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Mark Twain: America's First Celebrity

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  • Strongly Liberal Democrat
    Democrat
    Portland, OR
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    We all know Mark Twain's writings have had an immeasurable impact on American society well past his death in 1910. His writings showed an uncanny ability to relate with the common man and teach them moral lessons without the reader realizing it at first. We all had to read at least one of his books throughout our years in school, even if we didn't fully appreciate his teachings at the time.

    What most of us aren't aware of is Mark Twain's other title: America's first celebrity. Mark Twain was photographed more than any man in the world during his lifetime and he was the first to learn that it is vitally important to control one's own image, especially when you are in the public eye as much as someone like him. He constantly wrote letters to photographers chiding their skills and complaining that their work put him in a negative light. In a letter to the Daily Hawaiian Herald on Sept. 5, 1866, Mr. Twain wrote: "If a man tries to look serious when he sits for his picture the photograph makes him look as solemn as an owl; if he smiles, the photograph smirks repulsively; if he tries to look pleasant, the photograph looks silly; if he makes the fatal mistake of attempting to seem pensive, the camera will surely write him down as an ass." Ironically, those words ring as true today as they did well over 100 years ago.