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Happy 176th birthday, Mark Twain! [Video]

November 30, 2011 |  8:44 am

Iconic American author Mark Twain was born 176 years ago, on Nov. 30 1835, as Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He took the name Mark Twain from the calls of steamboat navigators -- working on a steamboat, as a printer's typesetter and journalist in the just-settling West preceded his career as a humorist and novelist.

"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," (celebrated today by the Google Doodle), "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," "The Innocents Abroad," "The Prince and the Pauper," "Life on the Mississippi" and "The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson" are some of the classics penned by Twain, who died in 1910 at 74.

One hundred years later, Twain made a surprise appearance on bestseller lists with the "Autobiography of Mark Twain," dictated by the author during his lifetime but barred from publication until a century after his death. After it began to sell, we wrote in 2011, "Editors realized that Twain's sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingly timeless appeal."

Twain is considered by scholar and historian Laura Trombley to have been America's first celebrity. He undertook lecture tour after lecture tour and crafted an image, always wearing white suits. In the rare color photograph above of the author -- a chromograph, actually -- taken at the end of 1908, he is said to have put on a red dressing gown at the request of photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, whose new color process wouldn't pop much if he was only wearing his classic white suit.

After the jump, more rare Mark Twain: the only known film of him, shot by Thomas Edison.

Careful watchers may note that Twain adds a touch of humor to the video: He reappears around the side of the house impossibly quickly after disappearing around the near corner.

Twain's life was too full and rich (and also peppered with sorrow) to fully detail here. His own version of it -- the autobiography -- began with a 738-page book. And that's just the first book of a planned three-volume set.


Inside the next volume of Mark Twain's autobiography

David L. Ulin on Mark Twain's most overrated & underrated books

Twain scholar Laura Trombley reviews 'Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1'

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Mark Twain in a color chromograph on Dec. 21, 1908. Credit: Alvin Langdon Coburn / Royal Photographic Society/SSPL / Getty Images