Goodbye To A True Hollywood Original
The very sad news has reached us that veteran character actor Hal Holbrook (All The President’s Men, Magnum Force, Wall Street) has just died at the age of 95. Here’s his obituary from The Hollywood Reporter…
Hal Holbrook, the craftsman who reincarnated Mark Twain on stage and screen for more than six decades and also stood out as Abraham Lincoln and Deep Throat, two other American legends, has died. He was 95.
Holbrook died Jan. 23 in Beverly Hills, his personal assistant, Joyce Cohen, told The New York Times on Monday night.
A five-time Emmy winner, Holbrook was 82 when he became the oldest man (at the time) to receive an Oscar acting nomination when he was honored for his performance as a leatherwork expert in Into the Wild (2007).
The Cleveland native also was memorable as a Senate candidate in Wild in the Streets (1968); as the vigilante boss of police inspector Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force (1973); as a NASA exec who engineers a fake Mars landing in Capricorn One (1977); as a judge who takes matters into his own hands in The Star Chamber (1983); and as old-school stockbroker Lou Mannheim in Wall Street (1987).
Holbrook played Twain longer than Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who made Twain his pen name in 1863. He first appeared as the famed author and humorist in the late 1940s in a show for school groups; Holbrook’s first wife, Ruby, would ask questions of famous people in history, including Twain. He turned that into the one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight!, in the 1950s.
An appearance as the Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn author on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 gave Holbrook a huge career boost, and after a stint off-Broadway, he headed to Broadway in 1966 and won a Tony for lead actor in a play.
In 1967, Holbrook re-created Mark Twain Tonight! for a CBS special and, with “The Godfather of Makeup” Dick Smith helping with his transformation, earned the first of his 12 career Emmy nominations. The actor traveled the nation with the show in the ensuing decades, performing in Twain’s trademark white coat for thousands of performances.
“Mark Twain gets me out of the bed in the morning,” Holbrook told the Los Angeles Times in 2014 before a screening of the documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey at the L.A. Film Festival.
“He literally fires me up. I don’t have to fire myself up, all I have to do is lay there and think about what’s going on in my country and the world and run over some of the Twain I am going to do.”
He finally retired the one-man show in September 2017 after canceling a performance he was to do in Oklahoma City.
Holbrook collected an Emmy in 1974 for playing Lincoln in an NBC miniseries and portrayed the 16th president again in the 1985 ABC Civil War miniseries North and South and its sequel. And for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 Lincoln biopic, Holbrook played presidential adviser Preston Blair.
In Alan J. Pakula’s political thriller All the President’s Men (1976), Holbrook emerges from the shadows as Deep Throat, the government source who tells Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, respectively) to “follow the money” in their Watergate investigation.
Most recently, he appeared in as Katey Sagal’s father on FX’s Sons of Anarchy; in a recurring role as a lawyer on SundanceTV’s Rectify; as an older version of Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants (2011); as a science teacher opposite Matt Damon in Promised Land (2012); and as fire and rescue truck Mayday in the animated Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014). He also appeared on Bones and Grey’s Anatomy.
Holbrook was married three times, the last to Dixie Carter, a star on the 1986-93 CBS sitcom Designing Women. They were married for 26 years until her death from cancer in 2010.
Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr. was born on Feb. 17, 1925, in Cleveland. He was abandoned by his parents, and his grandparents sent him to military school.
He won his first acting paycheck at age 17 when he performed in the popular farce The Man Who Came to Dinner at Cleveland’s Cain Park Theater. He enrolled as a theater major at Ohio’s Denison University, and following three years in the Army, ventured to New York and studied with Uta Hagen.
In the 1950s, Holbrook acted on the CBS soap opera The Brighter Day. He won his first Emmy in 1971 for his work on the NBC drama series The Bold Ones: The Senator and took two more trophies for playing Commander Lloyd Bucher in the 1973 ABC telefilm Pueblo, about the capture of a U.S. spy ship by North Korea in 1968.
Holbrook also turned in Emmy-nominated performances in 1969 for The Bold Ones: The Lawyers; in 1972 for the ground-breaking telefilm That Certain Summer (he played a divorced San Francisco contractor whose son discovers his father is gay); and in 1977 for playing the stage manager in an adaptation of Our Town.
Holbrook showed up occasionally as Carter’s boyfriend on Designing Women (they had met on the 1981 telefilm The Killing of Randy Webster) and was Evan Evans, the father of Marilu Henner and father-in-law of Burt Reynolds, on the 1990-94 CBS comedy Evening Shade. He also played the assistant Secretary of State on NBC’s The West Wing.
As host and narrator of the Portrait of America documentary series, Holbrook received a Peabody Award and his fifth Emmy in 1989.
At one juncture, PBS wanted to develop Mark Twain Tonight! as a program but asked Holbrook to drop a section from Huckleberry Finn that included use of the N-word (it’s in the book more than 200 times). The actor refused, and the project was shelved.
“Anyone who thinks that word [being used so often] is an accident is close to being foolish,” he said in a 2012 interview. “Every time you read that word in the book it reminds you that you have to face who is racist. The finger is pointing at you. And me.”
Holbrook’s film résumé also included The Great White Hope (1970), They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), Julia (1977), The Fog (1980), Creepshow (1982), Fletch Lives (1989), The Firm (1993), Men of Honor (2000), The Majestic (2001), Purpose (2002), Shade (2003) and That Evening Sun (2009).
Survivors include his children Victoria, David and Eve.