Cleveland Native Hal Holbrook Leaves Behind An Indelible Mark Twain
Born in 1925 in Cleveland, award-winning actor Hal Holbrook passed away on January 23 at the age of 95.
Hal Holbrook and wife Dixie Carter 2000 [Paul Smith / Shutterstock.com]
The son of a vaudeville dancer, Holbrook's first time on stage was at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights in "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
Hal Holbrook (right) in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" 1942 ["Cain Park Theatre – The Halcyon Years” by Dina Rees Evans]
As a student at Denison University, Holbrook began what would become the role of his career portraying Mark Twain in a senior project in 1954.
For more than six decades, he played the American humorist more than 2,000 times in his one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight," for which he won the Tony in 1966.
"Mark Twain Tonight" promotional poster
In 2004, Holbrook told ideastream's Dee Perry about performing Twain's words.
"The basic thing about Twain is he had a vision, a vision that went beyond the immediate drama or the immediate problems. He saw [into] the future," Holbrook said.
Local author, Mark Dawidziak, a longtime friend, says Holbrook was able to develop the character by getting first-hand accounts from Twain's family and friends.
Hal Holbrook dressed as Mark Twain with friend and author Mark Dawidziak. [Becky Dawidziak]
Since there are no existing recordings of Mark Twain, Holbrook's portrayal became the definitive account.
"If we have any idea of how Mark Twain sounded, of how he moved, what his timing was like, what his voice was like, it's because of Hal Holbrook. His show was a living piece of Mark Twain scholarship," Dawidziak said.
Holbrook performed in Northeast Ohio often, staging "Mark Twain Tonight" at Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall and Playhouse Square.
Mark Dawidziak with Hal Holbrook [Mark Dawidziak]
Despite Holbrook performing as Mark Twain until 2017, Dawidziak emphasizes his friend's "towering resume" as an actor.
Holbrook won five Emmy awards during his career, and he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2007's "Into the Wild."
Hal Holbrook with Emile Hirsch "Into the Wild" 2007 [River Road Entertainment]
In 1976, he portrayed the notorious "Deep Throat" in the film "All The President's Men" about Watergate.
Hal Holbrook "All the President's Men" 1976 [Wildwood Enterprises / Warner Bros]
Holbrook also starred in Great Lakes Theater productions of "King Lear," "Uncle Vanya" and "Death of a Salesman," in the 1990s.
Hal Holbrook as "King Lear" at Great Lakes Theater in 1990 [Roger Mastroianni]
Listen to Hal Holbrook with ideastream's Dee Perry in 2004