Assigned to do a profile of Twain that would feature her drawings, Carew joined the author—a "fresh, spotless little old man"—for breakfast at his hotel, the Hotel Earlington on Twenty-Seventh street. Unfortunately, however, her editor had failed to tell her one crucial fact: Twain was willing to be sketched but not to be interviewed. Under retainer to his publisher at the time, he was not free to give interviews without approval.
As they chatted, with Carew keeping her pencil and sketch book well out of sight under the table, Twain noticed her apparent "inertia" and asked with a "touch of fatherly reproof" whether she was getting what she wanted? "Only a few notes," she answered.
Carew recorded what happened next:
"Notes!" He half rose from his chair. "Notes!" There was a sudden drawing down of his shaggy eyebrows.As Carew wryly observed, "this was not a very good omen for further conversation."
"An artist's notes, you know," I hastened to explain. "Just scratches on the paper—an eyebrow, a wrinkle, a coat collar."
He sank back, much relieved.
"Make all the notes—that kind of notes—you want to," he said. "So long as—you—don't interview me, I—don't care. I won't be interviewed. I don't—approve—of interviews; don't like them—on—principle."
Reading Carew's full interview, we can easily imagine the somewhat excruciating experience of eating breakfast with America's greatest—and at that moment most silent—humorist. "You can't imagine anything more solemn than the atmosphere he carries with him," Carew ruefully observed.
Yet Carew's October 21, 1900, interview overcame these obstacles to launch a career that over the next twenty years would come to include hundreds of interviews—with literary figures (Jack London, Bret Harte, W. B. Yeats, Emile Zola), theatrical and movie celebrities (Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, D. W. Griffith), artists and inventors (Picasso, Wilbur and Orville Wright ), sports heroes and politicians (Jack Johnson, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt—“De-lighted!” was apparently all he said)—all with sketches so distinctive they came to be called “carewcatures.” Quite an outcome from a breakfast interviewing a most stubborn and recalcitrant subject.
Illustrations from New York World, 1900. Used by permission from Christine Chambers
Also of interest:
- Read “Confessions of an Interviewer,” Kate Carew’s 1904 interview with Pearson’s Magazine
- Silence as a weapon: the two most embarrassing speeches Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce ever gave, a previous Reader’s Almanac post
- Watch a trailer for the Jaffa Studios work-in-progress documentary Rediscovering Kate Carew
Related LOA works: The Complete Mark Twain Library (7 books, plus a FREE volume)