Harper's Weekly
June 22, 1895

"Pudd'nhead Wilson"
[by Frank Mayo]

Why did I make a drama of Mark Twain's story of "Pudd'nhead Wilson"?

Ah! that question unlocks the doors of memory and awakens a thousand recollections. I am back in the early sixties, in that great mining-camp of Virginia City, in the "Comstock days."

At that time I was the "leading" man of Maguire's Opera-house of San Francisco, the stock company of which embraced the names of Julia Dean Hayne, Agnes Booth, Charles Thorne, Louis Aldrich, and J.B. Booth. This company was sent up to Virginia City to open the new opera-house which had just been built there.

Here I first made the acquaintance of Samuel L. Clemens, who was then beginning to earn fame for his nom de guerre of Mark Twain as a writer on the staff of the Territorial Enterprise, of which Joseph T. Goodman was the editor.

It was through Goodman, between whom and Twain there existed a deep and sincere affection, and which since that time it has been my fortune to share, that I met Twain. This meeting was epoch-making in my life and professional career. I was then twenty-four years old, the impressionable time of life, when friendships are founded to endure. Ah! that country was young, too, and beginning. Think of it: John Mackay, a miner, earning his living with his pick and shovel; Flood & O'Brien, keepers of a second class bar-room in Frisco, where the best drinks could be got for a "bit," the smallest coin in use; Sharon, a teller in a bank; James G. Fair, a lawyer of few briefs; "Lucky" Baldwin, the owner of a livery-stable; Francis Bret Harte, a writer on a weekly paper! At Sacramento, the great railroad group of Huntington, Crocker, Stanford, and Hopkins were then dealing in hardware, provisions, and other commodities, and not even dreaming of across-continent rails. The events in the lives of these men in their rise to wealth, fame, and power form a greater drama than was ever written.

It was in these days that my friendship for Mark Twain was founded -- a friendship which has not faltered until this time. And as well for "Joe" Goodman. And so closely were these two men associated that I have never been able to think of one without the presence of the other.

Ten years later I produced Davy Crockett in the East, and all that is sweet, wholesome, and lovable -- the happy, frank, open nature in the title role -- is based on my conception of the nature and character of Joe Goodman; and all that is quaint and humorous was taken from that other friend of the trio, Mark Twain. And during all the years of my playing Davy Crockett there was not a night that these men were not present with me.

A strong desire had always possessed me to play something written by Mark Twain. On a cold drizzly day in February, 1894, late in the afternoon, I was making my way toward the Players Club, when I saw, crossing toward me on Fourth Avenue, the familiar face of Mark Twain. Greeting him, I said, "Step into this doorway, Sam."

Looking up at the face of the house, the doorway of which I had indicated, with his inimitable drawl Twain replied: "Frank, haven't you made a mistake? They don't sell it in here!"

"I shan't detain you long, Sam, for you must be going somewhere, since you are out in this weather," I said. "I want to take one of your stories and write a play around it."

"Which one?" he asked.

"What is the matter with 'Pudd'nhead Wilson'?" I asked in turn, and then added, "I have read two numbers."

"Well," said Sam, "go ahead. I am going to a supper, and must hurry away. But you can have 'Pudd'nhead.""

"But about the terms?" I asked.

"Oh, we'll settle that later. Come down to the club any time between eleven and midnight, and we'll talk it over." He moved away, and turned to say, "You write the play, Frank -- write anything you like; you needn't submit it. I know it'll be good. I'll arrange that you shall have the advance sheets."

In a moment more he was lost in the mist, and that is all that was said between us on the subject.

Very shortly after this conversation I began the labor of turning his story into a play. Just when the character of Pudd'nhead Wilson and Mark Twain became to me one and inseparable I cannot now tell. Perhaps it was on the first reading, but now as I look upon it I doubt if there ever was a moment in my mind when they were two separate individuals. And in it -- I mean the writing -- I lost my own identity, and seemed to become the hand and instrument of Mark Twain.

The result is before the world, and New York has passed judgment upon it. This is how and why I dramatized "Pudd'nhead Wilson."