Who is the greatest boozer of all time?
We’ve posed that question before. In 2002 we resurrected 16 of history’s hardest-pounding hoochers and squared them off in a ferocious, tournament-style, single-elimination, winner-walks-out-on-the-tab bottle-royale.
Legendary lushes like Winston Churchill and Babe Ruth crashed their vast appetites for booze into the cast-iron livers of monster inebriates Ernest Hemingway and W.C. Fields, and when the bar tabs cleared, a resurgent Jackie Gleason seized the crown from a stunned Charles Bukowski.
Controversy ensued: a great indignant yawp went up from our readers, demanding to know why so many of history’s finest boozers were left out of the contest, a roster that includes renowned soaks Andre the Giant, Oliver Reed, Jack Kerouac and Blackbeard the Pirate.
The exquisitely logical answer that there simply wasn’t enough room for the whole bloody lot of them was met with more yawps, so here we begin again with 16 fresh contenders, each eager to seize the crown of top toper. Then, once the winner emerges triumphant, we’ll pit him or her in a king-hell showdown with the original Clash champion, the aforementioned Jackie Gleason.
The Exhaustive Selection Process Explained
First off, living drinkers were excluded because their story is not fully told; for all we know they’ll join the Anti-Saloon League and start bad-mouthing sweet mother booze.
Backsliders such as Jack London, who did turn against the booze in his latter years, were also disqualified because winners never quit and quitters never win.
Lesser-known hard-pounders were also excused because everyone has an uncle who should be in the fight and we only have room for 16 contenders and we’d have to take you and your aunt’s word for it and we personally don’t trust either of you.
Personality was a deciding factor, because who wants to watch two stoic behemoths trade pitchers of Miller Lite for 12 hours?
Finally, since this is the second of the series, if you don’t see your personal drinking hero in the fight, odds are he or she participated in the first Clash.
One final note: this is a drinking contest, and like any contest, there are psychological elements involved. Having a superior capacity for alcohol will not always win the day.
So place your bets, pour yourself a strong one, and let’s get ready to stumble!
Tale of the Tab
As a young man, Twain was known, in-between draft beers and witticisms, to effortlessly ease down a bottle of frontier whiskey a day. As steady, dependable, and jolting in his drinking as a Model T cruising across a rock-strewn plain, Twain brings an unparalleled caustic wit that has perplexed, infuriated, and driven to delirious ruin many a barroom rival.
In the history of the Clash, there hasn’t been a contender more lavishly prepared than this legendary English actor. His adult life was a riotous and never-ending party, packed tight with carousing and drinking contests. Physically powerful, entirely unpredictable, and gifted with a razor-sharp intellect, Reed has to be considered one of the favorites to make it to the finals.
Howard Cosell: I expected Mr. Twain to appear as a younger man, specifically the beer-and-whiskey guzzling wildcat who prowled the boomtown saloons of 19th-century Nevada. Instead, he’s chosen the far mellower bourbon and gin drinker of his latter years.
Laurence Olivier: It’s said he was tamed by his wife, Olivia.
Mark Twain: Tamed, you say!
LO: It’s well known.
MT: Well, do you know what happens when a tame wildcat is returned to the wilds?
LO: He gets eaten by the other animals?
MT: No! He gets untamed lickedy-split. And if this tumbledown saloon isn’t the wilds, then I don’t know what is.
LO: Mr. Reed, on the other hand, never slowed down. “I don’t live in the world of sobriety,” he once said, and he wasn’t kidding. He trained constantly, coercing friends and strangers alike into any number of drinking and arm wrestling contests, and went largely undefeated right up until his final contest, which claimed his life.
HC: One has to admire his commitment to the sport. It’s almost as if he knew the Clash was waiting at the end of it all.
LO: One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a whipcrack contest between two of modern history’s most loquacious wits: the honey-tongued actor versus the celebrated humorist.
HC: It should be noted that a large blue-white cloud of smoke has settled around the table. Twain chain-smokes large, fragrant cigars.
LO: Who needs a smoke machine to add a dramatic touch when we have Mr. Twain? Good Lord! And out of the smoke and into his chair comes Oliver Reed, wearing nothing more than an animal skin and a ghastly grin.
HC: It looks like he skipped right ahead to what he likes to call his “brute mode.” He must have been up all night drinking.
LO: He also appears to have rubbed himself shiny with rancid animal fat.
HC: The bettors are tapping wildly at their phones, adjusting their bets. A quick glance at the odds board shows . . . Reed has dropped from a 25-to-1 sure thing to a mere 4-to-1 favorite.
LO: Which is still pretty good. You know who else looks alarmed? Mark Twain.
MT: Am I to wrestle Primordial Man today? Is it not only my spotless reputation as a whiskeyman but civilization itself I’ll be defending?
LO: Will Oliver grunt a response?
MT: I’m not sure if I’m the right man to defend civilization, acquainted as I am with the many vices aligned against it.
LO: You’ll do fine. I mean, at least you’re wearing pants. Just out of curiosity, why are you using Twain instead of Clemens?
MT: It served not only as my pen name but also as my nom de buvant.
LO: So I heard. According to Virginia City folklore, the alias was well used before it appeared in print.
MT: Is that so?
LO: Legend says it was derived from your habit of staggering into the Old Corner Saloon and telling the barkeep to “Mark Twain!” Which was a phrase Mississippi river boatmen sang out to describe water two fathoms deep.
MT: In Virginia City, however, the phrase meant to bring me two blasts of whisky and make two chalk marks against my account on the back wall of the saloon.
LO: So the story is true?
MT: It leans toward truth. They are acquainted.
HC: Oliver is paying rapt attention to Twain, fixing him with that unsettling smile.
LO: I thought Jim Morrison’s smile was disturbing but this—this exists on an entirely different level.
HC: A lot in that smile.
MT: A lot of horror.
Twain wins the coin toss.
Twain orders double Old Crows, neat
MT: Let’s see if we can tame this beast with potent elixirs.
HC: Or at least loosen up his tongue.
LO: What’s that sound Reed’s making?
HC: Some sort of a low animal growl, contradicted by that bizarre frozen smile.
LO: Twain sips his whiskey, settles back comfortably, and returns Reed’s stare.
MT: Or is this Future Man? I always suspected we’d peak and spiral back down to our basest form.
HC: No reply. Except for the growling, which seems to be getting louder.
LO: Mr. Twain, you probably shouldn’t make eye contact with him.
MT: I can’t help it.
LO: Turn away!
MT: I can’t! I am speechless and paralyzed with raw fear.
HC: Your drinking arm seems to be immune to the paralysis.
MT: Well, it’s always had a mind of its own. I used to tell my Livy, “Don’t yell at me, yell at my drinking arm. There’s the scoundrel.”
HC: Reed remains perfectly still.
MT: I understand you are an actor, sir. Every actor I’ve known could talk down the moon. A verbal spigot you could not turn off. Have actors changed since my time?
LO: He’s just doing a role. A bit of acting. You know, the “noble savage.”
MT: I wonder if the savage—I can’t detect the noble—likes a drink?
HC: Reed picks up his whiskey, does a small salute with the glass, and downs it in one.
MT: So that’s the way it is!
LO: Twain seems fussed.
HC: If he was expecting to sip whiskey and exchange witticisms all night, he’s in for a rough ride.
MT: Wildcat it is then. Wildcat!
HC:: And, on the eight count, he finishes it off.
LO: Still a little tame, I’d say.
Reed orders pints of Bass Ale
HC: Reed’s cornerman puts in the order. Reed has yet to speak.
LO: Enjoy the silence. When he starts talking you’ll sorely miss this golden and innocent time.
HC: I don’t recognize Reed’s cornerman.
LO: I expected one of his drinking buddies, perhaps even fellow contender Keith Moon, but this fellow looks like a waiter. He sits on a rather large suitcase and there’s a sudsy bucket of water between his feet. I sense a prank in the making.
HC: Both men are master pranksters. An emergency meeting of the Clash Rules Committee was called two hours before the contest to iron out what would be allowed, prank-wise.
LO: What was decided?
HC: Nothing. As far as I can see they’re still drinking at the bar, arguing.
LO: Reed lunges to his feet, fists clenched, his muscular arms tensed! He leans back his head and let’s loose a . . . a . . .
HC: A silent howl, I guess you’d call it.
LO: He seizes his pint, holds it aloft as if making an offering to the gods, then luxuriously tips it down in about two seconds.
HC: Like it was poured down a wide drain. The ref starts counting.
LO: Twain, not looking too rattled, picks up his pint and drinks it in one, then two draughts, finishing on the eight-count.
LO: So, very early in the match, after his first serve, Reed storms the net and towers there, howling obscenely, if silently, while Twain paces the baseline, not sure if he should lob over his opponent or serve one right into his teeth.
HC: You got all that out of that?
LO: You didn’t?
Twain orders triple Old Crows, neat
HC: Reed remains standing, silent and still as a stone.
LO: More like an animal ready to pounce.
HC: I think I understand what he’s doing. Twain was an expert at mentally and emotionally dissecting fellow drinkers with conversation. If Reed doesn’t engage, Twain can’t cut into him.
LO: In his acting, Reed mastered the power of stillness and silence to deliver powerful scenes. He seems to be taking that to an entirely new level.
HC: But is it working? Has he gone too far? When does the powerful scene become a farce?
LO: Coincidentally, Twain used the same technique during his speaking tours. After walking out on stage he would stand there silent, for up to ten minutes, the tension building until the crowd started laughing hysterically.
MT: Worked every time, except for twice. You know, I drank with plenty of these no-talk types out west and on the Mississippi. No talk and all action. And the action could usually be described as rolling under the table.
LO: Twain has a sip of his triple but keeps his hand on the glass, looking pointedly at Reed.
HC: Reed gives a little nod, reaches down and . . . sinks the triple.
LO: Twain must have thought the extra bourbon would deter him, or at least slow him down.
HC: Twain follows on the six-count. I sense he doesn’t like shooting whiskey.
MT: I knew certain riverboat gamblers who drank like that. They were usually penniless before we got to full steam.
LO: If Reed were speaking, he’d probably say something like, “I don’t gamble. I win.”
MT: Is that what you’re going to do? Start puppeteering this mule?
HC: Reed was known to be very shy when sober. Maybe he just needs a few more drinks to loosen him up.
LO: Personally, I quite like his silence.
HC: Reed and his cornerman are arguing about something.
LO: Well, they’re pantomiming an argument. Neither is actually saying anything.
MT: Look out!
LO: Reed’s cornerman just seized the bucket of soapy water and emptied it over Reed’s head!
MT: This Second Great Flood has doused my cigar!
LO: He’s not done! Reed’s cornerman has drawn a straight razor!
MT: Shoot the scoundrel! Who’s got a pistol?
HC: Reed sits down calmly, as if he wants his throat cut.
LO: And now he’s attacking Reed’s face with shaving cream.
HC: Well. Ollie’s getting a shave.
LO: Preceded by a bath.
Reed orders pints of Bass Ale
HC: Now his cornerman is cutting Reed’s hair.
LO: Let’s call him Jeeves.
MT: I seem to be having a pronounced effect on this Reed fellow. He’s getting more civilized by the second. Now you’ve decided to rejoin decent society, may I offer you a cigar, young man?
HC: Reed nods.
MT: I must warn you, these are Macey Lee’s Boomtown Cheroots. Rum-cured. Quite rough. Ever had one?
HC: Reed shakes his head in the negative.
MT: Well, they’re dangerous and I probably shouldn’t pass them out. It might devolve you again. Do you really want one?
HC: Reed nods.
MT: Well, here you go.
LO: Reed waits for a light but Twain doesn’t move.
MT: You’re going to have to light that yourself. Your barber soaked my matches.
LO: Quick as a flash, Jeeves’ lighter is sparked and aflame.
HC: It wouldn’t be—
LO: You don’t think—
HC: With a violent boom, a veritable clap of thunder, the cigar explodes in Reed’s face!
LO: Here’s what’s strange. Reed didn’t so much as flinch when it went off.
HC: His wet hair has been blown straight into the air, creating a comical effect. There’s tobacco and ash on his face, his eyelashes look singed, his ears must be ringing, but his smile—if anything it’s even wider and weirder than before.
LO: It’s the oldest prank in the book. I think he anticipated it. Maybe even enjoyed it on some level. Reed loves being the center of attention, no matter what damage he must dish out or take.
HC: He’s good at getting and holding it. Since his arrival, and without saying a word, he’s held the room’s attention like a stick of dynamite with a hissing fuse.
LO: Jeeves cleans and resets Reed’s face and hair and it’s as if nothing has happened. Without taking his eyes off Twain, Reed reaches out, picks up his glass, and slakes it straight down.
HC: Since Twain has been steadily sipping his, it’s no problem for him to finish on the three-count.
Twain orders double Old Crows, neat
HC: To start the round, Reed has shrugged off his animal skin and now stands at the table completely naked.
LO: Is there no rule against this?
MT: Avert your eyes, ladies!
LO: Jeeves produces a pair of black trousers from the suitcase and passes them to Reed, who very, very slowly begins to put them on. He gets one leg in theeeeeeeen the other—
HC: Twain just sank his double.
LO: He sits back and chuckles as Reed seizes his triple Crow and nearly trips over the pants around his ankles! Jeeves barely caught him. If he spilled that drink it would be over.
HC: Steadying himself against Jeeves, Reed gets it down on the nine-count! That was incredibly close!
MT: I literally caught him with his pants down. This is becoming a Vaudville act.
Reed orders triple tall Captain Morgan Jamaica Rum and Cokes
HC: Reed is now fully dressed and looking dapper in a black suit with navy tie. He taps out a cigarette from a gold case, Jeeves gives it a light and Reed leans back.
LO: This is Reed’s favorite cocktail.
Oliver Reed: Incorrect.
LO: Oh? What is then?
OR: My favorite cocktail is alcohol and adrenaline.
LO: Try ordering one.
HC: We’re burying the lede. The Sphinx has spoken.
LO: Twain looks relieved. His opponent has finally picked up his rhetorical racket.
OR: Scroll and Key.
OR: Don’t you have to leave the room?
LO: You’re thinking of Skull and Bones.
OR: Worth a try. One written psalm is fortune’s book.
HC: A Sphinxian riddle. Twain’s mulling it over.
OR: Let us drink up, then. Let us all, this entire room, drink up. And you two, you professional word farters: have a drink, it’ll improve your outlook and your commentary.
HC: Word farters?
LO: Reed was always bullying people into drinking: friends, fresh acquaintances, strangers, professional commentators.
OR: Who wants to journey up the river into that joyous madness alone? Or worse, with sober witnesses staring at you with their judging eyes and false smiles?
HC: And with that, Reed sluices down his rum and Coke. Twain catches up on the seven-count.
MT: It’s madness you want? I’ll show you madness.
Twain orders Wake Up Jakes
HC: This is a first for the Clash: a clandestine cocktail.
LO: Twain insists the ingredients not be revealed, though our bartender assured us there is nothing illegal or poison about it. We do know this much: it’s a large, iceless, darkly sparkling drink. Twain hoists up his glass.
MT: If a man is low-spirited; if his appetite fails him; if he does not sleep well at night; if he is costive; if he is bilious; or in love; or in any other kind of trouble; or if he doubts the fidelity of his friends or the efficacy of his religion, he drinks the Wake Up Jake.
OR: And it fixes him up?
MT: No. But it makes him forget all those predicaments for as long as the taste lingers on his tongue and haunts his belly.
OR: I might like it.
MT: And you might be the mayor of Cincinnati one day.
HC: They clink glasses and have a taste.
LO: Oliver Reed does not like it.
HC: Neither does Mark Twain. My God, look at their expressions. They should call this drink The Suicide Pact.
OR: No, I like it. I love it.
LO: What’s wrong with your face then? Are you having a stroke?
OR: Yes. Call an ambulance.
LO: I wonder what’s in it?
MT: (gasping) Hellfire. Misery. Cruelty. And, most of all, murder.
Reed orders 2-liter steins of Stella Artois
HC: If nothing else, the Wake Up Jakes slowed down the action. It took them 25 minutes to choke them down.
LO: Do they seem more awake?
HC: They seem shaken. Like they both just barely survived a horrific near-fatal accident.
OR: Accident? This madman just tried to poison me.
HC: It was a one-shot gamble on Twain’s part. I don’t think either will order it again.
OR: I might.
MT: Go ahead. I’ll watch you drink it.
HC: These large lagers are familiar territory for Reed. He once drank 104 pints in 40 hours.
MT: Is this true?
OR: Forty-eight hours. No need for exaggeration.
MT: That sounds like a tale grown a bit tall.
OR: You doubt my word?
MT: I doubt that after 20 pints you can keep count.
OR: Twenty is a mere trifle. I—
LO: No, he’s saying after 20 you run out of fingers and toes.
HC: Now Oliver seems upset. He reaches for his stein and Twain immediately seizes his own and starts chipping away at the mountain of beer.
LO: He can’t chug like Reed so he’s doing a series of preemptive strikes. He takes a draught, breathes, takes a draught, breathes.
HC: It’s working. He’s already got one of the two liters inside him.
LO: And he just noticed that Reed hasn’t touched his drink.
MT: Aren’t you coming along on this joyous journey in madness?
OR: What’s the hurry?
MT: You’re a tricky one. Here’s a trick for you.
HC: And with that, Twain uses his gulping system to empty his stein.
LO: The ref is counting. Reed doesn’t move.
HC: It’s a bad time to do his stillness thing.
HC: In one fluid, almost theatrical motion, Reed stands, sweeping up the stein with one hand, and begins chugging, his eyes never leaving Twain’s.
LO: Eight! Nine!
HC: He finishes it on the nine and a half. That was close.
LO: Twain pats his heart.
MT: I have to say, that was impressive. Like a circus trick.
HC: And that’s the second time Twain has almost tricked Reed right out of the contest.
Twain orders single Old Crows on the rocks
OR: I say, I’ve never seen such a small whiskey. They just washed the ice a bit.
HC: Forget everything I said earlier. Reed wasn’t being shy. He’s consciously doing a reversal of his usual pattern. Instead of going from a sober gentleman to a drunken brute, he’s somehow gone from a drunken brute to a sober gentleman. It’s a stunt.
LO: I would say a tipsy gentleman, but maybe he isn’t done transforming.
MT: I tell you, I am having a powerful and positive effect on the man. I’ve turned him right round. He may soon be so civilized you wouldn’t be embarrassed to walk down the street with him.
OR: Thank you for having so much faith in me. I won’t let you down.
LO: Right. Now that we’ve gotten all the sudden baths, shaves, exploding cigars, reversals of identity, facetious wordplay, and assorted other trivialities out of the way, let’s get back to business. So, why did Twain just order a single? With ice? Is it a tactical retreat?
HC: Let’s ask him.
LO: No, let’s don’t ask him. Giving the contestants microphones was a massive mistake. I mean, would you mic-up boxers in the ring or players on the field?
MT: Isn’t it best to get the unadulterated truth instead of speculating? Right from the mule’s mouth? No offense, Oliver.
OR: None taken.
LO: It’s not the truth! It’ll be a lie, it’ll be war propaganda. The first casualty of war is the truth and this is most definitely a war. As I often say, let the commentators commentate and the drinkers drink.
MT: You’d have us drink in silence? That sounds like a particularly nasty kind of Hell.
LO: You should let your drinking do the talking.
MT: And we’ll let your talking do the drinking, and the dressed-up neanderthal and I can go play billiards until you two decide who won.
HC: He’s got you there.
LO: The devil he does. Here’s some speculation: Twain ordered a single because he thinks Reed is going to shoot the bloody thing and Twain doesn’t want to guzzle doubles or triples. It’s his way of slowing down the match. That’s some good, honest commentary.
MT: Nonsense. Poppycock, all of it.
LO: Of course you’d say that.
MT: I did it because I like to sip my whiskey. And I can sip a single in one sip.
LO: Fine logic. Fine, fine, fine.
HC: And Reed lays back his single.
OR: It was just whiskey-flavored ice!
LO: And Twain, looking pointedly at you, Larry, sips his down on the three-count.
Reed orders quadruple Powers Whiskeys on the rocks
OR: The ice should always be in the minority.
LO: Twain better get sipping.
HC: He’s doing just that. He’s taking a sip every three seconds or so.
LO: He looks deranged.
OR: You’ll have to sip faster than that, you old codger.
HC: And Reed slowly, languorously drains the quadruple.
LO: Look at Twain! A sip a second. He looks totally bonkers.
HC: Yet he finishes on the seven-count. He’s figured out how to beat the system.
MT: I’ll sip my way through Hell if I have to.
OR: Sipping My Way Through Hell by Mark Twain. I like it.
Twain orders Mark Twain Cocktails
HC: It’s really a thing. Basically a Scotch sour with bitters. Or a Scotch Old Fashioned with swapped garnish. Except Twain documented the recipe in a letter in 1874, years before the Old Fashioned earned its name.
LO: But you know how it is—famous names tend to attach themselves to cocktails more readily than, say, the names of anonymous barmen.
MT: One of the great tragedies of our age. Do you like it?
OR: I do.
MT: Good, because that’s all I’m ordering from here on out. Later, when you’re riding the rails or living under a bridge, you can say, “It was that handsome and dastardly Mark Twain and his dreaded cocktail that laid me so low.”
OR: It’s quite a compliment to have a cocktail named for you.
MT: I have been complimented many times and it always embarrasses me. I always feel they haven’t said enough.
LO: Reed yawns extravagantly.
HC: The raconteur reacted as if he’d been slapped in the face.
MT: You may have improved your odor and clothes, but I am having a harder time with your soul.
Reed orders Oliver Reed Cocktails
LO: It’s a triple rum and cola, just like before.
OR: No, it’s an Oliver Reed. I added a cherry and an eagle feather. It is therefore an Oliver Reed Cocktail.
LO: Bravo. We’ve reached the point in the Clash where every drink is an inside joke. No more of this. I’ll not call these cocktails by any name but the proper one.
HC: I wonder where the bartender found eagle feathers.
MT: They’re pigeon feathers, which sums up my opponent quite well.
OR: You’re saying I’m a pigeon and not an eagle?
MT: I’m saying you’re more the sort to befoul a statue than claw a fish from a river.
LO: Reed was indeed in a lot of horrid movies.
OR: (shrugging) If the money is right, who cares about the script?
OR: Yes, really. All you preening actors pretend acting is some sort of lofty, noble, and sacred thing. It’s not. It’s just a job for which we get paid. A man building a house for someone to live in is a million times nobler than some prat lying to a camera.
HC: Now we know why Reed preferred to drink in working-class pubs.
OR: It’s plain. (turning to Twain) And why are you here? Didn’t you have some folksy rule about not getting drunk?
MT: I have no rule about drinking. When others drink I like to help.
OR: You’re helping me drink?
MT: You have no idea how much. Why, without my sterling example I expect you’d be sucking your whiskey out of rags and sponges.
HC: With a sense of finality, Twain picks up his cocktail.
LO: Moving quickly, Reed mirrors his action. Twain sips, Reed sips.
MT: Are we playing a children’s game?
HC: I have to hand it to Twain. He’s undoubtedly the oldest incarnation fielded in the Clash and he’s hanging in there with Oliver Reed.
MT: That sounds like a eulogy to me. Pleasant, but a eulogy nevertheless.
LO: Well, it’s Oliver Reed.
Twain orders Mark Twain Cocktails
MT: Now that you’ve found your tongue, I can’t tell if you’re a brute or just a villain.
OR: I’m not a villain, I’ve never hurt anyone. I’m just a tawdry character who explodes now and again.
LO: Twain chuckles and Reed pretends to not know why.
MT: I’ve always found my better friends among the disreputable. Raise your Mark Twain Cocktail with me. Here’s to Heaven for climate and Hell for society.
OR: Don’t you ever get tired of being so droll all the time?
MT: You don’t like drollness? They pay top dollar for it in Baltimore.
LO: Because he’s dyslexic and didn’t perform well in academia, Reed’s always had a complex around intellectuals, even homespun versions such as Mr. Twain. As often as not he’d counter intellectual airs with crude behavior and shouting.
HC: Reed’s voice is getting a little thick. A little syrupy around the edges. Is there going to be a third act? Brute to gentleman and back to brute?
MT: Stick with me, Oliver. I won’t let them put that bearskin back on you.
LO: It was well played, a spectacular performance, but here, just short of the very summit, he appears to have lost his grip and is sliding back down into brutedom.
HC: You really didn’t think he was going to turn totally sober, did you? After how much he’s drunk? It’s a performance, not necromancy.
LO: And to your point, Reed just fell out of his chair.
MT: Stay down there, kid. I did some of my best work lying in bed.
OR: So did I.
HC: You lobbed that one right into his racket.
LO: Reed’s playing around. It’s one of his stunts.
HC: I’m not so sure. He often drank before showing up on set, so I’d say there’s a very good chance he drank before he joined us.
OR: (regaining his seat) An exceptionally good chance.
LO: I’m starting to believe it.
OR: Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.
MT: That seems familiar.
OR: It was in your unpublished notes.
MT: How are you acquainted with my unpublished notes?
OR: They published them.
HC: Reed leans in over the table.
OR: They published everything. And now, since I’ve already accomplished the former, we shall embark upon the latter.
MT: We? Is there a mouse in your pocket?
HC: Reed lurches to his feet, enraged!
OR: There is a mouse . . . at my table!
Reed orders Wake Up Jakes
HC: Good thing the bartender remembered the recipe because I don’t Twain would have surrendered it.
MT: That is a despicable exaggeration. I was about to order one myself.
LO: You know, I was thinking it would be a badly wounded Twain who would pull the pin on this grenade in a final desperate attempt to take down Reed.
HC: Instead it’s Reed.
OR: I told you–I like the cocktail.
HC: Then why aren’t you drinking it?
OR: I’m building up the drama.
MT: Yes, I can see you are slavering at the jaw for that elixir.
LO: I honestly can’t tell which one the Wake Up Jake is going to slay. They both seem wounded. Could be both.
HC: Reed grasps hold of his drink and stands.
OR: Let’s drink it together. Come on, old man.
MT: All right. Let’s walk into Hell arm-in-arm.
LO: Twain stands, somewhat unsteadily, and picks up his Jake.
MT: We can dispense with the kindness of a toast. It’s just a lot of charitable lying anyway.
HC: They touch glasses and here we go.
LO: Reed has a mighty go at his, then relents, his eyes maddened.
MT: Twain was trying to do his sipping thing, but after the second he just stopped. He leans against the table for support. He seems stricken.
OR: I can do it!
LO: And Reed takes another wild stab at it, and he may be one-third done.
HC: Well, well. Twain’s cornerman has finally shown up. Or should I say, cornerwoman.
LO: Good grief. It’s his wife, Olivia.
MT: Livy? Is that you?
Olivia Twain: What on Earth are you doing in this place, Samuel Clemens?
MT: I’m wildcat, Livy. A rip-roaring wildcat.
OT: You’re an old fool. What will your public think?
MT: That I’m a wildcat.
OT: Let’s go, Samuel, right now.
MT: Nope. I’m staying right here with my friends.
HC: And with that, Twain loses his grip on the table and comes crashing down at Olivia’s feet. He paws pathetically at her legs.
MT: Livy. Livy. The brutes Jaked me, Livy.
LO: Reed just finished his drink as if it were lemonade! And that awful, diabolical Cheshire grin is back.
HC: The ref has begun counting.
OR: May I be of assistance to the lady?
LO: Oh my God. Somebody shoot Reed with a tranquilizer dart. Or at least throw a net on him.
OT: Yes, yes, you’re a wildcat.
HC: The ref has counted Twain out. Not that he was going to be getting back up anyway. Oliver Reed moves on to the next round!
Post Fight Interviews
Oliver Reed: The whole brute thing was a ruse. I had a few pints before, but otherwise I was sober as a judge. You would think that Laurence, with those three golden statues on his mantle, would recognize a bit of acting.
Mark Twain: I would have gone in young, but I heard my opponent was a thespian. In my day, they were pussy-willows. They sipped champagne, wore perfume, and took three baths a day. I had no idea the modern variety included the sort of stupendous degenerate you’d normally find gnawing bones under a bridge.
—Frank Kelly Rich