Hal Holbrook


Actor

About

Also Known As
Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr.
Birth Place
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Born
February 17, 1925

Biography

A versatile leading man and supporting player whose folksy, avuncular nature often disguised his true acting firepower, Hal Holbrook was best known to audiences for his portrayal of American humorist Mark Twain in his Tony Award-winning one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!" which he performed some 2,000 times between 1959 and 2005. Stage provided Holbrook his best showcases, but he was freq...

Family & Companions

Ruby Elaine Johnston
Wife
Actor. Married on September 22, 1945; divorced; toured principal U.S. cities with Holbrook in scenes from classic plays (1948-53).
Carol Rossen
Wife
Actor. Married on December 28, 1966; divorced; daughter of director Robert Rossen; played opposite Holbrook on the drama "The Cliff Dwellers" (1966) and on the medical series pilot "Oath: 33 Hours in the Life of God" (1976).
Dixie Carter
Wife
Actor, singer. Married on May 27, 1984; starred in CBS-TV sitcom "Designing Women", on which Holbrook played a recurring role; also acted together on the TV-movie, "The Killing of Randy Webster" (1981).

Notes

He received the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nail B'rith for his role in the TV-movie, "That Certain Summer" in 1972.

Holbrook was the 1998 recipient of the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre (the "Will Award") presented by The Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, DC

Biography

A versatile leading man and supporting player whose folksy, avuncular nature often disguised his true acting firepower, Hal Holbrook was best known to audiences for his portrayal of American humorist Mark Twain in his Tony Award-winning one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!" which he performed some 2,000 times between 1959 and 2005. Stage provided Holbrook his best showcases, but he was frequently praised for his television work, most notably in "Pueblo" (ABC, 1973), "That Certain Summer" (ABC, 1973), and the title role in the miniseries "Lincoln" (NBC, 1976). Among the more memorable of his dozens of film credits were such roles as the notorious informant known as "Deep Throat" in "All the President's Men" (1976), a guilt-stricken priest in John Carpenter's grisly ghost story "The Fog" (1980), and as the senior partner of a sinister law office with deadly ties to the mob in "The Firm" (1993). The veteran actor received an Oscar nomination for his moving performance in Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" (2008) and scores of accolades for his affecting turn as a proud man nearing the end of a hard life in "That Evening Shade" (2009). One-half of one of Hollywood's happiest marriages, Holbrook's more than quarter century relationship with actress Dixie Carter endured until her passing in 2010. Continuing to perform well into his eighth decade, Holbrook was the very definition of the working actor who loved to work - much to the enjoyment of appreciative audiences everywhere.

Though adept at gentlemanly Southern roles, Holbrook was born Harold Rowe Holbrook, Jr. in Cleveland, OH on Feb. 17, 1925, and raised mostly in South Weymouth, MA. The son of a vaudeville dancer, he was educated at the Culver Military Academy before moving on to Denison University to study theater. He left the school during World War II to serve for three years as an Army engineer; after the war, he returned to Denison, where an honors project on Mark Twain helped to foster an interest in the famed author's life and works. In 1945, he married actress Ruby Holbrook, with whom he had two children, including actor David Holbrook; the couple developed a two-person stage show that revolved around interviews with famous figures from history, including Twain. They presented the show during a punishing tour that saw them traveling 30,000 miles to perform 307 shows in 30 weeks. Holbrook revised the show into a one-man production that focused solely on Twain, and appeared (under considerable makeup) in "Mark Twain Tonight!" for the first time at a school in Pennsylvania in 1954. A job on the daytime soap opera "The Brighter Day" (CBS, 1954-1962) kept him and his new family fed while he performed in and developed the Twain show in clubs and theaters across the country. One of the most notable aspects of "Twain" was that Holbrook had done such extensive research into the author that he never set his program for any given night, and chose what material he would address in each respective show as he performed it.

The hard work paid off when Ed Sullivan caught a performance and invited him to present his Twain on "Toast of the Town" (CBS, 1948-1971) in 1956. The exposure gave Holbrook the boost he needed, and he mounted an off-Broadway production in 1959. The show ran for 22 weeks, which was followed by another national tour - including a performance for then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower - and a jaunt through Europe which made him the first American actor to go behind the Iron Curtain since World War II. He would pen a book about the show in 1959, Mark Twain Tonight! An Actor's Portrait, and go on to perform it for audiences great and small for the next 50 years. Holbrook made his Broadway debut in "Do You Know the Milky Way?" in 1961, and soon added more stage credits to his CV, including a 1965 stint as The Gentlemen Caller in "The Glass Menagerie" with Maureen Stapleton and Piper Laurie. The following year proved to be a watershed for the actor; not only did he make his film debut in Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966), but he brought "Mark Twain Tonight!" to Broadway. The production earned him a Tony and a Drama Desk Award, and was later preserved in a 1967 TV presentation which netted him huge ratings and an Emmy nomination. Holbrook had also divorced wife Ruth the previous year, and married actress Carol Eve Rossen, with whom he had his third child, a daughter named Eve. The couple would later split in 1979.

Holbrook's blend of gravity and compassion made him a natural for film roles requiring some degree of flexible authority, and he found himself cast as understanding fathers, as well as politicians, legal types, military men and law enforcement officials. He could be corrupted, like in his turn as a soft-hearted senator who allows a megalomaniacal rocker to take over the U.S. government in the counterculture nightmare "Wild in the Streets" (1968) or a high school principal with a libidinous secret in the TV movie "The People Next Door" (1968). And he could be cold, as shown by his straight-arrow police lieutenant who secretly fronts a death squad in "Magnum Force" (1973), the first sequel to "Dirty Harry" (1971). Mostly, he was dependably honest and real; he was a senator pursuing clean air regulation in the Emmy-nominated "A Clear and Present Danger" (1970), which served as the pilot for his short-lived series "The Senator" (NBC, 1970-1971), a father revealing his homosexuality to his son in "That Certain Summer" (1972), the captain of a U.S. spy ship captured by the North Koreans in "Pueblo" (1973), Carl Sandburg's "Lincoln" in a series of 1976 TV specials; and one of the most ideal stage managers to date in a 1977 television version of "Our Town." For this body of work alone, Holbrook won three Emmys - for "The Senator," "Pueblo" and "Lincoln" - and received countless nominations. During this time, Holbrook mounted a return to the New York stage with "Mark Twain Tonight!" in 1977.

Holbrook's film career remained largely an afterthought for most the 1970s and 1980s, though he was widely praised for his largely unseen turn as Deep Throat, the Washington insider who revealed the truth behind the Watergate scandal in "All the President's Men" (1976). His screen output slowly shifted from big-budget features, including "Julia" (1977) and "Capricorn One" (1978), to smaller dramas and thrillers - in 1983's "The Star Chamber," he played a judge who handed down death sentences to criminals who evaded the law - and horror movies, including John Carpenter's "The Fog" (1980) and the George Romero-Stephen King collaboration, "Creepshow" (1982). Television remained a source for quality material; he was a mentalist targeted for murder by his wife (Katharine Ross) in the acclaimed "Murder By Natural Causes" (1979), the father of a teenage runaway in "Off the Minnesota Strip" (1980), and a father searching for answers in a police cover-up surrounding his son's murder in "The Killing of Randy Webster" (1981). He made a terrific screen president on several occasions, from the low-budget feature "The Kidnapping of the President" (1980) to John Adams in the miniseries "George Washington" (1984) and Abraham Lincoln (again) in "North and South" and "North and South Book II" (1985 and 1986). Holbrook's co-star in "Randy Webster," the ebullient Southern actress Dixie Carter of "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993) fame, became his third wife in 1984, and he had a recurring role on the hit series as her boyfriend from 1986 to 1989.

In 1985, Holbrook toured the world with "Mark Twain Tonight!" in honor of the author's 150th birthday. The jaunt took him from London to New Delhi and points everywhere in between. Meanwhile, the movies gradually began to rediscover Holbrook, beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with substantive roles in Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" (1987) and "The Firm" (1993), and later in the acclaimed "Eye of God" (1997), "The Bachelor" (1999), "Men of Honor" (2000) and "The Majestic" (2001). Television also continued to yield regular work, most notably as a series regular on "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-1994) as Burt Reynolds' irascible father-in-law. There were also notable guest turns on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) as the Assistant Secretary of State and "The Sopranos" (2006), as a terminal patient who shares a hospital wing and wisdom with a recently injured Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

In 2004, Holbrook marked his 2,000th performance in and 50th year of consecutive performances of "Mark Twain Tonight!," and in 2007, his contributions to American theater and the preservation of Twain's legacy received a special commendation from the State of Mississippi's legislature. That same year, he was cast as Ron Franz, a lonely elderly man who develops a deep emotional connection with a wayward young man (Emile Hirsch) in Sean Penn's film version of "Into the Wild." Critics singled out Holbrook's affecting turn in a top-notch cast that included William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Keener, and he was showered with award nominations, most notably an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor in 2008. The 82-year-old Holbrook was the oldest performer to ever receive such recognition. The octogenarian showed little signs of slowing down, as Holbrook kept busy with guest turns on hit shows like "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) and small roles in such features as the crime-thriller "Killshot" (2008). Putting to rest any questions as to whether or not he could still carry a film on his own, Holbrook delivered a heartbreaking performance as an elderly farmer facing his broken past and uncertain future in the acclaimed indie drama "That Evening Sun" (2009).

Although riding high on the favorable reception of his last performance, Holbrook suffered a devastating personal tragedy when his beloved wife of 26 years, actress Dixie Carter, died in the spring of 2010 due to complications from endometrial cancer. A firm believer in hard work being the best cure for misery, the actor returned to his craft with a moving portrayal of an Alzheimer's patient in the drama "Flying Lessons" (2010) and a similar character, this time as the father of Katey Sagal's Gemma, on the third season of the biker saga "Sons of Anarchy" (FX, 2008-14). Other turns included a cameo as an elderly version of Robert Pattinson's character in the period romance "Water for Elephants" (2011) and a recurring role as a powerful businessman embroiled in a vast alien conspiracy on the short-lived sci-fi series "The Event" (NBC, 2010-11). The following year, the seasoned actor ably essayed influential politician Francis Preston Blair in director Steven Spielberg's ambitious biopic "Lincoln" (2012), starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the embattled president. At the turn of the year, Holbrook returned to screens as a revered town elder at odds with the efforts of a corporate salesman's (Matt Damon) efforts to convince the community to lease drilling rights to his gas company in the topical drama "The Promised Land" (2013), directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Damon and co-star John Krasinski.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Go With Me (2016)
Planes: Fire and Rescue (2014)
Voice
Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey (2014)
Promised Land (2012)
Lincoln (2012)
Water for Elephants (2011)
The Secrets We Share (2011)
Flying Lessons (2010)
Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers & Their Times (2009)
Voice
That Evening Sun (2009)
Killshot (2009)
Into the Wild (2007)
A Few Good Ghosts (2005)
Shade (2004)
The Professor
The Majestic (2001)
Mark Twain (2001)
Waking the Dead (2000)
Isaac Green
Men of Honor (2000)
The Florentine (1999)
The Bachelor (1999)
My Own Country (1998)
Lloyd Flanders
Rusty: The Great Rescue (1998)
Hush (1998)
Beauty (1998)
Alexander Miller
Walking to the Waterline (1998)
Eye of God (1997)
All the Winters That Have Been (1997)
Ren Corvin
Cats Don't Dance (1997)
Voice
Hercules (1997)
Voice
Carried Away (1996)
Dr Evans
She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal (1995)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle (1994)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor (1994)
Bonds of Love (1993)
The Firm (1993)
A Killing in a Small Town (1990)
Dr Beardsley
Day One (1989)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1989)
Fletch Lives (1989)
The Unholy (1988)
Archbishop Mosely
I'll Be Home For Christmas (1988)
Joseph Bundy
Plaza Suite (1987)
Wall Street (1987)
Behind Enemy Lines (1985)
Colonel Calvin Turner
3 Wishes Of Billy Grier (1984)
The Star Chamber (1983)
Creepshow (1982)
Girls Nite Out (1982)
The Killing of Randy Webster (1981)
Off The Minnesota Strip (1980)
Budd Johansen
The Kidnapping Of The President (1980)
President Adam Scott
The Fog (1980)
Murder by Natural Causes (1979)
Natural Enemies (1979)
The Legend of the Golden Gun (1979)
When Hell Was in Session (1979)
Capricorn One (1978)
James Kelloway
Rituals (1977)
Harry
Julia (1977)
Alan Campbell
All The President's Men (1976)
Midway (1976)
The Girl From Petrovka (1974)
Joe
Magnum Force (1973)
Pueblo (1973)
Commander Lloyd M Bucher
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)
Voice
They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
[Dr. Warren G.] Watkins
That Certain Summer (1972)
Doug Salter
Travis Logan, D.A. (1971)
Suddenly Single (1971)
Larry Hackett
Goodbye, Raggedy Ann (1971)
Harlan Webb
The Great White Hope (1970)
Cameron
The People Next Door (1970)
David Hoffman
Wild in the Streets (1968)
John Fergus
The Group (1966)
Gus Leroy
The Glass Menagerie (1966)
Tom

Music (Feature Film)

That Evening Sun (2009)
Song Performer

Cast (Special)

The Designing Women Reunion (2003)
Intimate Portrait: Dixie Carter (2001)
Founding Fathers (2000)
Voice
Outer Limits Farewell Tribute (2000)
Lost in Middle America... And What Happened Next (1999)
Narrator
Battleship (1997)
Narration
Broadway '97: Launching the Tonys (1997)
Presenter
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997)
Narrator
Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1997)
Narration
Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1997)
Host
Super Bridge (1997)
Narrator
Daley, The Last Boss (1996)
Narrator
America on Wheels (1996)
Narration
The Battle of the Alamo (1996)
Narration
Sailing the World Alone (1996)
Narration
The Ninth Annual Soap Opera Awards (1993)
Presenter
Eastwood & Co. Making "Unforgiven" (1992)
The Designing Women Special: Their Finest Hour (1990)
1990 Ace Awards-11th Annual (1990)
Performer
An American Image (1989)
Host
An American Image (1989)
Narration
Freedom Festival '89 (1989)
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1988)
Performer
Superman's 50th Anniversary: A Celebration of the Man of Steel (1988)
Adolph Hitler: Portrait of a Tyrant (1987)
Narrator
All Star Party for Clint Eastwood (1986)
Four Americans in China (1985)
Narrator
Omnibus (1980)
Host
Our Town (1977)
Stage Manager
All Over (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Patriots (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Time of Your Life (1976)
Beyond the Horizon (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Christmas Chester Mystery Plays (1976)
Host
The First Breeze of Summer (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Mound Builders (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
Sea Marks (1976)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Oath: 33 Hours in the Life of God (1976)
Dr Simon Abbott
Brother to Dragons (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
Who's Happy Now? (1975)
Forget-Me-Not Lane (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Seagull (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
Zalmen (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Year of the Dragon (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
Rules of the Game (1975)
The School For Scandal (1975)
Host ("Theater In America")
June Moon (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
Cyrano de Bergerac (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
Enemies (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
A Touch of the Poet (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
Monkey, Monkey, Bottle of Beer, How Many Monkeys Have We Here? (1974)
Host ("Theater In America")
King Lear (1974)
The Cliff Dwellers (1966)
Jonathan Murray

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Haven (2001)
The Judas Kiss (1999)
Ken Follett's The Third Twin (1997)
Pete
Innocent Victims (1996)
Bob Hennis
Emma: Queen of the South Seas (1988)
Mario Puzo's The Fortunate Pilgrim (1988)
Dr Andrew Mckaig
Dress Gray (1986)
General Charles Hedges
North and South: Book II (1986)
North and South (1985)
George Washington (1984)
Celebrity (1984)
District Attorney Calvin Sledge
The Awakening Land (1978)
Portius Wheeler--The Solitary

Life Events

1942

Made stage debut in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" at the Cain Park Theatre, Cleveland, OH

1943

Served as a private in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

1946

Made radio debut on the "Army Engineer Show" for ABC

1953

TV acting debut, "Hollywood Screen Test"

1954

Acted on the daytime serial TV drama "The Brighter Day" (CBS)

1959

Made off-Broadway debut in title role of "Mark Twain Tonight!"

1961

Broadway debut, "Do You Know the Milky Way?"

1966

Opened his one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!" on Broadway

1966

Returned to television to play the role of Tom in "CBS Playhouse" adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie"

1966

Made film debut in "The Group"

1970

Played the title role of Hays Stowe on NBC drama series "The Bold Ones: Senator"

1974

Hosted "Theater in America" the PBS drama series featuring performances of theatrical plays

1974

Played Abraham Lincoln in multi-seasonal miniseries "Sandburg's Lincoln" (NBC)

1985

Again played Lincoln in the ABC miniseries "North and South" (1985) and "North and South, Book II" (1986)

1986

Landed recurring role on CBS sitcom "Designing Women," playing the boyfriend of Julia Sugarbaker (Holbrook's wife Dixie Carter), also directed several episodes

1990

Played Evan Evans on popular CBS sitcom "Evening Shade"

1997

Played the sheriff in the independent drama "Eye of God"

1999

Cast as a U.S. Senator in "The Judas Kiss"; aired on Cinemax in lieu of a theatrical release

2000

Offered effective supporting role as the mentor of an ambitious young political candidate in "Waking the Dead"

2001

Starred opposite Rick Stear in David Mamet's stage play "A Life in the Theatre" at the Pasadena Playhouse

2001

Portrayed Harold Ickes in the CBS miniseries "Haven"

2004

Cast in the action thriller "Shade" with Stuart Townsend and Gabriel Byrne

2007

Cast in Sean Penn's adaptation of the non-fiction book "Into the Wild," starring Emile Hirsch; earned SAG and Oscar nominations for Outstanding Male Actor in a Supporting Role

2008

Starred opposite his wife Dixie Carter in "That Evening Sun"

2010

Landed recurring role as Katey Sagal's character's father on FX's "Sons of Anarchy"

2010

Appeared in multi-episode arc on NBC drama "The Event"

2011

Portrayed an Older Jacob Jankowski in the film adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel "Water for Elephants"

2012

Cast opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"

2012

Played a schoolteacher going against oil barons in "Promised Land," directed by Gus Van Sant

Videos

Movie Clip

Group, The (1966) - Dottie Renfrew Is Engaged Director Sidney Lumet resumes his narrative device with Kathleen Widdoes as college “class scribe” Helena typing, Joan Hackett as Dottie on the train, to a 1930-something New York party hosted by Kay and her boozy playwright husband (Joanna Pettet, Larry Hagman), Jessica Walter, Shirley Knight, et al conversing, in The Group, 1966.
Fog, The (1980) - Open, Their Dark And Icy Death From producer and director and co-writers Debra Hill and John Carpenter, nice chilling ghost-story opening, with all of John Houseman’s performance, Ty Mitchell as young Andy listening, from The Fog, 1980, starring Adrienne Barbeau (then Mrs. Carpenter), Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Hal Holbrook.
Wild In The Streets (1968) - 14 Or Fight! Mega-rich pop star Max (Christopher Jones, with his band, Richard Pryor on drums!) has just barely agreed to appear in support of congressman Fergus (Hal Holbrook), who’s running for senator, because he supports lowering the voting age, and a new idea comes up, in WIld In The Streets, 1968.
Wild In The Streets (1968) - Ronald Reagan Would Look Worse Senator Fergus (Hal Holbrook) hopes Mrs. Flatow (Shelley Winters), mom of pop-star turned politician Max (Christopher Jones), can get him to slow down his government take-over, but she’s tripping, while he, with advisors (Kevin Coughlin, Richard Pryor, Larry Bishop) plans his next move, in Wild In The Streets, 1968.
All The President's Men - Follow The Money Reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) in his first shadowy face-to-face encounter with source "Deep Throat" (Hal Holbrook), with a famous admonition, in Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men, 1976.
Magnum Force - Can You Fly? Several uncredited actors and a moment from Hal Holbrook, as Inspector Callahan (Clint Eastwood) improvises a solution to a hijacking, from the second Dirty Harry movie, Magnum Force, 1973.

Trailer

Family

Harold Rowe Holbrook Sr
Father
Aileen Holbrook
Mother
Vaudeville dancer.
Victoria Holbrook
Daughter
Mother, Ruby Johnston.
David Holbrook
Son
Former actor. Mother, Ruby Johnston; made film debut opposite father in the schlock horror film, "Girls Night Out" (1982).
Eve Holbrook
Daughter
Actor. Mother, Carol Rossen.

Companions

Ruby Elaine Johnston
Wife
Actor. Married on September 22, 1945; divorced; toured principal U.S. cities with Holbrook in scenes from classic plays (1948-53).
Carol Rossen
Wife
Actor. Married on December 28, 1966; divorced; daughter of director Robert Rossen; played opposite Holbrook on the drama "The Cliff Dwellers" (1966) and on the medical series pilot "Oath: 33 Hours in the Life of God" (1976).
Dixie Carter
Wife
Actor, singer. Married on May 27, 1984; starred in CBS-TV sitcom "Designing Women", on which Holbrook played a recurring role; also acted together on the TV-movie, "The Killing of Randy Webster" (1981).

Bibliography

Notes

He received the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nail B'rith for his role in the TV-movie, "That Certain Summer" in 1972.

Holbrook was the 1998 recipient of the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre (the "Will Award") presented by The Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, DC

Inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2000