Monday, August 20, 2012

Laura Skandera Trombley interviewed at Mark Twain's The Lobster Pot

On Saturday August 18th, 2012, famed PBS Director Producer James Nicoloro interviewed Mark Twain Scholar and Pitzer College President, Laura Skandera Trombley, in the Mark Twain Room at The Lobster Pot for the upcoming Documentary, "The Redding Mark Twain." 




Laura Skandera Trombley
Laura Skandera Trombley

  Laura is President of Pitzer College, the author of the controversial and intriguing book called "Mark Twain's Other Woman." A exceptional speaker and very knowledgeable Twain  Scholar she gave great insight into the last years of Twain's life and the relationship he had with Isabel Lyon. Mark Twain said his relationship with Isabel was the most intimate in his life, besides his wife Livy. This was a special day for me as I have lived for decades on this enchanting property once  owned by Mark Twain and given to Isabel as a Christmas gift........


Here are a few words from Laura Skandera Trombley's thoughtful thank you note after her visit:


"Thank you for a wonderful time in was a trip of a lifetime and an absolute delight to have met you. Thank you for your hospitality.... and allowing us to visit The Lobster Pot. It was incredible and a dream to walk in Mark Twain's footsteps"



Isabel Lyon, 24 x 30 oil on linen, Collection of the Artist

I recently painted a portrait, the first, of Isabel Lyon which will be part of the  upcoming Documentary. Here is brought back to life........


Mark Twain and Isabel Lyon
An untold Story

By Susan Boone Durkee

Isabel Van Kleek Lyon

The relationship between Isabel Lyon and Mark Twain has basically been kept a secret for nearly 70 years. How can that be? Here is a woman about whom Twain himself said he knew most intimately in all the world -- with the exception of his wife, Livy.

Mark Twain first met Isabel Lyon in 1892, when she was 29 and working as a Governess for a Hartford family. He encountered her at a party while he was playing cards, and he was so charmed by her that at the end of the evening, when invited to return, he replied: “I’ll come only if I can play with the little Governess.”

When Isabel Lyon first came to work for the Clemens family in 1902, Twain described her as “slender, petite, comely, 39 years old by the almanac, and 17 in ways and carriage and dress.” A charming woman, hard working and competent she soon took responsibility for the entire Clemens household.

After Livy’s death in 1904, Isabel became Mark Twain’s secretary, bookkeeper, household manager, social companion, literary critic, and holder of his power of attorney. For a period she lived at Stormfield with Twain, and supposedly her bedroom was next to his.

Intelligent, and sensitive, Isabel worshiped Twain, referring to him as “The King.” He, in turn, called her “The Lioness.” Isabel staggered under the demands that Twain placed on her. As Twain described her,

“Miss Lyon runs Clara, and Jean, and me, and the servants, and the housekeeping, and the house building, and the secretary work, and remains as extraordinarily as competent as ever.”

In her diary, Isabel records:

“I have been so busy, for there is this house to look after (The Lobster Pot), and the Tuxedo house to think and plan for, and the Redding house to be after too, and Santa (Clara) to love and be with when she was here and do for, and Jean to be anxious over and to help if I can, and her doctors to see, and the King’s social life to look after – for in these days he is very lonely and reaches out for people — and people he must have, so now I am planning parties for him.”

Although it is said that Isabel had designs to marry Twain, she ended up marrying married Twain’s business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, in 1909. It was an unhappy marriage and ended in divorce in 1920.

There is no evidence that Lyon ever betrayed Twain, even though she was paid poorly and treated badly at the end of her service -- Twain even took back the “The Lobster Pot,” her  “darling house,” which he had given her as a Christmas gift in 1907. Still, Isabel remained devoted to him. Many years later, she would refer to the situation as, “we had a falling out.” A young actress friend, Joyce Aaron, who lived next to Isabel when Isabel was in her mid-nineties and living in Brooklyn, told this to me.

What really happened between Twain and Isabel? Was it Clara’s jealous prodding? Was Twain jealous that she married Ashcroft and not him? Did she really try to steal from Twain? Was Albert Bigelow Paine jealous of her control of Twain, or did she know too many of the family’s dirty secrets? We may never know for sure.

So why has this relationship been kept secret?

After Twain died, Clara Clemens and Albert Bigelow Paine removed virtually all record of Isabel Lyon’s existence. So as far as the public was concerned, Isabel Van Kleek Lyon never existed. 

Isabel died in 1958. She willed her diary and photos to the Mark Twain Papers collection at the University of California, Berkeley, with the condition that they not be open to the public until after Clara’s Death. So I guess you can say that after Clara died, Isabel was reborn.

We all owe a lot to this woman, Isabel Lyon. Because of her diligence in keeping a sequence of detailed journals and photos the last years of Mark Twain’s life can now be better known to all.

Isabel in front of the Lobster Pot  September 1908   photo courtesy of Elton Hall
Isabel on wheelbarrow by the patio in the back of the  Lobster Pot, September 1908    photo courtesy of Elton Hall
Isabel and her mother  in front of the Lobster Pot September 1908   photo courtesy of Elton Hall

Isabel Lyon and Ashcroft on The Lobster Pot Patio 1908

Isabel Lyon, Gabrilowich and Ashcroft at the front door of The Lobster Pot
"The Redding Mark Twain" 20 x 16 oil on linen collection of the artist


To meet the Artist and visit The Lobster Pot Studio, please click on the link below to see a delightful 4 minute film created by PBS Director/Producer James Nicoloro

To see more portraits please visit my website:

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