Tell Me Something: Twain museum director hopes Bill Murray sees this story

The exterior of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.
The exterior of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

Cindy Lovell is the executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. She previously served as the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Stetson University and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Lovell has held tenured faculty positions at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida and Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois.

Lovell grew up in Pennsylvania and began reading Twain in the fourth grade. She has two grown children, Angela and Adam.

Lovell is a contributor to The Huffington Post. She has presented keynote addresses and educator workshops at various conferences and presented at Big Read events for communities reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. In 2011, with Grammy Award-winner Carl Jackson, she wrote the narrative for “Mark Twain Words & Music,” a double-CD telling Twain's life in spoken word and song, a benefit for Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. She recently collaborated again with Jackson, writing the narrative for “Orthophonic Joy,” a remake of the historic 1927 Bristol Sessions which will be released in January 2015. The Sessions were a recording project on the Tennessee-Virginia border which marked a signature moment in the evolution of country music, and introduced listeners to the influences of Appalachia music. 

On Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. the Mark Twain House will host a talk with Geoffery Maguire, author of “Wicked” and Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of the long-running Broadway musical “Wicked.” The moderator will be Frank Rizzo. The House hosts a variety of programs each month. Also on tap in October are an evening with Noam Chomsky, a radio theatre performance of Dracula and a family trick-or-treating event. Check the website for details.

What was your favorite childhood toy or game to play?

Etch-a-Sketch, and I’m still trying to find a use for that particular skill.

Time for a road trip. Pick a destination and a vehicle. Also, pick a song to play when you leave and a song to play when you arrive.

I used to drive from Hannibal, Missouri to my son’s house in Florida straight through. It’s a 19-20 hour drive, but I loved it. So, in an ideal road trip, I’d drive from Hartford to my son’s in my own car and using the same soundtrack I always use – the entire “Mark Twain: Words & Music” CD – sorry, I can’t pick just one song – and “Take Another Road” by Jimmy Buffett in which he sings about Mark Twain’s travels.

Which actor would be great in the role of Mark Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) as a young man?

Bill Murray. (Disclaimer: When asked anything about actors, I always reply with “Bill Murray.” He is my favorite, and I’m pretty sure he can pull off any role – even young Sam Clemens.) Seriously, I see so few movies these days, I had to look at IMDB to consider this. It’s an important question, because one of these days Hollywood is going to do something smart, like make a biopic. Sam’s features were so distinctive – he had red hair, blue eyes, and attached earlobes. I didn’t see anyone on IMDB who fit the bill, although I’m sure there’s someone out there who would be perfect. Why don’t we go ahead and start a rumor that there will be a movie about Mark Twain’s life, and Clint Eastwood will direct it? (Eastwood provided Mark Twain’s voice on “Mark Twain: Words & Music.”) And to any Hollywood insiders who might read this – you are more than welcome to come film at the Hartford house, and I’m pretty sure the Hannibal folks will welcome you there, too. Let’s make a movie!

Say you have a modern-day high school locker. Whose picture would be hanging in it?

Bill Murray’s, of course. ... You thought I was going to say Mark Twain, didn’t you?

What are three things our readers probably don’t know about Twain’s wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, but really should?

1. Although she was 10 years younger than Sam Clemens, her nickname for him was ‘Youth,’ and his nickname for her was ‘Gravity.’

2. She was his editor. She was well read and highly intelligent, and Sam trusted Livy to review his manuscripts, especially with regard for inappropriate content. He would purposely include some ‘shocker’ just for the delight in watching her draw a line through it.

3. Livy initially turned down Sam’s marriage proposal, but he was persistent, won her and her family, and the two adored each other for the rest of their lives. She was his best friend. When she died in Italy in 1904, he wrote, “She has been dead two hours. It is impossible. The words have no meaning. But they are true; I know it, without realizing it. She was my life, and she is gone; she was my riches, and I am a pauper.” He was devastated to lose her.

You're locked in a museum for a night, which one would it be?

Since I’ve already been locked in at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri (we used to host sleep-overs there for the local kids when I was the director), I am going to say the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford – with emphasis on the House. The House was listed in National Geographic’s 10 Best of Everything Book as “one of the ten best historic homes in the world.”

Other than your smartphone, name an item you can’t live without:

My giant Stanley stainless steel Thermos that I’ve had for years. I fill it with water every morning. Cheaper than bottled water, and better for me and the environment.

Which character from a movie do you wish would come down off the screen and live among us in the real world?

Travis McGee. (The protagonist created by American mystery author John D. MacDonald)

What’s your favorite Mark Twain quote?

“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”


“What do you mean you don’t have a membership at the Mark Twain House yet?” (Actually, I just made that one up.)

What would be the best island to be stranded on?

Bermuda. Mark Twain loved it, and so do I.

Coffee or Tea?

Water. Straight. Lots of ice.

Saturday night or Sunday morning?

Live from New York, it’s Saturday night! In season 3, Jane Curtin appeared in a sketch where she was reading a book by Mark Twain and laughing. Besides – you know… Bill Murray!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve got from your parents, grandparents, or someone older than you?

My family was/is entrepreneurial, so working “for” someone always seemed alien to them. When I got my first paid job at the age of 15 as a weekend maid at a Sheraton hotel, my dad gave me some advice that he repeated with every subsequent job: “Work like you own the place, or that you’re going to own it someday.” It was great advice, because it drastically shaped my perspective and made me feel responsible for the overall success of an organization.

What would be your nom de plume?

Gern Blanston (with apologies to Steve Martin).

Which movie, television show or theatrical production most accurately depicts life working at the Mark Twain House?

"Saturday Night Live" – the early years. The staff here is always thinking on their feet, moving at a fast pace, generating hilarity, and making a lot of people happy on a very tight budget. They are masters of improv, can field any reporter’s questions, and although we don’t have celebrity hosts, we have welcomed our fair share of celebrity visitors: Stephen King, Dan Brown, Brad Paisley, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Judy Blume, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Joan Didion, Bruce Springsteen… Some have come to tour, others have come to speak or perform on our behalf. I have no idea why Bill Murray hasn’t stopped in yet, but I remain hopeful.

In a game of hide and seek, where would be the best place in the Mark Twain House to hide?

Ah! I can’t tell, but you can come to one of our Ghost Tours or Clue Tours to find out!

Where in Connecticut do you go to find serenity?

351 Farmington Avenue in Hartford. Mark Twain called it “the loveliest home that ever was.” He was right. I like to walk through the house when no one else is there and imagine those happy years the Clemens family spent here.

The people alive today you most admire?

Jimmy Buffett and Hal Holbrook.

Jimmy has a great heart and great spirit and is a true Twainiac. All of his books include wonderful references to Twain, and he has written many songs about him. He is singlehandedly responsible for inspiring the lifeguards in New Smyrna Beach, Florida to read "Following the Equator". (I know this because my son was one of those lifeguards.) He also provided the voice of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ on the “Mark Twain: Words & Music” CD, and he released it on his own label, Mailboat Records. Jimmy is a great philanthropist, a brilliant artist, and an all-around nice guy. He doesn’t blow his own horn, but he does a lot of good for a lot of people. Many people think of margaritas and parrotheads when they think of Jimmy Buffett, but he is so much more than that. I have a deep admiration and respect for him.

Hal continues to perform "Mark Twain Tonight!" – now in its 60th year. Best of all, he continues to read and research, so the performances are never the same and typically include new material. Best of all, Hal selects the passages to perform based on current events. This lets the audience feel the power and relevance of Twain’s commentary. Hal has been performing as ‘Mark Twain’ longer than Sam Clemens used the pen name! He is a brilliant historian, writer, and performer, and I’m proud to call him my friend. I think Hal Holbrook and Jimmy Buffett would be great friends if I could ever get the two of them together. No doubt they would ‘talk Twain’ into the wee hours.

Cindy Lovell is the executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.
Cindy Lovell is the executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.


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