Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Virtual Mark Twain

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Virtual Mark Twain

Article excerpt

LADIES and gentlemen, I wish to present to you a man whose great learning and veneration for truth are exceeded only by his high moral character and majestic presence. I refer in these vague and general terms to Jim Clark of Franklin County, who uses these words of Mark Twain to introduce himself . . . as Mark Twain.

Twenty-two years, four white suits and more than 100 performances ago, Jim began presenting his Mark Twain programs to audiences in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest. He also appeared in Memphis, in Florida and, most recently, in Australia. Jim, who doesn't even own a computer, was recruited via the Internet by the Australian National Maritime Museum to perform July 4 on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

"A friend suggested we make a Mark Twain home page and see what happens," Jim says. "A few weeks later I was giving six shows in Sydney and yachting with the U.S. ambassador."

The ambassador and other dignitaries even entertained Jim on his 48th birthday, July 2. "I felt like they were hosting Mark Twain, not me," Jim says, still shaking his head over the lavish celebration. "And they paid me, too!"

Sydney is a long way from Poplar Bluff, Jim's birthplace, and re-creating Mark Twain is a stretch from standup comedy, which Jim attempted in California. He ended up there after graduating from Southeast Missouri State, "not knowing what my special purpose was," he says. But standup was too scary. "I found I needed someone like Twain with that big mustache to hide behind."

Back in Missouri in 1974, Jim was asked to narrate a play as Twain. It was the result of voiceovers he was doing for a Cape Girardeau radio station.

"I bought a $5, secondhand suit, put flour in my hair, pasted on a fake mustache and was so nervous I shook like an old man, so it seemed really authentic."

Around the same time, Jim caught Hal Holbrook's renowned Mark Twain stage show. "I can do that," Jim thought, and he's been perfecting and performing his own Mark Twain shows ever since for colleges and universities, conventions, seminars, theaters, festivals and more.

For years, Jim supported his Twain habit with odd jobs on the side. …

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