transcript of
another tape (also thought to be Gillette) whose "text" varies substantially
from the tape I have. The textual changes are Twainian in nature, not the
kind of change an imitator might impose on the text. Years ago, Al Gribben
heard my tape and saw the transcript and agrees about the nature of those
textual changes. It suggested to Al and me that one of the tapes might have
been a tape of Twain himself that was used by Gillette to hone his own
imitation. I have not been able to compare my tape to the tape whose
transcript I have. Nor have I had a voice-print comparison made between a
copy of one of Gillette's other audio recordings and his Twain imitations. I
understand that voice prints are not as accurate as fingerprints and can be
corrupted by copying from an original audio recording, so I'm not sure how
fruitful this line of investigation might prove. Adding to the confusion, I
have heard a tape of the jumping frog audio that includes an introduction
(the Harvard tape from the 1920s) and is clearly Gillette. The other is a
shorter version (mine) and may be a snippet from the Harvard tape, or a
second performance, or...? I have not compared them side-by-side.
So, there could be just one tape of one performance that has been copied
several times AND mistranscribed, or two different tapes, or even three. All
I know for sure is that one tape is Gillette, and NOT Twain. It makes my
head hurt just thinking about all of this.
While I'm rambling, I want to respond to Gregg Camfield's excellent points.
I'd point out that while most of us are not attuned to how our own voices
actually sound to others, stage performers are acutely aware of how their
voices, expressions, and gestures are seen and heard by others, and there is
abundant evidence that Twain was well aware in this regard, and certainly
qualified to say whether the Gillette imitation of him was accurate or not.
Likewise, Clara had heard her father speaking on and off stage for thirty
years, and more than forty years later she surely remembered how he sounded,
and was qualified to verify the accuracy of Holbrook's imitation. In this
regard I can speak from personal experience about memory and sounds. Visual
memories are notoriously inaccurate (ask any cop whose questioned
witnesses). But let's keep in mind the well-established fact that sounds
(and smells) can trigger vivid memories, so they may be stored in the brain
more accurately than visual memories. A few years ago I heard a recording
for the first time of my father-in-law, who died in 1974. I had not heard
his voice in thirty years and only knew him for a few years before he died,
but what I heard on that tape thirty years after I last heard him speak was
exactly how I remembered his voice. I have no reason to think Clara had
forgotten the quality of her father's voice.
I agree with Gregg on the question of whether Twain's genuine voice and his
"stage voice" were the same. They were not. I may have commented in my
review of THE COMPLETE INTERVIEWS (a superb resource that every Twainian
should own) that reporters commented that Twain's drawl came and went. And
when lecturing around the world, there is evidence that it may have vanished
for months at a time. Twain very likely sounded "different" on and off
stage, or even when being interviewed (which is certainly a sort of stage).
Likewise, Gregg's point about Twain's voice in old age is a good one;
people's voices change slightly over time. Clara heard her father over many
years, and the Gillette imitation that Twain witnessed was in the 1880s. Was
Gillette later imitating the Twain of the 1880s or the elderly Twain? Was
Clara remembering Twain's younger or older voice? So, which voice is Hal
Holbrook imitating? Holbrook is getting older too.
So am I.
And if you've read this entire posting, so are you.
Kevin Mac Donnell