Segments in this Video

Quarry Farm (02:36)


At Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York, Mark Twain spent summers for 20 years writing. At an Elmira College musical biography, the reenacted Twain introduces himself and says he grew up in the boyhood paradise Hannibal, MO.

Tom Sawyer Painting Fence (02:24)

Twain patterned Tom Sawyer after himself growing up in Hannibal. The scene where Tom gets his friends to paint Aunt Polly's fence is reenacted.

Aunt Polly Impressed, and Tom's Haul (02:19)

Twain lists the goods boys traded Tom in exchange for the chance to paint the fence. Aunt Polly is amazed at how quickly and thoroughly Tom painted the fence, and he prepares to go fishing.

Steamboat Man (03:13)

Samuel Clemens' father died when he was twelve; he became a newspaper apprentice. He ran away seeking to become a steamboat man, a dream that was the subject of Life on the Mississippi.

Meeting Captain (02:21)

Clemens talks his way aboard a steamship, demonstrating impressive knowledge of the practice. When the men call out "Mark Twain," they are at sufficient depth to sail.

Launching Newspaper Career (01:40)

When the Civil War halted Mississippi commerce, Clemens went west seeking gold, where he became newspaperman "Mark Twain." He covered Americans visiting Paris, the subject of "Innocents Abroad."

Shocking Dance in Paris (01:47)

The Americans' French tour guide takes them to a dance where women show their legs. Seeing a picture of a tour companion's sister, Olivia, Twain demands to be introduced.

Courting (02:10)

Twain courts Olivia at her family's mansion in Elmira, New York. Her family is weary of his Western manners; he discusses tourist possibilities in the area.

Playing Piano (01:29)

Twain plays the piano in Elmira. The rest of the family leaves Twain and Olivia alone.

Proposal (02:21)

Twain proposes to Olivia. She says she does not love him; he says he will continue to love her all his life.

Staying With Olivia (02:03)

Twain asks Olivia to let him write her and make a gentleman of him. As he prepares to leave, he pretends to slip on a rug and injure himself; he has to stay, and Olivia has to nurse him.

Accepting Proposal (01:39)

After weeks of nursing him, Olivia agrees to marry Twain, contingent on her father's permission. Her mother urges the father to get a list of references for Twain, before he leaves on his lecture tour.

Lecture Tour and References (01:49)

On his lecture tour, Twain delivers a joke about a seven-year-old boy visiting a clergyman and attempting to be on his best behavior. Meanwhile, his reference letters alarm Olivia's mother.

Jokes, References, and Olivia's Letters (02:00)

Twain delivers more jokes on tour, and Olivia's mother continues to read unimpressive reference letters. She writes him that her mother hopes her love will subside, but it will not.

Winning Consent (02:28)

Olivia's father confronts Twain about his references; Twain promises he has abandoned his past, and the father gives his consent. They marry in Spring 1870.

Life, Writing and Establishment Disdain (02:03)

Twain's success does not impress the East Coast literary establishment. He and Olivia have three daughters; Olivia builds him a new study sitting on a beautiful hilltop, which has inspired a new book.

Huck Runs to Jackson's Island (01:41)

Reenactment shifts between Twain reading Huck Finn to his family, and Huck himself. Huck introduces himself and explains that he is running away to Jackson's Island, realizing his abusive father has returned.

Running Away With Jim (01:24)

On Jackson's Island, Huck meets Jim, who admits he is running away on a raft. Huck is alarmed by Jim's plan, but comes along.

River Life and Seeking Freedom (01:50)

Jim sings about his plan to get to free states. Huck tells him they have the whole river to themselves.

Jim's Plan (01:44)

Jim plans to get away and buy his wife and child's freedom.

Hair-Brained Schemes (03:03)

Olivia says people will always buy Twain's books, and he should abandon his get-rich-quick schemes. Twain defends his investment in a project to invent a new typesetter.

Birthday Celebration (03:20)

Twain's typesetter investment drained finances for years. His friends throw a 55th birthday party; daughter Susie sings.

Neglecting Writing (01:18)

Guests dance; Twain dances with Susie. She worries that he has neglected his writing; he has been preoccupied with his publishing company.

Critics on Huck Finn (01:17)

Susie tells Twain people see him as only a humorist; he speaks of the value of humor. He hopes Huck Finn will make him rich, but critics slam it.

Bankruptcy and Europe (02:56)

Twain goes bankrupt and moves to Europe to cut expenses, vowing to write until he can pay back creditors; he and Olivia leave Susie behind for college.

Meeting Queen (01:31)

In London, Twain reflects that even democrats like being noticed by a duke or monarch. He meets the Queen of England.

Connecticut Yankee (01:26)

For the Queen, Twain presents a performance of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Arthur's Yankee Prime Minister, "Boss," introduces the newspaper.

Mocking Arthur Legend (02:34)

Arthur presents Boss with the traditional means of carrying news: a lady reads a ponderous, stylized account from a scroll. Boss says the method cannot compete with the "snap" of a newspaper.

Knights (02:35)

Singing continues about knights, their quests and battles, and fights for beautiful ladies. "Boss" presents the world's first mechanized army, the Knights of the Round Table.

Susie Dies (01:50)

Twain and Olivia worry about their finances and look forward to Susie's visit. They learn from a newspaper that Susie has died.

Thoughts on Susie's Death (01:32)

Twain reflects on Susie's death. They buried her at Elmira Hill; he recites the poem they wrote her.

Olivia's Encouragement (01:50)

Olivia encourages Twain to go on a worldwide lecture tour to pay his debts. He agrees.

World Tour and Exaggerated Reports of Death (02:14)

In Japan, Twain jokes about the awkwardness of compliments, in Australia he jokes about purported American reports of his death, in North Africa about the flies.

Return to America (00:60)

Twain returns home having paid his debts and celebrates the new century with friends.

Olivia Grows Old (02:02)

Twain tells Olivia she is the only editor he trusts; she says she is getting old and frail. Twain complains that universities have not granted him honorary degrees.

Kipling on Twain (02:05)

Twain and Olivia move to Florence, hoping to improve her health. On her sickbed, she reads an admiring article Rudyard Kipling wrote about meeting him.

Olivia's Death (03:00)

Olivia worries she is dying. He encourages her to lean on her faith, but she says if he is to be lost, she wants to be lost with him. She dies. Twain's writing within an hour of Olivia's death is recited.

Consolation (01:46)

Olivia's brother Charlie visits Twain to console him. Twain jokes bitterly with him.

Offered Oxford Degree (01:39)

Oxford offers Twain an honorary degree. He considers it the final credential for immortality and goes despite his pledge never again to travel abroad.

Acceptance Speech (02:15)

Receiving his Oxford degree, Twain announces his plan to cease writing and says he wrote for the approval of the people, not critics.

Curtain Call (03:27)

Twain introduces his characters, who recite lines featured in the musical. He takes off his Oxford cap and gown and goes to meet Olivia. His study ascends with him in it.

Credits: Mark Twain: A Musical Biography (01:51)

Credits: Mark Twain: A Musical Biography

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Mark Twain: A Musical Biography

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Samuel Clemens was a printer, a Mississippi River pilot, a Confederate soldier, a miner, a reporter, a lecturer, an editor, a humorist, a businessman, a publisher, a devoted husband and father, quite possibly in his time the most recognizable man in the world, and, of course, one of the greatest American writers who ever lived: Mark Twain. From novel to short story, from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” his works became world-renowned, and perhaps more than any other writer Twain became synonymous with the zest for life, the wit, the humor, and the colorful human portraits that are the embodiment of the American spirit. Mark Twain: A Musical Biography presents his fascinating life story, beautifully realized in this entertaining evening hailed by the critics. As seen on PBS. (88 minutes)

Length: 88 minutes

Item#: BVL44829

Copyright date: ©1989

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“An original biographical tribute to Twain, an extravaganza…” —The New York Times

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Prices include public performance rights.

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