• January 28, 2023

Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Played Mark Twain Longer Than Twain Himself, Dies : NPR

“I’ve always wanted to just be an actor … that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do different roles,” Hal Holbrook told NPR in 2008. He is shown up in his New York apartment in February 1973. Jerry Mosey / AP hide caption

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Jerry Mosey / AP

“I’ve always wanted to just be an actor … that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do different roles,” Hal Holbrook told NPR in 2008. He is shown up in his New York apartment in February 1973.

Jerry Mosey / AP

Actor Hal Holbrook was the voice in the shadows of a parking garage in All the President’s Men and a Tony Award winner for his portrayal of Mark Twain. He died on January 23rd at his Beverly Hills home. He was 95 years old.

Holbrook played his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight for decades. He loved it, but in 2011 he told NPR’s Neal Conan that it took him a long time to break out of that role. “I was behind this mask, this disguise. And I finally had to be brave enough to get out,” he said. AP hide caption

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Holbrook played his one-man show Mark Twain Tonight for decades. He loved it, but in 2011 he told NPR’s Neal Conan that it took him a long time to break out of that role. “I was behind this mask, this disguise. And I finally had to be brave enough to get out,” he said.

AP

On his longtime one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight, Holbrook brought the quirky southern humorist to life through snappy monologues. Twain was the pen name under which Samuel Clemens created classic American characters like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Holbrook played the show for more than six decades and played the role of Mark Twain longer than Clemens himself.

“There was a real bite to this performance and a measure of ferocity, but people loved it,” said Holbrook’s friend and film critic Richard Schickel in a 2009 NPR interview. “Hal done [Twain] adorable [through] a strange connection he had made with Twain’s character. “

For any other actor this might be a one-off stunt, but for Holbrook it made his career. He tried on Twain’s signature white suit right out of college and continued to wear it long after he’d stopped using the made-up folds.

Holbrook said he never stopped finding fresh humor in the lines he first memorized decades ago. In 2008, he told NPR that he always laughed at the Twain quote: “There are swarms and swarms of fools out there walking around outside of the facility showing some form of specialized insanity.”

“Not just madness,” said Holbrook, “specialized madness.” It is wonderful!”

Holbrook won an Emmy in 1971 for his appearance on the television show The Senator. David F. Smith / AP Hide caption

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David F. Smith / AP

Holbrook won an Emmy in 1971 for his appearance on the television show The Senator.

David F. Smith / AP

He played his other signature role only once – the confidential source Deep Throat in the Watergate thriller All the President’s Men.

Following the money was good advice to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, but not something Holbrook applied to his professional career. He has had cameos on dozens of television shows, from daily soaps to prime-time dramas, including The Sopranos and The West Wing. His characters weren’t the good-looking romantic leads – he was more of the type of actor who caught the point of view on the screen and never let go.

“Character boys – and also character women – sometimes think longer in their heads than some hotter leading actors,” says film critic Schickel. “They show up in TCM and play the best roles in the film. I think that is where Hal is classified according to theater and film history.”

Holbrook said Twain was always valuable to him, but when he was nominated for his first Oscar at the age of 82 for his role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, he was thrilled to be recognized for his work outside of Twain.

He told NPR, “I’ve always just wanted to be an actor … that’s all I ever wanted to do different roles.”

In the end, it’s hard to know who played the role of Mark Twain better – Samuel Clemens or Hal Holbrook.

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