Actor Hal Holbrook, who had a knack for playing historical parts onstage and onscreen, passed away on Jan. 23 at age 95.
Born on Feb. 17, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, Holbrook’s mother was a vaudeville dancer, according to IMDb. When he was just 2 years old, his parents left him with his grandparents and ran off, a fact that haunted him the rest of his life.
His grandparents raised him, he served in the Army during World War II, and afterward, he graduated from Denison University in 1948 as a drama major.
That year, Holbrook and his wife at the time, Ruby, planned a production called “Great Personalities,” in which he would go on to portray Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain — a role that would ultimately factor significantly into his career.
Over the course of his life, Holbrook appeared onstage as Mark Twain over 2,000 times. It was one of these portrayals that got him noticed by Ed Sullivan and landed him a feature on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Holbrook won his Tony Award in 1966 for playing Clemens in the Broadway production “Mark Twain Tonight!” and at one point even played the part for then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The prolific actor had parts in dozens of television shows and movies, including the “Lincoln” mini-series, “North & South,” “Designing Women,” “The West Wing” and “Sons of Anarchy.”
“On stage your job as actor is to present and show the story by your behavior, body language, and vocal work,” he said, according to IMDb.
“In film, you musn’t. You just have to be. You are … and it’s mostly intuitive. The amount of characterization you do is very minimal. In fact, you try not to act at all. It’s actually better that way, and it’s taken me years to learn that.”
In 1989, he won a Primetime Emmy for his narration in the “Alaska” episode in “Portrait of America” for Outstanding Performance in Informational Programming. He also won the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series Emmy in 1976 for his role as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.”
In 2017 he retired from “Mark Twain Tonight!,” which he had been running since 1954.
“I have thought about this quietly for a long time,” he wrote in a letter addressing his decision to stop the show, according to The Oklahoman. “I know it must end, this long effort to do a good job. I have served my trade, gave it my all, heart and soul, as a dedicated actor can. That’s about as much as people in my profession can hope.
“The people who have come to see Mark Twain for all these 63 years are the one I want to bow down to. You have kept me going. Discussing our country and the way we think, with Mark Twain, has been my privilege and an honor. Now is the time to let it go.”
He was active in television up until 2017, and was rumored to have a part in an upcoming production before he passed away.
According to The New York Times, Joyce Cohen, his assistant, confirmed his death on Feb. 1.
He passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, and is survived by his three children, two stepdaughters, two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.