Twain 'diaries' recording
was techno marvel
by Roger McBain,
Evansville Courier & Press staff writer
When you work with stars, it's hard not to be dazzled.
Especially if you're going to put words in their mouths.
That was the challenge Evansville native Gary Jones faced when he helped produce Tony-winning Broadway stars Mandy Patinkin and Betty Buckley's audio recordings for "The Diaries of Adam and Eve: Translated by Mark Twain."
Jones, a musician and computer technician living in San Francisco, helped supervise recording and editing sessions for the recorded version of the book his friend, Don Roberts, edited and published in 1997.
Both will speak about producing the recording at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Saturday and Central Library on Sunday.
Jones sat in on New York recording sessions with Buckley in August 1998, and the next month with Patinkin.
Later, he helped edit their words, their delivery and their diction, using technology that allowed producers to record Patinkin and Buckley saying things neither of them had said.
"It was exciting, I'll have to admit," said Jones in a telephone interview.
"But I tried to stay away from the whole 'fame and star' idea, because it just gets in the way of things."
Roberts had a harder time putting celebrity aside, Jones thinks.
It was Roberts who proposed casting Patinkin as Adam and Buckley as Eve in this recording of Twain's imagined diary entries by the Bible's first couple.
And, as narrator, Roberts wanted Walter Cronkite, "the voice of God," said Jones.
"These are people Don idolizes. They were his dream cast."
When all three agreed, "Don was walking on the clouds," said Jones.
Part of his job, said Jones, was "trying to help keep Don grounded through the whole thing."
That happened in the studio with Buckley. The star of "Cats" and "Sunset Boulevard" seemed tentative in her reading, stopping frequently to ask questions.
"I had to prompt Don. I told him, 'I think she's really looking for a little more direction from you.'"
There was little need for direction with Patinkin, the Broadway star who played Dr. Geiger on television's "Chicago Hope."
The production team had to edit both Patinkin and Buckley, however, said Jones.
"When you record people, they may read too quickly," he noted, or they may miss a word.
Using computer technology, the production team extended pauses between Buckley's words and sentences to make her delivery seem more relaxed. And they put words in both Buckley's and Patinkin's mouths.
In one section, where she was supposed to say "flares," Buckley read "flames," said Jones.
Using a computer-editing program, the producers fabricated the proper word from two other words she'd read.
They digitally welded the initial sound from her reading of "flame" to the ending from "bear" to build "flair." Then they replaced the misspoken "flame" with the proper word.
They performed similar surgery to correct Patinkin's mispronunciation of the word "zoological," said Jones.
When they were done, the actors couldn't tell how their voices had been altered.
"It was amazing," said Jones. "It kind of makes you wary of believing anything you hear on tape."
Both actors were pleased with how their voices came out, added Jones. "Betty Buckley said it was a real work of the heart."
Cronkite's narration, which he recorded in a CBS studio in New York, didn't require editing. He rerecorded parts that needed to be changed.
It was the first audio-book recording Jones had ever worked on, he said.
The 47-year-old former Evansville man also helped produce the music for the audio book, composed and conducted by Lester Siegel.
The entire project stems from an injury, said Jones.
Roberts was working as an editor for a mail-order business when he broke his foot and started reading Twain's lesser-known writing.
He discovered Twain's diaries for Adam, written in 1892, and for Eve, written in 1904, after the death of Twain's wife, Lily.
Roberts ended up editing them together into an evolving love story told in alternating diary entries. And, at the end of the book, he included love letters between Twain and his wife, written when she was bedridden and he was banned by doctors from seeing her for fear he'd overexcite her.
The finished book is a wry, funny, moving tale that parallels Adam and Eve's romance with that of Twain and his wife.
"It's a very dear story, I think," said Jones.
Roberts created Fair Oaks Press, a small company he operated from his home, to publish the book, which came out in 1997. He created Fair Oaks Audio for the audio recording, released this month.
The company doesn't have the budget to amass a national advertising campaign, but the book has received strong notices on the Internet, said Jones.
"People are finding it. Don gets e-mail from out of the blue on this.
"I feel it's got to be the magic of Mark Twain's writing."