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Twain's humor presented at Woman's Club

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By Ron Benningfield

Curtis O’Dell loves to walk.
Two years ago when he was 73 years old, the Tennessee native walked 150 miles from Knoxville to his home in Hodgenville.
On April 21, he’ll begin a journey of a different kind – portraying the American humorist and author Mark Twain at 6:30 p.m. at the Hodgenville Woman’s Club.    
Sporting neck-length white hair and an ample snow-white moustache, O’Dell, has according to many people, an uncanny resemblance to Twain.
“For the past 20 years, when I started keeping my hair as it is today, people I would meet would look at me and ask me, ‘Do you do Mark Twain?’” he shared from his living room on Forresta Court. “One day a college history professor asked me the question, and when I told him I didn’t, he replied, ‘Well, you should.’”
The encouragement resulted in his investing some $1,500 this past year into purchasing two white suits, a rocking chair, pipe, other props reminiscent of Twain, business cards and photos.
“I ordered literature from his museum in Hannibal, Missouri, and have studied that for the past several months,” O’Dell said.  
Even before his upcoming debut in Hodgenville, he has already had requests from several states to perform.
“They want me for three days in South Carolina; Dollywood and the Museum of Appalachia in Anderson County, Tennessee, have invited me, and I’ll also portray Twain two times this summer at Lincoln Park here,” he said.
His invitation to the woman’s club came through a fellow park volunteer, Carol Haynes, the club’s president.
“I knew Curtis favored Mark Twain and when I found out that he has suits and pictures of himself as Twain and that he was willing to do a presentation, I wanted the public to have a chance to see him perform,” Haynes said, adding that the portrayal with free admission and post-program light refreshments, would precede the business meeting.
In character
O’Dell gave a brief overview of his performance, slowly walking into his living room with the slow, careful gait of an elderly Mark Twain approaching his favorite rocking chair.
“I’ll smack my lips a couple of times, and make eye contact with the audience as I approach the chair,” he explained, holding an unlit pipe in one hand. “I’ll sit down slowly, scratch my head as though considering what to say, then pause while I make eye contact with the audience.”
He followed with some of the humorist’s one-liners and stories, uttered in the slightly high pitch of a stereotypical older person, the sayings peppered with grains of truth allowing the “audience” to identify with what he said.
“April 1 (pause) reminds us of what we are the other 364 days of the year,” he offered as an example.
“I can modify my presentations to any length requested,” he said. “To hold the audience’s attention, I’ll at times get up out of my chair and walk to different parts of the stage, all the while in character.”
His programs can also be altered to fit the occasion, he said, as he’s organized Twain’s excerpts into religion, politics, travel and other topical areas. After the program, he will exit to a designated area to meet with the audience.
O’Dell can be reached by phone at 270-505-5316, 270-358-3009, or on Facebook under Curtis O’Dell.
    

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