The quote, "I am not an
American. I am the
American." is not something Twain wrote about himself.
In an interview with Jim Zwick, co-producer Dayton Duncan revealed the
quote had been obtained from Shelley Fisher Fishkin's book Lighting
Out for the Territory
(1996). Backtracking the error was akin to watching
a row of dominos fall. Fishkin obtained the quote from Louis J. Budd who
used the quote in an essay titled "Mark Twain as an American Icon,"
which appeared in The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain
Budd referenced John Lauber who first published it in The Inventions
of Mark Twain
(1990) quoting from an unpublished notebook located
in the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California in Berkeley.
Without properly citing it or obtaining permission to quote previously
unpublished material, Lauber used the quote as something Clemens had written
about himself. In a November 2001 interview with newspaper reporter Ron
Brown of the Quincy Herald-Whig
, Professor Budd--after examining
photocopies of the actual notebook pages--acknowledged the error.
The notebook containing the quote in question is one that Clemens kept
while he was living and traveling in Europe in the summer of 1897. Throughout
the notebook, there are several descriptions of incidents and scraps
of dialogue attributed to Frank Fuller immediately preceding the "I
am the American" quote.
The documentary perpetuates the notion that Halley's comet
"blazed in the sky" at Clemens's birth and again at his death.
Halley's comet was not visible in the sky either in late November 1835
at the time of Clemens' birth nor in mid April 1910 when Clemens died.
Read Louis J.
Budd's essay "Overbooking Halley's Comet."
A photo of a person on a front porch of Clemens's birthplace
in Florida, Missouri is implied to be that of Clemens's father -- John
There are no known photos of John Marshall Clemens.
Narration about the death of John Marshall Clemens is
accompanied by a photo of Clemens's boyhood home.
John Marshall Clemens died upstairs in the Pilaster House which is
down on the corner across Hill Street from the boyhood home.
Photos of 1865 Richmond, VA are used when discussing 1850
St. Louis, MO.
The steamboat Paul Jones (1855) is represented
by photo of the little steamboat El Capitan (built 1903) forty-eight
years out of date, from an early King Vidor talkie called Hallelujah!
For the Clemens steamboat City of Memphis (1857)
a photo of the sternwheel City of Memphis (1898) is used-- only
forty-one years off base.
The photo of Henry Clemens (shown during the narration
of the Pennsylvania disaster) is one of him taken as an immature
boy rather than the less beguiling portrait of him as the adolescent,
a month shy of his twentieth birthday, at the time of his death from injuries
sustained during the explosion of the steamboat
Clemens runs up to Memphis aboard a photo of the J.M.
White (1878) to see Henry after the Pennsylvania disaster (1858).
Twenty years off base.
For the sequence on the death of Henry Clemens in 1858,
the picture is of an interior of a hospital in Virginia, in 1864. The
photo of the hospital is from: William C. Davis [Editor] FIGHTING FOR
TIME; VOLUME FOUR OF THE IMAGE OF WAR 1861-1865, New York Doubleday &
Co. (1983). Page 211. It is identified as a group of Union soldiers wounded
at Petersburg, in July, 1864.
It was populated with wounded Union soldiers, not Henry Clemens.
There are a number of other post-Civil War boat photos
used in the river pilot sequence outnumbering the ones that are actually
The documentary persistently uses the word "riverboat."
Clemens apparently never used this word in reference to what he always
The list of items on the stagecoach going to Nevada omits
the most important item -- the Dictionary.
A photo of actor John T. Raymond in his role of Col. Sellers
is used for narration regarding the publication of ROUGHING IT.
John T. Raymond's photo is from his role which was based on the book
THE GILDED AGE. The narration implies he was Clemens's publisher.
The segment on "A True Story" has the voice
over narration for former slave Mary Ann Cord reading the name of the
story's writer as "Mister Clemens." A few moments later, a page
from the original ATLANTIC MONTHLY publication appears on the screen,
with the name clearly readable as "Misto C-----." There is no
explanation that Clemens may have been disguising his identity in the
manuscript or why the narrator read it differently.
In "A True Story" the narrator of the film says
Clemens wrote down Mary Ann Cord's words, exactly as she spoke them.
This is not true. Clemens made substantial changes in the original
manuscript. See John Bird's discussion in a post
to the Mark Twain Forum on January 24, 2002.
Norman Rockwell's painting of Aunt Sally and the garter
snake is used for the segment on THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.
Rockwell's picture of Aunt Sally and the garter snake was used in ADVENTURES
OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, not THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. Neither Aunt Sally
nor snakes appear in TOM SAWYER.
Narration for the "Old Voices" segment is tied
to the writing of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.
The text is from a letter to Will Bowen written in1870--four years
earlier than depicted.
Hal Holbrook states that in 1882 Clemens went all the
way up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minnesota and at the "tag
end" of that trip doubled back to Hannibal for a return visit.
Clemens visited Hannibal enroute to St. Paul. See
his 1882 itinerary. Also see his comments
on the river tour.
Dick Gregory gives the impression that, in HUCKLEBERRY
FINN, Clemens referred to the slave Jim as "Nigger Jim."
Clemens did not use the word as a part of Jim's proper name. This misconception
was popularized by Clemens's biographer Albert Bigelow Paine who routinely
referred to Jim as "Nigger Jim."
The narrator states that Clemens's publishing firm, after
the success of General Ulysses S. Grant's autobiography in 1885, was "busily
signing up" other celebrated figures to write their autobiographies
including William Tecumsah Sherman.
William T. Sherman's memoirs were first written in 1875 and published
by D. Appleton & Co., New York. Clemens's publishing firm turned down
a travel book submitted by Sherman. The firm did republish Sherman's
autobiography in 1890.
Two references are made to Clemens writing left-handed
when his right hand got tired.
The fact that Clemens could write with his left hand is "an exaggeration."
Robert Pack Browning offered one explanation of how that misconception
may have start in a post
to the Mark Twain Forum on December 7, 1998.
Cartoonist Chuck Jones says that Clemens described Wagner's
music as being "better than it sounds."
Clemens did say that but he was quoting another humorist named Bill
On the soundtrack "The Sidewalks of New York"
is played in a late 1860s-early 1870s reference.
The song was originally written in the 1890's, and was used as a Presidential
campaign theme in the 1920s.
A photo of Clemens at Dollis Hill in 1900 is used for
the narration of Susy's death.
Susy had died four years earlier in 1896.
A photo of Clemens in London in 1907 is used to discuss
one of his homecomings to America.
The particular homecoming to America was in 1900. The photo is of the
wrong continent and the wrong year.
A photo of Clemens lying in bed and giving an interview
is used during the narration regarding giving interviews from his home
in New York after his trip around the world and life abroad.
The photo was from an interview in Vancouver in August 1895, prior
to his trip around the world.
Countless other photos were used out of context -- wrong
place, wrong time for narrative to which they were tied.