Presenting about three shows annually, Dunham's next impression will open the Booth Western Art Museum's Summer Entertainment Series July 19. After dinner is served at 6:30 p.m., Dunham -- the Cartersville venue's director of special projects -- will share selections from Twain's speeches at 7 p.m. and discuss how the author's experiences in the 1800s West influenced his literary works.
"One of the things you realize is that his insights are timeless," Dunham said about Twain, whose given name was Samuel Clemens. "In other words, he absolutely nails human nature. And then, what I think the best thing about it is, that his humor is based on the idea that he sets up something that you think he's going to say and then it actually is something else. So you're constantly being surprised by what you thought would be the thing is different. Just like when he says, 'Children obey your parents.' Because you think, 'Well OK, he's going to tell children to be good and obey their parents.' And then he follows that with, 'When they're present and when they're not there, do anything you want.'
"So that's not exactly what parents wanted to hear. ... All of his jokes are setups like that, where he introduces something and then turns it around and it doesn't mean quite the same thing. ... It's kind of like the Bill Cosby-type of humor in the sense that it's rambling stories that are funny, not necessarily a punch line. It's a narrative that has humor because it catches the reality of what people are like."
In 1964, Dunham's fascination with Twain started when he was a student at the University of Colorado. Needing to deliver a monologue on a historical figure, he borrowed a white suit from the school's costume department and memorized 15 minutes of material from Twain's best-selling novels, such as the "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Through the years, his classroom assignment has developed into a more comprehensive offering, which he said resembles actor Hal Holbrook's show, "Mark Twain Tonight!"
"I wound up keeping the white suit and sat down and actually over the next year or so memorized a full hour of Mark Twain material. And by that time I had seen Holbrook's program and thought, 'Gee, this is great, I've got to do this,'" Dunham said. "What I started doing was having spent all that time to memorize the material, if you don't do it once in a while you'll forget the material. You'll forget the lines. So I started making myself available to groups, like Rotary Clubs and church groups and [organizations] like that. ... Without exception I was always able to find three, four, five times a year that somebody wanted me to do it.
"I generally did not charge for it and my reason for not charging for it was because it essentially copies what Holbrook did. Hal Holbrook was a wonderful creator of the Mark Twain program. What he did is he went through all of Mark Twain's writing and essentially pulled all the funny stuff out. In other words, it's almost like a comedy routine and that really isn't what Mark Twain did himself. What Samuel Clemens did on the lecture circuit back when he was alive was he would read from his books. So he would come out and he would say, 'OK, I'm glad you all came and I'm going to read now from "Huckleberry Finn" or from "Roughing It"' or from one of his novels and then he would maybe answer a few questions."
To be presented on the third Thursdays in July and August, the final offering of the Summer Entertainment Series will be the Pollard Greens Orchestra Aug. 16. Led by saxophonist John Pollard, the jazz ensemble will perform melodies from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s in the Booth Ballroom. After being treated to heavy hors d'oeuvres at 6:30 p.m., attendees will be encouraged to dance during the 7 to 9 p.m. concert.
"The summer entertainment series is an engaging and exciting way to step into the world of [the] Booth museum," said Booth Executive Director Seth Hopkins in a news release. "We can't wait to see members and new guests learning, laughing and dancing at this year's events. Attendees may also consider coming early to explore the museum and our three temporary exhibitions before the entertainment begins."
Tickets, which are $25 for Booth members and $30 for non-members, can be purchased at the museum -- 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville -- or by calling 770-387-1300. Cash bars will be featured at each event. More information can be obtained by visiting www.boothmuseum.org.