MARK TWAIN and MARY BAKER EDDY is an original screenplay by Val Kilmer. It’s a quirky, tender, tragicomic portrait of two contrasting lives, set against the backdrop of Gilded Age America.
By 1900, Mark Twain was a colorful international celebrity — the most famous American in the world. He was also a comic genius who delighted in skewering religious hypocrisy with his irreverent humor.
Eddy was nearly as famous and hugely controversial. Some said she was a spiritual genius. Her unconventional voice rankled male-dominated society and continues to spark debate a century later.
In public, Twain satirized Eddy without mercy, using language that’s still wickedly funny. In private, he was consumed with questions about mind and body, life and death, illusion and reality, which he suspected only she could answer.
Lest this sound too heavy — it’s not.
With the exception of one tragic scene, the mood is playful, at times even giddy and surreal. Spiritual questions that resonate with contemporary audiences are touched on, not talked to death. Institutional religion gets a stake through the heart at the hands of Twain, the satiric master. Yet the screenplay as a whole rises above judgment of any sort.
Ultimately, the audience finds itself face to face with two extraordinary individuals. Supposed antagonists, they had a genuine love for one another. And though both have been dead for a century, their voices still ring bright and true.
In 1866, Mary Baker Eddy was destitute — widowed by one husband, abandoned by another, crippled in an accident, and hovering near death. Her sudden recovery marked not only her rebirth, but the emergence of a new religious movement in America.
By curing hundreds of hopeless cases, Eddy revolutionized the concept of faith in its relationship to mind and body. She was a controversial original whose novel definition of God made it into Webster’s dictionary, and who taught her healing techniques to thousands despite massive opposition.
Some of the most powerful men of her day — Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and Mark Twain — all published outrageous claims about her. They said she was insane, a fraud, a plagiarist, a charlatan, immoral, a thief, and even dead.
Having invented yellow journalism, Pulitzer and Hearst could take anyone out. Eddy was the first woman to suffer the full impact of this practice. Pulitzer even backed a lawsuit that attempted to prove Eddy was insane and/or incompetent. Had the lawsuit succeeded, her popular church could have been dismantled, her publishing company closed, and her substantial assets seized.
As a result of this onslaught, at age 88, Eddy founded The Christian Science Monitor. She sought to pioneer a new form of journalism that would “injure no man, but...bless all mankind.” Today, the Monitor is widely regarded as one of the world’s great newspapers and has, ironically, received seven Pulitzer Prizes.
Mark Twain once said of himself. “I’m not AN American; I’m THE American!”
Considered the pioneer of the modern American novel, Twain became obsessed with Eddy in the last decade of his life. In 1907, he published a whole book attempting to discredit her. It’s considered his worst effort, not even mentioned by some biographers.
Despite this, Twain had a fierce admiration for Eddy, both as a writer and as a spiritual thinker. He shared her critique of the religious orthodoxy of the day, and, despite himself, was attracted to her radical faith like a moth to a flame.
Eddy and Twain both died one hundred years ago, in 1910.
Despite Twain’s occasional articles and public comments about her, Eddy isn't thinking about him at all. To his chagrin, she’s completely absorbed in charting “the underlying reality of things.”
But when America's man in white announces that he’s written a book about Eddy, the action begins. Twain’s comments make national headlines. But Eddy’s long-time assistant, Calvin Frye, shields her from the news by snipping her newspapers into swiss cheese.
Eccentric and exasperating, Frye does his loyal best each day to protect Eddy from the intrusions of the world so that she can work. But after nearly 30 years of service without a day off, Frye is starting to, well, fry, and Eddy is losing valuable time to respond to Twain.
Eddy has long since given up public life, but in response to so many inaccurate reports about her well being, she invites friends to visit her home. Newspapaers records that Eddy found herself greeting 12,000 people from the balcony of her country home. In our tale the visitors include Mark Twain.
Though Twain and Eddy never met in real life, they no doubt imagined many encounters. This screenplay takes flight through their imagination — playing still further on Twain’s questions about mind and body, life and death, illusion and reality.
Ultimately, MARK TWAIN and MARY BAKER EDDY is a classic love story in the spirit of DRIVING MISS DAISY. It touches on some of the most fundamental questions a person can ask, and at the same time captures the essence of two great American lives.