Reading the “new” Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2 is nothing if not a commitment. It is very long.
But barely forty pages in, I was rewarded as Twain returns to one of my favorite characters from the first volume of his autobiography, Olive Logan.
For a time in the 1870′s or so, Olive Logan was an actress and playwright. Like Paris or Snooki or one of the major or minor Kardashians today, Twain asserts Olive Logan was famous for being famous.
After leaving the stage, according to Twain, Logan wrote “little things in newspapers and obscure periodicals, but there was no talent in them, and nothing resembling it.”
Instead, he maintains her “third-rate journalist” of a husband would get items about her dropped into newspapers around the country.
“Olive Logan has set her face decidedly against the adoption of the short skirt for afternoon wear.”
“It is said that Olive Logan has taken a cottage at Nahant, and will spend the summer there.”
That sort of thing.
It worked–for a time. Twain writes people were talking about Olive Logan without really knowing who she was or what it was she did.
Eventually, she took to the lecture circuit and the public got to see her in expensive clothes, but the novelty wore off in a couple of seasons, according to Twain.
Could the great Mark Twain have felt threatened by Olive Logan and her one hundred dollar a night speaking fees?
In Volume 2, Twain writes much more sympathetically about her, perhaps because her life was not ending well.
He comments on a newspaper clipping headlined “Olive Logan Has Husband Arrested: Famous Lecturer, Authoress and Actress Declares that He Drinks and Neglects Her.” Twain writes “I do pity her–I do pity her.”
He doesn’t comment on a later New York Times piece with the headline “Olive Logan in an Asylum.” Or another, still later. “Olive Logan Dead.; Once Famous Actress Succumbs to Heart Disease in an Asylum.”
She died a pauper. Then, as now, fame is fleeting.