Mark Dawidziak is the author or editor of 25 books, including three acclaimed studies of landmark television series: The Columbo Phile, The Night Stalker Companion and Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone. He also is an internationally recognized Mark Twain scholar, and five of his books are about the iconic American writer. His most recent book, A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe, was published by St. Martin’s Press in February 2023.
Dawidziak was born in Huntington, New York, on September 7, 1956. He is a graduate of Harborfields High School, class of 1974.
A journalism graduate of George Washington University, Dawidziak worked as a theater, film and television critic for such newspapers as the Akron Beacon Journal and Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer. He started his 43-year journalism career in 1977 in the Washington, D.C., bureaus of Knight-Ridder Newspapers and the Associated Press. In 1983, after stints as the arts and entertainment editor at the Bristol Herald-Courier in Bristol, Virginia, and the Kingsport Times-Times in Kingsport, Tennessee, he moved to the Akron Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, as that newspaper’s TV critic (later becoming its film critic and critic-at-large). He joined the The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1999, beginning a 21-year run as that newspaper’s television critic. A member of the Television Critics Association’s board of directors for five years, he won five Cleveland Press Club awards for entertainment writing, as well as a Society of Professional Journalists award for coverage of minority issues. In 2015, he was inducted into the Press Club of Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame.
Dawidziak has written two non-fiction books about beloved TV characters: The Columbo Phile: A Casebook (The Mysterious Press, 1989; reprinted by Commonwealth Books in 2019), a history of Peter Falk’s Lt. Columbo, and The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute (Pomegranate Press, 1997), a history of the Carl Kolchak character played by Darren McGavin in two TV movies and the 1974-75 ABC series. His 2003 book, Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (Applause Books), details the 1960 Playhouse 90 production on CBS. Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone, his lighthearted tribute to Rod Serling’s classic anthology series, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017. He is a member of the board of directors for the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.
Mark Twain Studies
No less an authority than Ken Burns has said, “Nobody gets Mark Twain the way Mark Dawidziak does.” In addition to Horton Foote’s The Shape of the River: The Lost Teleplay About Mark Twain (Applause Books, 2003), he assembled Mark Twain’s thoughts on writing and the writing process for Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing (St. Martin’s Press, 1996). His three other Twain-centric books are Mark Twain in Ohio (Rod Serling Books, 2015), Mark Twain’s Guide Diet, Exercise, Beauty, Fashion, Investment, Romance, Health and Happiness (Prospect Park Books, 2015), and Mark Twain for Cat Lovers (Lyons Press, 2016). He also teamed with noted Twain scholar R. Kent Rasmussen for the chapter Mark Twain on the Screen published in A Companion to Mark Twain (Blackwell Publishing, 2005, edited by Peter Messent and Louis J. Budd) and contributed the Mark Twain and the Movies chapter to the anthology Mark Twain and Youth: Studies in His Life and Writings (Bloomsbury, 2016, edited by Kevin Mac Donnell and R. Kent Rasmussen). His afterword is featured in the most recent Signet Classics edition of Roughing It. He has four times been the visiting scholar at Elmira College’s Center for Mark Twain Studies, each time giving a lecture for the Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. He also has had papers accepted for presentation at six consecutive State of Mark Studies international conferences (held every four years in August at Elmira College: on The Shape of the River in 2001; on the many personal and professional similarities between Twain and Charles Dickens in 2005; on the importance of Hal Holbrook’s one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight!, in 2009; on director-producer Will Vinton’s 1985 Claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain in 2013; on Twain’s friendship with Dracula author Bram Stoker in 2017; and on Big River, the Broadway musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn in 2022. Frequently giving talks on various aspects of Twain’s life and work, he has been the featured speaker at the Mark Twain Museum in Buffalo and the keynote speaker at two National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiatives devoted to Mark Twain. In addition to being a recognized Twain scholar, he has been portraying Mark Twain on stage for 44 years (with less makeup each year). He has performed as Mark Twain at such venues as the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, Quarry Farm (the Center for Mark Twain Studies) in Elmira, New York, the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, and the James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio.
Dawidziak and Paul J. Bauer are the authors of the first full-length biography of “hobo author” Jim Tully, a forgotten writer hailed as “America’s Gorky” and as a literary superstar in the 1920s and ’30s. Titled Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, of Jim Tully, it was published by Kent State University Press in 2011 with a foreword by Ken Burns. A former vagabond and boxer, Tully wrote about the American underclass and was credited with founding the hard-boiled school of writing. Bauer and Dawidziak also edited and wrote the introductions for Kent State University Press reprints of four of Tully’s books: Beggars of Life, Circus Parade, Shanty Irish and The Bruiser. Their biography won the 2012 Independent Publisher Silver Medal was a 2012 finalist for the IBPA Ben Franklin Award.
In addition to writing two non-fiction books about the Carl Kolchak character — Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion (Image, 1991) and The Night Stalker Companion (1997), Dawidziak has edited three collections of works by Richard Matheson, all published by Gauntlet Press: Richard Matheson’s Kolchak Scripts (2003), Bloodlines: Richard Matheson’s Dracula, I Am Legend, and Other Vampires Stories (2006) and Richard Matheson’s Censored and Unproduced I Am Legend Screenplay (2012). He contributed the career appreciation and overview to Produced and Directed by Dan Curtis (2004) and he was the creative consultant to Moonstone’s comic book series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. His work in the horror field includes a 1994 novel (Grave Secrets), a play (The Tell-Tale Play), short stories, comic book scripts and the non-fiction book The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula (Continuum, 2008). His most recent books include The Shawshank Redemption Revealed: How One Story Keeps Hope Alive (Lyons Press, 2019), a deep-dive look at the beloved film based on Stephen King’s story, and A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe (St. Martin’s Press, 2023).
Actor and Playwright
Dawidziak met his wife, actress and storyteller Sara Showman, when they were both cast in a 1981 production of Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor. In 2002, they founded the Largely Literary Theater Company, a touring troupe dedicated to promoting literacy, literature and live theater. The company’s artistic director, he frequently appears in Largely Literary productions as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. His two-act adaptation of Twain material, Twain By Three, was performed at the 103rd Annual International Dickens Fellowship Conference (held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio). Another play about Twain, The Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated, was entered in the American College Theater Festival. His play The Mystery of Dashiell Hammett was premiered as part of Big Read initiative at Hiram College in 2009. His other plays include a two-act adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for three actors. He also performs one-man shows as Twain and Dickens. He teams with Showman for such two-person shows as Ghosts of the Civil War: Shades of Blue and Gray, Twain By Two, The Tell-Tale Play (stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe), Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, Monsters Are Universal: Silver Screams in Hollywood’s Golden Age, A Force of Nature (about the founding of the National Park Service) and Christmas with Charles Dickens.
Series of Lectures
Dawidziak taught part-time as an adjunct professor at Kent State University for more than ten years. Each semester since the spring of 2009, he taught the Reviewing Film and Television and Vampires in Film and Television courses.
He frequently lectures and gives talks on Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, television and vampires. His most popular presentations include The Vampire Talk and Moralists in Disguise (about the personal and professional parallels between Mark Twain and Rod Serling)
He lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with his wife, Sara Showman, and their daughter, Becky.