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Shock Photo! Mark Twain Goes Shirtless!!!

January 18, 2015
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

Who knew that Mark Twain took a photograph while shirtless?    I mean, Mark Twain is known for many things, such as writing classic literature like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Prince and the Pauper.  He was a satirist.  He came up with a lot of great quotes.  He hung out with Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and there’s even early film footage of Mark Twain with his daughter.

But I just found out there’s a picture of Mark Twain shirtless.  How have I lived almost 50 years without knowing that Mark Twain went shirtless?  How can people NOT know about a shirtless Mark Twain?

I didn’t know that people back in the late 1800s ever went shirtless.  I thought people back then were fully clothed at all times.  Whenever I see a photo from the 1800s, I see layers and layers of clothes.  Plus, taking photographs back then was a big deal.  It wasn’t like today, where you could get your picture taken at any given moment.  Back then, you had to make an effort to get your picture taken.  In other words, Mark Twain had to deliberately take his shirt off before getting his picture taken.  There was no way a photographer snapped that shirtless picture without Mark Twain’s permission.

And I’m pretty sure the photo is real.  Photoshop and other technologies weren’t around in the 1800s to tinker with Twain’s torso.  And if this photo had been tampered with recently, Twain would have a bunch of weird tattoos and a woman’s body, so I’m certain the photo is authentic.

Maybe Mark Twain was the first celebrity writer to go shirtless.  Did Charles Dickens ever go shirtless?  Did Edgar Allen Poe or O. Henry?  I’ve seen Ernest Hemingway shirtless, but that was Hemingway being Hemingway, and other writers like Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner have taken pics without tops, but Twain was the first (I think) and the best.

Maybe a picture of Oscar Wilde shirtless will turn up.  He had such cool hair that a shirtless Oscar Wilde would have had women throwing undergarments at him.  That’s not sexist; I’ve seen women throw undergarments at shirtless guys before (yeah, it was in Las Vegas, but still…).

When I mention shirtless authors, I only mean male authors.  It’s okay for a male like me to talk about male shirtless authors, but if I start talking about female shirtless authors, then I risk coming across as a pervert, and I don’t want to be thought of as that kind of blogger.

I thought Mark Twain looked pretty good in his shirtless picture.  My opinion of Twain’s physique is probably irrelevant, so I showed my wife the shirtless Mark Twain to get her opinion.

She said: “Not bad for a writer.”

I know what she means.  Even back then, writers must have had a sedentary lifestyle.  If anything, it had to be worse.  With no word processors, writing must have taken up a lot more time than it does now.  I remember hand-writing all my stuff decades ago, and it was time-consuming, and it was a lot of sitting too.  Somehow Mark Twain could write and still be kind of buff.  I’m impressed.

It takes a lot of grit to take a picture shirtless.  I haven’t done it in almost 30 years, when I posed with a weight lifter/bodybuilder.  It didn’t take any guts for the bodybuilder to pose shirtless; he had a great body.  Everything about him (that we could see) was bigger than me.  The photo threw people off because I had a reputation as a serious guy and wasn’t the type to pose shirtless with a bodybuilder.  If I had been known as a satirist, my peers would have understood, but I had a reputation as a serious guy.  Twain was a known satirist, so his readers (hopefully) understood.  My peers looked at the picture perplexed, and a couple people told me to start working out.  One guy told me to get a tan.

What would Mark Twain do for satire if he were alive today?  For some reason, I don’t think going shirtless would be enough for attention-grabbing satire.  In this age of narcissistic selfie tweets, Twain might have to reveal much more than his chest.  Maybe a known satirist could get away with it.  If anybody else tweeted body parts lower than his stomach and called it satire, he’d be called a perv (and deserve it), but if Mark Twain had done it and called it satire, he could probably get away with it because everybody would already know he was a satirist.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not condoning the Mark Twain body part tweet.  I think it would be a bad idea.  I’m just saying that if anybody could get away with it, it would be Mark Twain.


What do you think?  Which vintage authors would you like to see shirtless?  Do you take pictures shirtless (women don’t need to answer; I’m not that kind of blogger.)? Could Mark Twain get away with the satirical body part tweet?

  1. You made me laugh….

  2. Reblogged this on First Draft and commented:
    A news way to see one of my favorites!!!!!! 🙂

  3. one of my favorite Twain satires!

  4. Lol. Awesome post. And back in the 1880s photography was still pretty new, right? So posing for a picture at all was a big deal — not to mention posing shirtless. His mustache is absurdly glorious.

  5. Mark Twain was a pretty manly, although it’s still pretty funny to see this. I’m sure if he was alive today, he would have a lot of material for his satire.

  6. His head doesn’t seem to suit his body…

  7. At least he had the good sense to pose shirtless while he was still fairly young. I always think of him (when I think of him) as older and white haired.

  8. KamiKanten permalink

    I like people who don’t take themselves too serioulsly.

  9. It’s really interesting… and quite funny! You’re right, I don’t think it could have such an impact today… Thanks for making me learn about this!

  10. Yes, this photo is for real and intentional. It was taken as a joke. Perhaps it was to emphasize what Clemens said about clothes: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.”

    • Even though the photo was meant as a joke or satire, I’m glad Twain kept a straight face. A lot of humorists smirk or make goofy expressions. I appreciate a humorist who doesn’t act like he’s in on the joke.

      Or maybe he IS smirking and we can’t tell because of the mustache.

  11. girl_dreaming permalink

    Mark Twain was a boss. I think he would own in the Twitterverse.

    I’d like to see William Shakespeare shirtless. If you believe he was an actor as well as a playright, he probably wasn’t, uh…sedentary. For science.

    • I’d like to see what William Shakespeare looked like, with or without a shirt. I know we have portraits from that time period, but I don’t trust portraits. The powers-that-were back then could have just picked some random portrait and said it was William Shakespeare, and we wouldn’t know any better. It’s too bad they didn’t have photography back then.

      • girl_dreaming permalink

        Agreed. There’s so much doubt surrounding his identity anyway, it would definitely be an event.

  12. “Which vintage authors would you like to see shirtless?” — Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his younger days, he was decently good-looking. And in some of his stories, his writing was deliberately (albeit lightly for modern times) erotic. Makes a girl wonder….

    • Nathaniel Hawthorne? There’s an author I hadn’t thought of. His hair always seems like it’s full of static. Maybe if he’d gone shirtless, his hair would look more under control.

      • Haha … Static hair seems to be a common thing back then… I feel the same way about Mark Twain’s…

  13. He reminds me of Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation. The mustache! Glorious!

  14. So butch! Almost Wolverine-like. I want him to chop a tree down and construct a makeshift raft, so that we may float down a river together. I will keep my shirt on, of course.

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