Hal Holbrook

A versatile stage, television and film actor, Hal Holbrook is an Emmy and Tony winner, and a longtime Mark Twain impersonator.


Actor Hal Holbrook was born on February 17, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio. Highly respected for his stage performances of Mark Twain, which he began as a college student, Holbrook's career has also crossed heavily into film and television. A multi-time Emmy winner, he earned his first Academy Award nomination at age 82 for his performance in the 2007 film Into the Wild.

Early Years and Career

Born Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr., on February 17, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, Holbrook, whose mom was a vaudeville dancer, was raised predominantly by his grandparents in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.

After attending Indiana's Culver Military Academy, Holbrook enrolled at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, to study theater. His time at Denison was interrupted by a stint in the Army, which stationed him in Newfoundland as an engineer during World War II.

Following the war, Holbrook returned to Denison, where he turned an honors project on prominent literary figures into career-defining performance of the iconic American author Mark Twain. He first performed as Twain in 1948, eventually transforming it into the one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! in 1954. To supplement his income during the show's early years, he joined the cast the CBS soap opera The Brighter Day. 

Holbook caught a huge break when Ed Sullivan asked the young actor to bring his Twain performance to his CBS variety show in 1956. The appearance led to a series of off-Broadway productions, and in 1966 Mark Twain Tonight! debuted on Broadway. The performance garnered Holbrook a prestigious Tony Award and led to an Emmy-nominated TV special. He also found additional opportunities in theater, landing parts in productions of The Apple Tree and I Never Sang for My Father.

Film and TV Success

The late 1960s and early '70s proved to be an important period for Holbrook, not just for his stage work but also for his film and television career. His credits from this period include roles in such films as Wild in the Streets (1968) and the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (1973). In 1976 he took on perhaps his most famous film role, playing the informant Deep Throat in the thriller All the President's Men.

On the small screen, Holbrook's presence continued to mount as well. He was cast in the TV movie Pueblo (1973) and the miniseries Lincoln (1974-76), both of which resulted in Emmy wins. In fact, television played a vital role in Holbrook's career as the years passed and his film opportunities proved to be inconsistent.

He co-starred with Katharine Ross in the TV movie Murder by Natural Causes (1979), and a year later he took on the role of a father whose teenager has run away in Off the Minnesota Strip. His credits also include the Civil War miniseries North and South (1985) and North and South, Book II (1986), in which he again played Abraham Lincoln. Around this time Holbrook also enjoyed a recurring role on the CBS comedy Designing Women, alongside his third wife, the late Dixie Carter.

Other prominent projects from these years include appearances in the films Wall Street (1987) and The Firm (1993), as well as a regular role as Burt Reynolds's father-in-law during the four-season run of Evening Shade.

Later Years

Reaching an age when most actors show a desire to slow down or hardly work at all, Holbrook continued to add to his list of credits. In the 2000s he made appearances on popular programs like The West Wing, The Sopranos, ER and Sons of Anarchy.

Holbrook made history in 2008 when, at age 82, he became the oldest male to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (since surpassed by Robert Duvall), for his performance in Into the Wild. He later returned to familiar subject matter with a supporting role in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), and joined the cast for the animated feature Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014).

Furthermore, the actor continued delivering the performance that had launched his career. Dubbed in 2001 by The New York Times as the "undisputed monarch of Mark Twain impersonators," Holbrook donned the familiar white suit and bushy mustache for his longtime show even after hitting the age of 90. He also paid his respects to the famed author with his 2011 autobiography, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain

Holbrook, who has been married three times, has three children.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *