The Detroit Post

1884: December 17

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 moustache 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 moustache, 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.

  "Ask 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."

The Detroit Free Press

1884: December 17


[Transcribed from Pond's broadside poster.]

The scene at the "front of the house" in Whitney's last night was enough to make glad the heart of a manager. The sharp cries of "one, two, one, three" of the head usher rang out as he turned the well-dressed stream in ones and twos to the under-ushers. He stood like a rock at the head of the centre aisle and the stream poured in on him. It surged around him, but calm and immovable he stood, and it broke around him. He utilized it and turned the steam into rivulets that trickled down the different aisles like the separate arms of the delta of the great river beside which the Twain authors won their fame. The stream went in graceful cascades down the steps of the different channels into the parquet and innundated it. The theatre was a sea of faces.

The stage setting for this drama by two was of a nature calculated to inspire the authors with wonder at the wealth and splendor of Detroit interiors. Could Hartford insure a lovelier blue satin parlor suite? Could New Orleans exhibit a more gorgeous table-cover with a redder embroidered rose? The doors at the back were twain, and the lace hung in cables over the middle entrance.

A man, whose shadow was now and then projected against the wings, snapped on the footlight gas. Then with a crack the overhead illumination flooded the stage with light, and a third thrill awaited the audience when the same invisible magician with the lightning touch sprang the big chandelier into a dazzling combination of jets. "It is like the President at Washington starting the exhibition in the South to-day," said a lady to her escort.

These little electric excitements led up the audience to the event of the evening -- the entrance of the great American novelist, the humorist leading slightly, as they say in sporting circles. The sensation that had been caused by a brilliant-headed stage boy coming in and moving one of the blue chairs up to the footlights had subsided, and when the real actors came on there was a grand burst of applause. Mark Twain, drifting round the table to the front, leaving Cable kind of straddled on the other side, drawled out:

"Lays sun gen'lmen, I introduce to you Mr. Caaa-ble."

And with a wave of his hand he left his partner before the multidude, and retired R.E.

Mr. Cable looked down into the empty orchestra and saw on the chairs where the fiddlers used to sit a motley array of overcoats and sacques that showed him plainly that he was not in the balmy climate of the sunny South. Then he lifted his face, and the audience got a good, square look at him.

His make-up was good. The wrinkles on his brows looked for all the world as if he had been for years in constant surprise at his own success. His whiskers were long and pointed, and they ran up his cheek on either side until they met the smooth black hair. A person had the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps they were held in place by a string concealed over the top of his head, and that they might at any moment drop off. His moustaches were of the St. John (not the Evangelist, but the Prohibitionist) type, and their parted ends drooped down to a level with his pointed beard -- three peculiar points about Cable.

He seemed just a trifle like a nervous man who had got his nervousness under pretty good control, but couldn't quite make up his mind whether it was better to keep his hands clasped behind his dress-coat, or in front of it with his thumbs up.

The first Cable dispatch was that exquisite conversation between Narcisse and the Richlings, where the former tries to get John to "baw" him some of the cash Dr. Sevier has placed to the credit of the unfortunate couple.

"I wuz juz coming at yo' 'ouse, Mistoo Itchlin. Yesseh, I wuz juz sitting in my 'oom afteh dinneh, envelop'in in my 'obe de chambre, when all at once I says to myself, 'Faw distwaction I will go and see Mistoo Itchlin.'" It was distraction indeed to the Richlings. He saw "Mistoo Itchlin" in every sense of the word, and "baw'd" the last cent he had.

If Mr. Cable would come on the stage and sit down on the chair and have a good actor do the talking there might be some improvement. There was a touch here and there of amateurishness and a certain self-consciousness that rather interfered with the recital. Still, it is doubtful if any one could have given the Creole dialect as well as Cable himself.

In retiring, amidst most enthusiastic applause, he took three backward steps, made a bow, three more, then another bow, three more, and out.

There was no burst of music between the acts. The overcoats and things occupied the orchestra chairs with discretion and silence. This, of course, gave Mark a great advantage. The people were in good humor from the start.

"Mark the Perfect Man," saith the quotation. For "man" read "humorist." Nothing could be more deliciously droll than his very movement toward that embroidered tablecloth. He came in with his head forward and looked like a man who had lost something on the stage and wasn't exactly sure that he would be able to find it. When he faced the music -- or rather the place where the music used to be -- he looked at the audience with a puzzled, half-careworn expression, as if he had met the people before, but couldn't just at the moment recall their names. His half-closed eyes appeared to peer out from under the bushy eyebrows with a puzzled gaze that had been regarding life seriously for forty odd years, and couldn't quite make it out. His bristly, plentiful hair was brushed back as if he had been born that way. It looked as if it never could become towsled up or come down over his eyes, and it was tinged with gray. It seems incredible that Mark Twain should ever have gray hair, but such are the indications.

His left hand automatically sought his trousers pocket, and slid in there, leaving the thumb at liberty.

He told his stories with that inimitable Down East drawl of his, and took his audience into his confidence with a serious unconventionality that was most delightful. When he got through he ambled off the stage with a little trot that was as funny as his altogether diffident entrance. He reminds one in his serious fun remotely of Raymond in "Mulberry Sellers." He also reminds you of someone you have seen before, you can't tell who, but you are friends with him, for old acquaintance sake, from the first. The audience laughed so heartily at his stories that laughing became a pain, and then, as Saxe says, "Cable like a poultice came, to heal the blows of Twain."

The Creole songs that Cable sang in place of one of his recitations were enthusiastically encored.

Mr. Cable should give up the funny business entirely to Twain. He should stick to the serious parts of his book with the exception of Narcisse, and let Mark bring the laughter. He is enough and several to spare.

"Mary's Night Ride" was most graphically given by Mr. Cable. He brought the picture vividly before the eyes of his audience and held them spell-bound to the last word. It was the very perfection of intense word-painting. Still he should have shot that navy six a little quicker. The "once--twice--thrice" should have been given with every spring of the flying horse. "The tart rejoinders of his navy six" rang out in the night air, you may depend on it, Mr. Cable, as quickly as the brave spy could pull the trigger, and by the way, that sentence, "The tart rejoinders of his navy six," is one of the most graphic ever penned by the hand of man.

Twain gave his version of the celebrated st---st---st---st--- whe-e-w-a--ammering story, which differs from that of Col. Sellers, and is infinitely better than Raymond's way of it.

In conclusion it may be said that while the stage settings had somewhat of a sameness in them to a people educated up to the scenery of the "Silver King" and such, still the combination must save a good deal in baggage cars, and if we missed the background of the Alps while Twain was in his "Trying Situation," or "The Street in New Orleans" while Ristofalo was before us, we should remember that our loss was their gain. Taking it from first to last the Twain-Cable entertainment was by all odds the most enjoyable thing of the season, a sweet boon to the tired theatre-goer and a joy forever to the callous cynical man in the box office. When shall we, Twain, meet again?