If you at Lake Tahoe and think you’ve seen a man with white hair and a white suit who looks like Mark Twain, you are correct. Actually, it is the “Ghost of Twain,” McAvoy Layne, who has for decades been a Twain performer.
The getup is most appropriate nowadays, because Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, began donning the white duds when he was about 70, which is how old Layne is today.
Layne stars in “Mark Twain’s Hawaii” on Saturday, Jan. 25 in the Mark Twain Cultural Center and Toccata Guttman Music Hall, 760 Mays Blvd., Incline Village. Doors open at 6 p.m., and, as Layne likes to say, “the trouble starts at 7.” Tickets are $20, and concertgoers can bring a picnic dinner or purchase one from the village. Call 775-833-1835 for reservations.
Layne will recite from Twain’s 1866 Sandwich Islands assignment for the Sacramento Union.
“They dispatched him out there to write up the potential for commerce between California and Hawaii because the steamer was suddenly on that route and beating the clipper by 10 days,” Layne said. “They saw some potential for making some money on some sugar so they sent him out to write about that, (but) he wrote about everything else: the dogs, the fleas, the horses, the people, the naked girls on the beach. By the time he returned four months later he found he was the best known honest man on the Pacific Coast, according to him.”
The assignment saved the struggling author’s life, Layne said.
“He was contemplating suicide,” Layne said. “It was either a pistol or poison for him, and when he got this offer it really saved his bacon.”
Twain was paid $20 for each of his 25 stories, still the going rate for a newspaper man. A caveat was included in one of the squibs.
“I want to caution you Californians who design to visit these islands against bringing wines and liquors with your baggage, lest you provoke the confiscation of the latter. I was asked by the customs agent what I had in my small bag. I told him pajamas. He took the liberty to inspect the bag and discovered therein a small bottle of scotch whiskey he held up on high. ‘Pajamas?’ he asked.
I stuck to my story. ‘My nightcap.’ ”
Another special performance in the venue is slated for Friday, Feb. 7. Pianist Jacqueline Schwab, who played the music for Ken Burns’ documentary on Mark Twain, will join “The Ghost” live onstage.
“Her music is going to give his words wings,” Layne said.