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By Ashleigh Easley | Wednesday, August 4, 2021
IVCBA, Live, Work, Play.; 3 Minute Read 'McAvoy Layne - Profile'

"Flattery is the most sincere form of flattery". This colloquialism takes new meaning when you meet McAvoy Layne, a well known Mark Twain impersonator. McAvoy is a 78 year old Incline resident who has lived a fascinating life both as himself and as the famous author with local ties.

McAvoy’s life took an unusual turn 33 years ago when he was snowed in on Tahoe’s west shore and began reading ‘The Complete Essays of Mark Twain.’ The Essays weren’t his first piece of Twain writing but they were perfectly timed and lit a fire. It took him ten years to complete the entire compilation, but nowhere near as long to alter course and bring Twain to reality in modern times.

An impersonator is an actor. Both need to truly immerse themselves in their character. They must wholeheartedly believe they are someone else in order for an audience to connect. It’s easy to see how lines between identities can blur. McAvoy admits the line between himself and Twain is often grey and he slips into Twain without realizing. Three decades in, with more than 4,000 performances, and one can see why those around him often ground him to the present. He has a self imposed rule that every other book must be a non Twain work. Recently, he has focused on writing by women and people of color. This choice is not just a sign of the times, but also one at least partially influenced by Twain himself. McAvoy acknowledges that Twain certainly wasn’t perfect and his writings don’t always age well. Contrarily, he also believes Twain was ahead of his time relative to his peers. Twain was an advocate of women’s equality and a reader of Frederick Douglass. No surprise, McAvoy is as well.

Professionally, McAvoy has made an impressive career as Twain. Personally, he credits Twain for making him a better person. Certainly his life as Twain has given him a more storied one. Together, McAvoy as Twain, has been on many adventures. They have performed at the famous Piper’s Opera House, visited the ‘Sandwich’ Islands and climbed inside Sputnik II in Russia. Additional travels included numerous trips to Europe through the State Department for educational purposes. Recently, he filmed ‘Ghost Adventures’, for the Travel Channel and has previously filmed for The Comstock Foundation on PBS.

Some local accolades include the former Mark Twain multicultural center. He, McAvoy, also performed on the Tahoe Queen and MS Dixie for 13 summers, two tours a day. Together, all these experiences account for his favorite memories as Twain. As for his favorite writing, ‘Roughing it’ takes the prize; although naturally, it’s hard to choose.

McAvoy’s most common gig as Twain has been school visits. These days McAvoy visits schools less frequently as he is nearing retirement. When he turns 80, he plans to turn to gardening and say goodbye to Twain. McAvoy stresses Twain’s cultural importance, he says, “Twain speaks with an immediacy that transcends the ages.” It is for this reason, and surely many others, that McAvoy plans on ensuring that ‘Twain’ lives on after him. Rob Alvey, is McAvoy’s Twain mentee and together they are ensuring that Twain will ‘live’ on.

Observing McAvoy in his own house, its impossible not to notice the ‘Mark Twain slept here’ sign hanging just behind him, as well as the naturalness of his painted white hair and the detail with which he thoughtlessly feeds the stellar jay, aptly named Huckleberry, as it chirps outside his window. It is easy to see why he often slips into Twain without noticing. McAvoy smiles sideways and speaks with subtle humor and there is another chirp at the window, presumingly Huckleberry back for more seeds and beer nuts, but no. It’s a different jay, Huckleberry’s girlfriend Emmeline, also purposefully named. In that moment, I was certain I had never seen a better example of life imitating art nor a more sincere form of flattery. Mark Twain does indeed live on and surely he is also flattered.

About the Author Ashleigh Easley
Digital Marketing Specialist for IVCBA