‘Mark Twain’ honored at Lake Tahoe on eve of 180th birthday
Special to the Bonanza
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
McAvoy Layne as Mark Twain will hold forth at your dining room table, and answer any questions your party might have on any subject.
He is also willing to share the secrets of his longevity (180 years).
“There is a modest honorarium for this private audience. A small pittance for the amount of wit and wisdom you will assimilate,” said Layne.
Famous Twain quotes
The key to Mark Twain’s popularity both as a comic writer and speaker was the one liner. He knew that, “against the assault of laughter, nothing may stand.” Here are a few that McAvoy Layne used at the birthday celebration last week in Incline Village:
“All you need is ignorance and confidence.”
“I never let schooling get in the way of my education.”
“I’ve known a great many troubles, most of them never happened.”
“I have no rules for drinking except when others are drinking, I like to help. I’ve heard that the key to preventing toothache is a shot of brandy in the morning. I’ve never had a toothache.”
“Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until it passes.”
“Truth is the most valuable thing we have, so I try to conserve it.”
“When you start at Washington and watch what has happened to presidents since then, it is evidence to overturn Darwin’s theory.”
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — In honor of his upcoming 180th birthday, Mark Twain appeared on Friday, Nov. 13 in, of all places, the Mark Twain Room at the Starbuck’s building in Incline Village.
In a special celebration presented by the Incline Village-Crystal Bay Historical Society Lake Tahoe’s own Mark Twain — better known as Incline resident McAvoy Layne —presented a humorous recollection of his days at Tahoe and his outlook on life as he nears 180 years young.
Twain (born Nov. 30, 1835, as Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was considered by William Faulkner to be the father of American literature.
Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is on many lists of the best novels in American history. He was also considered the greatest humorist of his age, and his speaking engagements were probably the first examples of standup comedy in America.
While Twain didn’t write anything of world renown during his time in the Lake Tahoe region, it’s still appropriate that Tahoe has had its very own Mark Twain for the past 27 years.
“Tahoe invented Mark Twain,” writes Scott Lankford in his book, “Tahoe Beneath the Surface,”
For it was during his three tumultuous years at Tahoe, between 1861 and 1864, that the Confederate deserter known as Samuel Clemens changed his pen name to Mark Twain.
It was here that the young failed miner and former river pilot went into the writing business with the “fledgling Nevada Territorial Enterprise Newspaper,” says Lankford.
It was from here that he skedaddled to San Francisco to avoid the law after nearly participating in a duel. Shortly thereafter, Twain began his road to fame when he penned a story about a frog jumping contest in Calaveras County.
While Twain spent only a few weeks on the shores of Lake Tahoe, his recollections recorded in “Roughing It” are perhaps the best known and most glorious writings ever about Tahoe.
There are not too many Tahoe folks who have not heard his proclamation upon first seeing Lake Tahoe that it must certainly be “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Or his quote, “the air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine. Bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be. It is the same the angels breathe.”
He so loved Tahoe he began to dream about bringing family out to live on the lake, but those dreams were spoiled when the land he was attempting to homestead went up in smoke in a forest fire accidentally set by the man himself.
While the fire is presented with humor in “Roughing It,” the present day Twain convinced the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District that he was exaggerating about the extent of the fire, that it was just a ground fire that didn’t do a lot of damage.
Earlier this year, the fire district presented him with a plaque for overseeing the first prescribed burn in the Tahoe Basin.
So, how did Layne become Twain all those years ago? He was perfectly happy living the life of leisure in Hawaii as a radio host when he came to Tahoe to ski.
While snowed in for five days in a cabin in Tahoma, he noticed the complete works of Mark Twain on his coffee table. He was fascinated with Twain, but it still took listening to Hal Holbrook’s amazing rendition of Twain to give him the courage to take on the mantle himself when he moved to Tahoe.
Layne said at his recent birthday celebration that when he surprised his father with his Twain imitation, “it was the first time in my life I saw approval and recognition from my father.”
Tim Hauserman, a nearly lifelong resident of Tahoe City, is a freelance author and cross-country ski instructor. He may be reached at email@example.com.