Thursday, November 25, 2010

Olive Logan

Olive Logan (Wikipedia Commons)
If you think that the media creature of unearned distinction (such as Britney, Paris, Snooki or any of the Palins) is a late 20th century phenomenon, consider one Olive Logan, a writer, actress and lecturer of the 1870s whose manufactured celebrity bemused Mark Twain.

Logan "did write and publish little things in newspapers and obscure periodicals," Twain wrote in his Autobiography (newly edited and reissued by the University of California Press), "but there was no talent in them, and nothing resembling it."

Rather, her husband, a third-rate journalist, salted paragraphs about her throughout the newspapers of the Northeast.

"It is said that Olive Logan has taken a cottage at Nahant, and will spend the summer there."

And: "Olive Logan has set her face decidedly against the adoption of the short skirt for afternoon wear."

Moreover: "Olive Logan has so far recovered from her alarming illness that if she continues to improve her physicians will cease from issuing bulletins tomorrow."

The result, Twain wrote, was that the "simple public" talked about her all the time, but had no idea who she actually "was or what she had done -- if anything."

"Well, then, how does she come to be celebrated?" a credulous listener asked.

"Oh," another said. "it's about something, I don't know what. I never inquired, but I supposed everybody knew."

"On the strength of this oddly created notoriety Olive Logan went on the platform, and for at least two seasons the United States flocked to the lecture halls to look at her," Twain marveled. "She was merely a name and some rich and costly clothes, and neither of these properties had any lasting quality, though for a while they were able to command a fee of $100 a night. She dropped out of the memories of men a quarter of a century ago."

Not entirely. She lives on in a brief and remarkably colorless Wikipedia entry, whose facts seem to be taken from an ancient and forgotten encyclopedia as well as Twain's memory.

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