Val Kilmer's TwainMania Foundation Challenges Students to Ask “What Is a Real American?”

Tom Stratton
From left: Dominic Kalms, Val Kilmer and Bradley Koepenick

The actor, who hosted a fundraising party at the stunning Sky Lane mansion in Brentwood, L.A., on Sunday, explained that his fascination with Mark Twain began when he wrote a feature film script about the writer.

Val Kilmer played host at the stunning Sky Lane mansion in Brentwood, L.A., on Sunday evening to raise funds for his TwainMania Foundation. The charitable organization seeks to teach high school students across America critical thinking, media literacy skills and an appreciation for democracy by utilizing the wisdom and quotes of famed American writer Mark Twain.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Kilmer explained that his fascination with Twain began when he wrote a feature film script about the legendary writer which eventually evolved into a one-man show that he has performed all over the country.

“And that took off and I had offers to go to Broadway. It was received so well and that was perhaps involving some new ideas that I hadn’t seen in film. So that was about 20 years ago, that’s how long I’ve been working on it, in case you’re wondering where I’ve been,” he said laughing.

Kilmer sees Twain as a key figure who shaped how Americans for generations have thought about politics, the media and race.

“I completely believe his impact is tantamount to the impact of rock and roll. It's that big, because it no longer matters on the radio if Little Richard was black or white, you’re dancing to it. And rock and roll changed the face of America and changed the rest of the world. And I think Mark Twain's impact about race and greed is equal, in that kind of comparison.”

Hundreds of stylish guests turned out for the party, where they enjoyed cocktails and appetizers like prime rib on crostini, charcuterie and Asian chicken salad, while marveling at the home’s sweeping views from Downtown L.A. to the Pacific Ocean. Sky Lane’s architect Sanam De Loren said the mansion is meant to promote wellness with advanced air and water filtration systems, lights timed to the circadian rhythm as well as a garden with hundreds of organic fruit trees.

In addition to traveling to schools to show Cinema Twain, the filmed version of his one-man show, the TwainMania Foundation has developed a curriculum with award-winning educator Iain Lampert that is built around arts education, literacy and language arts standards, Get Lit poetry standards and political science.

Kilmer says that he wants to challenge students to ask themselves “What is a real American?”

He also believes that Twain is the perfect figure to teach these lessons because he has an appeal that stretches across the political spectrum.

“You can be the most liberal or conservative, but his style of loving America is like a secret weapon to use in schools because everybody loves him. Again, what's not to love about Mark Twain?”

In addition to collecting donations directly, there was an art gallery where guests could bid on artwork created by Kilmer, some of which featured Doc Holiday, his iconic character from Tombstone. A film of his one-man show played in the mansion’s screening room and TVs throughout the house played clips from dozens of Kilmer's famous film roles.

Kilmer believes America’s free press is under attack and he sees TwainMania as an opportunity to fight back against those attempting to undermine American democracy.

“My favorite quote about being an American is actually not from Twain, but from Martin Luther King, who said, ‘A man who does not have something for which he is willing to die is not fit to live.’ If you’re not willing to die for freedom, you don’t deserve to live in it…. He wasn’t talking about fighting, he was talking about putting your life on the line and we’ve just become lazy.

His new curriculum is currently being taught at a high school in Chatsworth, with additional commitments from schools all over Los Angeles to use it in the coming school year.