Tony Winner Hal
Holbrook Dies at 95
Twain Tonight! creator was known for his wide-ranging work on stage
Hal Holbrook Joan Marcus
Hal Holbrook, the
distinguished performer who toured tirelessly off and on for five decades as
American wit Mark Twain, winning a Tony Award for the role in 1966, died
January 23, 2021. He was 95. His death was confirmed by
his assistant, Joyce Cohen.
Mr. Holbrook parlayed his aristocratic good looks into a
series of roles as men of principle grappling with the conflicts of the real
world. Amid hundreds of stage, film, and TV credits, Mr. Holbrook played many
senators, presidents, business leaders, and literary lions.
On Broadway, Mr.
Holbrook appeared in dramas, comedies, and musicals. He created roles in
original productions of plays by Arthur Miller (Incident at
Vichy and After the Fall), Robert Anderson (I Never
Sang for My Father), and Wendy Wasserstein (An American
Daughter, playing a U.S. senator). He was also a replacement in the title
role of the musical Man of La Mancha during its lengthy
original run, and replaced Alan Alda in the Bock and Harnick
musical The Apple Tree.
He earned critical
acclaim in 1954 for his solo stage show about author Mark Twain that he started
developing as his senior honors project while still a student at Denison
University. Though he made his Broadway debut in the short-lived
two-hander Do You Know the Milky Way? in 1961 and worked
steadily in all media forms afterward, he often returned to playing the author
of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the
show eventually titled Mark Twain Tonight! and brought it to
Broadway three times: in 1966, 1977, and 2005. He toured with the role to
theatres and colleges across the U.S., and was dispatched by the State
Department on a European tour that took him behind the Iron Curtain at the peak
of the Cold War.
In 2011, Mr.
Holbrook published Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain,
recounting his youth and how it influenced his time creating and touring Theatre
of Great Personalities with his first wife Ruby Johnson, the show’s
eventual transformation into Mark Twain Tonight!, and its premiere
Off-Broadway. In 2019, a documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American
Odyssey was released following his career on the stage.
photo Joan Marcus
INTERVIEW: Tony Winner Hal Holbrook
Shares the Pain That Led to Mark Twain
The thespian made
his mark on film as well, playing Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein’s secret
source of information on the crimes of President Richard Nixon, in All
the President's Men. Other film work included Julia, The Fog, The
Firm, and Men of Honor. His performance in Sean
Penn’s Into the Wild as an Army veteran who has lost his
family earned him both Screen Actors Guild Award and Academy Award nominations.
On TV, he earned 11
Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including one for his performance as
President Abraham Lincoln in the 1976 miniseries Lincoln, based on
Carl Sandburg’s biography. He again played the 16th president in the 1985
miniseries North and South, and was featured as Francis Preston
Blair in Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln. Throughout his career,
Mr. Holbrook took home five Primetime Emmys, including a special Actor of the
Year trophy in 1974. In his later years, he played the recurring character Nate
Madock on the TV series Sons of Anarchy, and made guest appearances
on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and the Hawaii
Five-0 reboot in 2017, which turned out to be his final performance on
officially retired from the stage in 2017. He was married three times, first to
Ms. Holbrook (neé Johnson) in 1945, second to Carol Rossen in 1966, and lastly
to Dixie Carter in 1984. They remained wed until her death in 2010. Mr.
Holbrook is survived by his children, Victoria, David, and Eve; as well as two
stepdaughters, Ginna Carter and Mary Dixie Carter; two grandchildren; and two