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The Detroit Post, December 17, 1884

TWAIN-CABLE. These Popular Humorists On and Off the Platform.
Their Entertainment at the Opera House Last Night.
How the Noted Funny Men and Novelists Look and Talk.


Mark Twain and Geo. W. Cable gave their readings, or rather renditions, in alternate numbers to a full house at Whitney's last evening. Mr. Cable is a ministerial-looking person with very black hair, black, drooping mustache and full-pointed dark beard. His face is somewhat pallid, possibly by contrast with the ring of black hair surrounding it. His forehead appears to have been built in sections; this effect being produced by something about it suggesting that the hair has been shaved from the upper part. He is under the middle size and his dress suit of black covered about 150 pounds of activity. He was introduced by Twain, who then disappeared in the wings.


Mr. Cable's gestures are finished to a point of naturalness that forbids the thought of study, and the tone of his voice resembles that of a woman. He is easy and natural in delivery, and in the first number of the series, taking the parts of Narcisse and John and Mary Richling in the scenes from Dr. Sevier, his transition from the male to the female voice and again to the broken English of the excessively polite and impecunious Frenchman not only brought out the lingual peculiarities of each, but were made without the least hesitation, a feat rendered more difficult by the interpolations explanatory of the situation. Sitting and standing, walking about and gesticulating, he was the character personated. In the courtship of Kate Riley and Ristofalo, the vivacity and impulsiveness of the voluble Irish woman, together with the female brogue, was neatly tongued and in an instant changed to the common-voiced brevities of the stolid Italian. He has also a good, strong and flexible voice in song, and the Creole ballads by turns uncouth, weird and plaintive, were sung effectively. Mary's night ride past the Confederate picket lines with the spy was handled so well that the actor was overlooked in the thrilling picture he presented.


When Mark Twain entered to give the advance sheets from "Huckleberry Finn," his gait resembled the motion of a tall boy on short stilts and he made his way around the table and approached the footlights. He was dressed in the conventional black suit, which is totally unsuited to the infinitely droll looking character enclosed within it. An extraordinary head of stiff hair of no particular color, but inclining to a bleached brick-dust shade, and which appeared to be perfectly independent of the large-sized cranium over which it hovered, had evidently been gone over a few times with a harrow to make the stubborn crop of hirsute delirium tremens stay down for a hour or two. And then the face was Yorick come again without a touch of paint but with the added drollery of generations of jesters. The low, square, wrinkled forehead, the face knotted with bumps of living fun, the short cropped military looking mustache, the eyes half closed and wearing an expression of doubt, as though their owner were balancing in his mind whether upon the whole he had better deliver the lecture or go to bed, made up one of the oddest looking faces ever worn by man.


As for his complexion, it is doubtful whether any person present will ever remember what it was and it is possible he does not know himself. At some time in his life it was probably sandy, but his efforts in the way of eradicating the freckles, which report says once covered it, may have changed it to the neutral tint it now presents. His arms are somewhat short for his ample length and these are apparently as unmanageable for him as his hair. They are sometimes swung in front of his person and then left to dangle around at his sides--like a pair of government arms. Again one of them is spasmodically jerked to his forehead and the other follows about half way, giving the observer the impression that it is out of his power to move one without moving the other. Then the hands appear at times to move without an effort of his will and crawl into his pockets, from whence they are summarily pulled when it comes to the knowledge of the proprietor. His legs are tolerably well under control, but even those members of the animated joke at times show plainly that they are restive under restraint and would gladly return to the old days when their owner gave them a larger allowance of liberty. Twain finds his voice after a short search for it and when he impels it forward it is a good, strong, steady voice in harness until the driver becomes absent-minded, when it stops to rest, and then the gad must be used to drive it on again. Mr. Twain has a swan-like neck which his trick of throwing up his chin shows to advantage. It is as long as his shirt bosom and as white; but it is much thicker than a swan's.

He is not completely successful and making a bow, and he trots off the stage seemingly delighted at the prospect of being so much nearer to the end of the entertainment.


Messrs. Clemens and Cable arrived in the city yesterday afternoon and registered at the Russell house. They had not long been in their rooms, 26 and 24, when a POST reporter called to interview the celebrated humorist. Pretty soon the door was opened an inch or two, and the well-known face of the humorist appeared in the opening. The white covering which enveloped his neck and shoulders created a suspicion in the reporter's mind that the author of "Innocents Abroad" was in his night-shirt, and further investigation disclosed the latter to be the case.


"Hello. Glad to see you. Can't ask you in, though, as I'm just going to bed."

"I will only detain you a few minutes, Mr. Clemens," apologized the reporter.

"I want to go to sleep. You'd better come around after the lecture. By the way, the POST is a good paper. I read an excellent article on copyright the other day which was taken from your paper."

"I would like to ask you a few questions regarding your opinions on copyright privileges," remarked the writer, who began to imagine that he had gained the humorist's attention at last.

"As Mr. Cable. He knows all about copyright. Whatever he says you can put in my mouth and I'll be responsible," replied the literary hero with a tremendous yawn.

"But it won't take you five minutes to answer my questions."

"Too sleepy. I feel the yearning for slumber here, "and he tapped his forehead. "If I don't get it now I won't get it at all. Interview Cable in the meantime, and come around and see me after 10 this evening."


Mr. Cable was an interested listener to the foregoing dialogue, and expressed his willingness to be interviewed. He appeared to be the least sleepy of the two, although evidently preparing for bed also. Finding further persuasion useless, the humorist was left to the embrace of Morpheus, and proceeding with Mr. Cable to the latter's room the reporter had an interesting interview on the subject of copyright law, or rather the absence of it. Mr. Cable's views on the subject, which were vigorously expressed from beneath the quilts, will appear in to-morrow's POST, lack of space prohibiting their publication to-day.

Mr. Clemens was again seen by a reporter late last night in the Russell house billiard room. He had just defeated his business manager in two games of billiards and was in high spirits in consequence.

"Have you visited Detroit before within recent years?" he was asked.

"No. I think it is about fifteen years since I was here. Sorry I hadn't time to-day to look around the see the city. Mr. Cable and myself were tired out and had to sleep. By the way, your city is beautifully lighted with those electric towers. It is the handsomest-appearing city at night that I have seen."

"I presume your present tour gives you relaxation and rest from literary labors?"

"Yes, it does. It is a rarity after many years of close literary work at home."

"What kind of audiences have you been receiving lately?"

"Very good indeed. We have every reason to be satisfied."


"Have you re-entered the lecture field permanently?"

"No. This is my last season. At least I regard it as such, and have no doubt that it will be such."

"Do you consider the eastern or western states the better field for lecturers and readers?"

"I can't recognize any difference. We have had very large audiences in the eastern cities, and in the West there is no perceptible decrease except when there is a snow storm."

"Is the American taste for humor still growing, in your opinion?"

"Yes, I think so. Humor is always popular, and especially so with Americans. It is born in every American and he can't help liking it."

"Is it true that the American style of humor is becoming very popular in England?"

"Yes. The liking for American humor over there has become immense. It wakens the people to a new life, and is supplanting the dry wit which formerly passed for humor. American humor wins its own way and does not need to be cultivated. The English come to like it naturally."

"How about the newspaper humorists? Has the American press not become the popular vehicle for humor?"

"It has, undoubtedly. Newspaper paragraphing is comparatively new to us, even, and has met with well-deserved popularity. It is one of the achievements of the age."

In November 1900, an interview with a former Detroit newspaper reporter surfaced in various newspapers around the country which added additional insights into the interview from 1884. The following version appeared in the Washington Post on November 4, 1900:

The Washington Post, November 4, 1900, p. 18

An Old Reporter's Story of How He Got His First Interview.

From the New Orleans Times-Democrat.

"I see that Mark Twain has returned after his long absence abroad," remarked an old newspaper reporter last night, "but I am sorry to note that he has changed his mind about coming South to lecture. I hoped to have a chance to interview him and, incidentally, to thank him again for a big favor he did me a good many years ago. It was rather an odd experience," the old reporter went on. "I was young and green at the time and had just secured a 'trial job' on a newspaper in Detroit, when Mr. Clemens came to the city to deliver a lecture. It so happened that all our best reporters were off that night on a local murder sensation, and the city editor called me up, very reluctantly, as I thought, and assigned me to have a talk with the great humorist. I had stepped out of the office but was still within earshot when the night editor came in. 'Who have you got on the Clemens interview?' I heard him ask. 'That new fellow,' the city editor replied. 'Oh, Lord!' said the night editor. That brief remark filled me with mingled emotions, in which wrath, mortification, and apprehension were present in about equal quantities; but it also put me on my mettle, and I determined to get that interview or perish in the attempt. The city editor has said that he wanted something about a column long and 'very bright and snappy,' and while I was waiting at the hotel for Mr. Clemens to return from the opera house, where he was speaking, I tried to frame in my mind a series of suggestive questions. I can't say I was particularly successful, and many a time in after years I have thought of the folly, not to say cruelty, of sending inexperienced boys on such errands and expecting anything like results. However, that's neither here nor there. The fact is that I writhed and sweat blood, and by the time the night clerk told me that Mr. Clemens had just gone up on the elevator I was in a condition bordering on nervous prostration.

"I found the humorist standing before the fireplace," continued the old reporter, "smoking a briar pipe and attired in a suit of pajamas. His appearance startled me, for I didn't dream that he had had time to undress, and I promptly lost my few remaining shreds of self-possession. All of my questions flew out of my brain like a scattering covey of quail, and absolutely the only think I could think of asking him was how he liked the town. He looked at me quizzically. 'Considering that I arrived after dark,' he drawled, 'and was driven direct to the theater and then direct to the hotel, my impressions are favorable, I think you have a very good quality of nights in Detroit,' he added, after a pause; 'fully equal to the nights I have encountered anywhere.' That was a capital lead, but I was too badly rattled to take it. I stumbled through a few idiotic commonplaces, and realizing, evidently, that there was no use of wasting any more fun on such a chump, he answered in weary monosyllables. In a few minutes I gave up in despair. 'Now, don't make too much of this,' he remarked, as I started for the door, and while the caution was no doubt prompted by fear that I would write something phenomenally stupid, it had the effect of putting me suddenly at my ease. 'Don't worry about that, Mr. Clemens,' I replied; 'I'm not going to write anything at all, except my resignation;' and thereupon I told him briefly the story of my assignment. As I had by that time fully determined to throw up the job and was no longer apprehensive, I suppose I told it easily and naturally. At any rate his eyes twinkled, and when I came to the part about the night editor he threw back his head and roared with laughter. 'Hold on,' he exclaimed, when he caught his breath; 'we'll have to turn the tables on that fellow, sure! Just sit down there with your paper and I'll see whether I can't dictate something.' I obeyed in a sort of daze, and he began stridling up and down the room, puffing his pipe and running his fingers through his bushy hair. In half an hour he had given me a column monologue about his experiences on the train coming in. The road was a notoriously ramshackle affair, and he 'roasted' it in his happiest vein. 'Now you must cut that up into paragraphs,' he said when he got through, 'and sling in a few questions here and there to make it look dialoguy. Then I think you will have about what you want. Tell those other fellows as you go out that I've gone to bed.' Those 'other fellows' were two reporters from rival sheets who had sent up their cards and were then cooling their heels in the corridor. I tried to thank him, but he cut me short, and I want away, walking on ambient air. When I turned in my copy the city editor nearly fell out of his chair. His astonishment pleased me more than a raise in salary, but I was a little disappointed in the demeanor of the night editor. I expected he would looked shamed and remorseful, but he didn't. He merely remarked that 'appearances were deceptive,' which I took as unkind."

"Did you ever tell them how you got the story?" asked one of the younger men who had been listening.

"No," replied the old reporter; "I never told. I let concealment, like the worm in the bud, prey on my damask cheek. I had a good deal of cheek in those days," he added thoughtfully, as he started downstairs.

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