Bring back some good or bad memories


March 16, 2023

The Only Known Footage of Mark Twain, 1909

The great inventor Thomas Edison visited the home of Mark Twain in 1909, and captured Twain walking around his estate in Redding, Connecticut and then playing cards with his lovely two daughters, Clara and Jean. The film is silent and deteriorated. But it’s apparently the only known footage of the author. Mark Twain would die the next year.

The film has been restored and flipped left to right to correct the camera-to-subject orientation. It has had it’s speed corrected from the camera frame rate of the day. The detail has been enhanced dramatically bringing out visuals never before seen. The fluctuations in the exposure have been reduced markedly making the image much more pleasing to watch.

According to Mark Twain researcher Robert Slotta, who has studied the origins of this film for several years, it all began as a simple intro to a feature film Thomas Edison wanted to make based on Twain’s 1881 novel, “The Prince and the Pauper” (published in America 1882). Twain reluctantly agreed as long as the material was never used for any other purpose. The intro consisted an edited version of the first three scenes of this film. Scenes included: Twain standing in the doorway, the walk around the house, and the second walk around was another “take” to cover a late camera start on the part of the cinematographer.

Since there was still unexposed film left over, it was at the film crew’s urging that the scenes with Twain and his daughters, Clara and Jean, be photographed as a gift with the promise that footage was strictly for their own private enjoyment.

One copy of the raw 35mm footage shot that day was given to Twain. Upon his death, that print fell into in the possession of his daughter, Clara. Fast forward to 1954 and Mark Twain historian Caroline Harnsberger, who had become good friends with Clara. It was she who, along with shooting new color movies of Clara, was able to have a 16mm reduction print made from the 35mm nitrate print. It is a copy of that reduction print that you see here, today. This particular print was in the hands of the Mark Twain museum in Hartford, Connecticut. Other 16mm prints do exist at various museums around the country including the George Eastman House but all are due to the unheralded efforts of one, Caroline Harnsberger.


Post a Comment



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10