Hal Holbrook

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Hal Holbrook
Hal Holbrook Our Town 1977 (cropped).jpg
Holbrook in Our Town (1977)
Born Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr.
(1925-02-17) February 17, 1925 (age 92)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Education Culver Academies
Alma mater Denison University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1954–present
Spouse(s) Ruby Holbrook (m. 1945; div. 1965),
Carol Eve Rossen (m. 1966; div. 1979),
Dixie Carter (m. 1984; her death 2010)
Children 3

Harold Rowe "Hal" Holbrook Jr. (born February 17, 1925) is an American film and stage actor. Holbrook first received critical acclaim in 1954 for a one-man stage show he developed while in college, performing as Mark Twain.[1]

He made his film debut in Sidney Lumet's The Group (1966). He later gained international fame for his performance as Deep Throat in the 1976 film All the President's Men. He was known for his role as Abraham Lincoln in the 1976 miniseries Lincoln. He has also appeared in such other films as Julia (1977), The Fog (1980), Creepshow (1982), The Firm (1993), Hercules (1997), and Men of Honor (2000).[2]

Holbrook's role as Ron Franz in Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007) earned him both Screen Actors Guild Award and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor.[3] Until Robert Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015, Holbrook was the oldest actor to receive an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor nomination.[4] In 2009, Holbrook received critical acclaim for his performance as recently retired farmer, Abner Meecham, in the independent film That Evening Sun.[5]

In his later career, Holbrook appeared as Francis Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), provided his voice as Mayday in the Disney animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014) and as Whizzer in Blackway (2016).[6][7]

As a television actor, Holbrook is known for starring in Designing Women as Reese Watson, opposite his wife, Dixie Carter.[1] Later in his career, he has starred in minor roles in Sons of Anarchy, The Event, and Rectify.[8] He has guest-starred in many critically acclaimed television series such as NCIS, The West Wing, The Sopranos, ER, and Bones.[9]

Holbrook has won five Primetime Emmy Awards and a Tony Award for his 1966 portrayal of Twain in Mark Twain Tonight.[3]

Early life[edit]

Holbrook was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Aileen (Davenport) Holbrook (1905–1987), a vaudeville dancer, and Harold Rowe Holbrook Sr. (1902–1982).[1] After being abandoned by his parents at age two, his two sisters and he were raised by his paternal grandparents first in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and then in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood.[2]

He graduated from the Culver Academies and Denison University, where an honors project about Mark Twain led him to develop the one-man show for which he is best known, a series of performances called Mark Twain Tonight.[10] From 1942 through 1946, Holbrook served in the United States Army in World War II and was stationed in Newfoundland.[11] While stationed in Newfoundland, he performed in theater productions such as the play Madam Precious.[2]


According to Playbill, Holbrook's first solo performance as Twain was at Lock Haven State Teachers College in Pennsylvania in 1954.[12] Ed Sullivan saw him and gave Holbrook his first national exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 12, 1956.[12] Holbrook was also a member of the Valley Players (1941–1962), a summer-stock theater company based in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which performed at Mountain Park Casino Playhouse at Mountain Park.[13] He joined The Lamns in 1955, where he began developing his one-man show.[14] He was a member of the cast for several years and performed Mark Twain Tonight as the 1957 season opener.[13] The State Department even sent him on a European tour, which included pioneering appearances behind the Iron Curtain.[2] In 1959, Holbrook first played the role off-Broadway.[12] Columbia Records recorded an LP of excerpts from the show.[2]

Hal Holbrook in The Brighter Day Scene, August 1954

Holbrook performed in a special production for the New York World's Fair (1964, 1965) for the Bell Telephone Pavilion.[15] Jo Mielziner created an innovative audio-visual ride experience and used Hal's acting talents on 65 different action screens for "The Ride Of Communications" with the movie itself known as From Drumbeats to Telstar.[15]

In 1967, Mark Twain Tonight was presented on television by CBS and Xerox, and Holbrook received an Emmy for his performance.[2] Holbrook's Twain first played on Broadway in 1966, and again in 1977 and 2005; Holbrook was 80 years old during his most recent Broadway run, older (for the first time) than the character he was portraying.[2] Holbrook won a Tony Award for the performance in 1966.[2] Mark Twain Tonight has repeatedly toured the country in what, as of 2005, has amounted to over 2000 performances. He has portrayed Twain longer than Samuel Langhorne Clemens did.[16]

In 1964, Holbrook played the role of the Major in the original production of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy.[17] In 1968, he was one of the replacements for Richard Kiley in the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha, although he had limited singing ability.[17] In 1966, Holbrook starred opposite Shirley Booth in the acclaimed CBS Playhouse production of The Glass Menagerie.

Holbrook co-starred with Martin Sheen in the controversial and acclaimed 1972 television film That Certain Summer.[2] In 1973, Holbrook appeared as Lieutenant Neil Briggs, the boss and rival of Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) in Magnum Force, an "obsessively neat and prim fanatic" who supports the obliteration of San Francisco's criminals and who is the leader of a rogue group of vigilante officers.[18][19] In 1976, Holbrook won acclaim for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in a series of television specials based on Carl Sandburg's acclaimed biography.[2] He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the 1970 series The Bold Ones: The Senator.[2] In 1979, he starred with Katharine Ross, Barry Bostwick, and Richard Anderson in the made-for-TV movie Murder by Natural Causes.[1] Holbrook also had a major role on the sitcom Evening Shade throughout its entire run.[1]

Early in his career, Holbrook worked onstage and in a television soap opera, The Brighter Day.[2] He is also famous for his role as the enigmatic Deep Throat (whose identity was unknown at the time) in the film All the President's Men.[20] Holbrook was the narrator on the Ken Burns documentary Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery in 1997.[2]

President George W. Bush and Laura Bush pose for a photo with Holbrook (center), a recipient of the National Humanities Medal in the Oval Office on November 14, 2003.

In 1999, Holbrook was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[21]

Later career[edit]

In 2000, Holbrook appeared in Men of Honor, where he portrayed a racist and hypocritical officer who endlessly tries to fail an African-American diver trainee.[22]

Holbrook in December 2009

He appeared in Sean Penn's critically acclaimed film Into the Wild (2007) and received an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role at the 80th Academy Awards.[3] This renders Holbrook, at age 82, the oldest nominee in Academy Award history in the Best Supporting Actor category.[3] On December 20, 2007, Holbrook was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his work in the film.[3] In late August through mid-September 2007, he starred as the narrator in the Hartford Stage production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a role he had once played on television.[3]

Holbrook appeared with wife Dixie Carter in That Evening Sun, filmed in East Tennessee in the summer of 2008.[5] The film, produced by Dogwood Entertainment,[5] is based on a short story by William Gay.[5] That Evening Sun premiered in March 2009 at South By Southwest, where it received the Audience Award for Narrative Feature and a special Jury Prize for Ensemble Cast.[5] Joe Leydon of Variety hailed Hollbrook's performance in the film as a "career-highlight star turn as an irascible octogenarian farmer who will not go gentle into that good night."[5] That Evening Sun also was screened at the 2009 Nashville Film Festival, where Holbrook was honored with a special Lifetime Achievement Award, and the film itself received another Audience Award.[23]

Holbrook appeared as a featured guest star in a 2006 episode of the HBO series The Sopranos and the NCIS episode "Escaped".[2] On April 22, 2010, Holbrook signed on to portray Katey Sagal's character's father on the FX original series Sons of Anarchy for a four-episode arc in their third season, as well as appearing in additional fifth episode in the final season.[24] He also had a multiple-episode arc on The Event, an American television series on NBC, appearing in the 2010–2011 season.[1]

In 2011, Holbrook appeared in Water for Elephants.[25] In 2012, Steven Spielberg cast Holbrook to play Francis Preston Blair in Lincoln.[6] His recent films are Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (2012),[26] the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014),[27] and in the minor role as Whizzer in the drama film Blackway (2016).[7] In 2016, Holbrook was cast as Red Hudmore and appeared in the final season of Bones on January 17, 2017.[28]

Personal life[edit]

Holbrook has been married three times and has three children. He married Ruby Holbrook on September 22, 1945, and they had two children, Victoria Holbrook and David Holbrook.[2] They divorced in 1965, and on December 28, 1966, he married Carol Eve Rossen. They had one child, Eve Holbrook, and they divorced on June 14, 1983.[2]

Holbrook and Carter at the 41st Emmy Awards, 1990

He married actress Dixie Carter on May 27, 1984.[2] Architect Hoyte Johnson of Atlanta redesigned Carter's family home and created an environment that the couple shared with family and friends.[29] Holbrook has said that the home has the "feel" of the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, and that there is no other place to which he feels so ideally suited.[29] Holbrook and Carter remained married until her death on April 10, 2010.[30] Holbrook had a recurring role on his wife's hit sitcom Designing Women, appearing in nine episodes between 1986 and 1989 as Carter's on-screen significant other.[2]

Holbrook resides in Beverly Hills, California.[31] Holbrook grew to love Carter's home in McLemoresville, Tennessee. The local community responded by building the Dixie Theatre for Performing Arts in nearby Huntington, Tennessee, which features the Hal Holbrook Auditorium.[29]

In 2011, Holbrook's memoir, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.[32]

Holbrook is a converted Christian, though he tends to criticize the Bible at times.[33] He is a registered independent, but tends to lean more liberal.[34] Holbrook has criticized the Republican Party since Barack Obama took office.[34] In 2016, Holbrook criticized then-Republican candidate Donald Trump for not having "the maturity to run the country".[12]

In October 2016, Holbrook wrote a letter to The New York Times defending director and actor Nate Parker over his 1991 rape allegation and his film The Birth of a Nation.[31] He urged others to "move on" from Parker's past and to view the film which was "an exceptional piece of artistry and a vital portrait of our American experience".[31]


Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Group[8] Gus Leroy
1967 Mark Twain Tonight[8] Mark Twain TV special
1968 Wild in the Streets[8] Senator Johnny Fergus
1970 The Bold Ones: The Senator[8] Senator Hays Stowe
The Great White Hope[35] Al Cameron
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters[35] Watkins
That Certain Summer[8] Doug Salter TV movie
1973 Pueblo[8] Captain Lloyd Bucher TV movie
Magnum Force[8] Lieutenant Briggs
1974 The Girl from Petrovka[8] Joe
Carl Sandburg's Lincoln[8] Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
1976 All the President's Men[8] Deep Throat
Midway[8] Commander Joseph Rochefort
1977 Julia[8] Alan
Rituals[8] Harry
1978 Capricorn One[8] Dr. James Kelloway
The Awakening Land[8] TV series Portius Wheeler – The Solitary
1979 When Hell Was in Session[8] Commander Jeremiah A. Denton TV movie
Murder by Natural Causes[8] Arthur Sinclair TV series
The Legend of the Golden Gun[8] J. R. Swackhammer TV series
Natural Enemies[8] Paul Steward
1980 The Fog[8] Father Malone
The Kidnapping of the President[8] President Adam Scott
1981 The Killing of Randy Webster[35] John Webster TV series
1982 Creepshow[35] Henry Northrup Segment: "The Crate"
Girls Nite Out[9] Jim MacVey
1983 The Star Chamber[9] Judge Benjamin Caulfield
1984 George Washington[9] John Adams TV miniseries
1985 North and South Part 1[9] Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
1986–1989 Designing Women[9] Reese Watson TV series
Portrait of America[9] TV series
Dress Gray[9] General Charles Hedges TV series
North and South Part 2[9] Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
1987 Wall Street[35] Lou Mannheim
1988 The Unholy[35] Archbishop Mosely
I'll Be Home for Christmas[9] Joseph Bundy
The Fortunate Pilgrim[9] Dr. Andrew McKay
1989 Day One[9] General George Marshall TV movie
Fletch Lives[9] Hamilton "Ham" Johnson
1990–1994 Evening Shade[35] Evan Evans TV series
1993 The Firm[35] Oliver Lambert
1996 Innocent Victims[9] Bob Hennis
1997 Eye of God[9] Sheriff Rogers
Cats Don't Dance[9] Cranston Voice
Hercules[35] Amphitryon Voice
1998 Beauty[9] Alexander Miller TV movie
Hush[35] Dr. Franklin Hill
Walking to the Waterline[35] Man on the Beach
1999 The Bachelor[9] Roy O'Dell
2000 Waking the Dead[9] Isaac Green
Men of Honor[35] Mr. Pappy
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus[9] Ak – Master Woodsman of the World Voice
2001 The Majestic[35] Congressman Doyle
The Legend of the Three Trees[35] Narrator Voice
2001–2002 The West Wing[9] Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan TV series
2002 Seventh Day[9] Himself Documentary
2003 Country Music: The Spirit of America[9] Narrator IMAX
Shade[9] The Professor
2006 The Sopranos[9] John Schwinn TV series
NCIS[9] Mickey Stokes TV series
2007 Into the Wild[35] Ron Franz
2008 ER[9] Walter Perkins TV series
Killshot[9] Papa
2009 That Evening Sun[35] Abner Meecham
2010; 2014 Sons of Anarchy[9] Nate Madock TV series
2010–2011 The Event[9] James Dempsey TV series
2011 Water for Elephants[35] Old Jacob
Good Day for It[9] Hector
2012 Lincoln[35] Francis Preston Blair
2013 Savannah[35] Judge Harden
Promised Land[35] Frank Yates
Rectify[9] Rutherford Gaines TV series
Monday Mornings[9] Dr. Arvin Wayne TV series
2014 Planes: Fire & Rescue[35] Mayday Voice
2016 Blackway[9] Whizzer
2017 Bones[9] Red Hudmore TV series

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards:

Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards:

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards:

Online Film Critics Society Awards:

Screen Actors Guild Awards:

Primetime Emmy Awards:

Tony Awards:


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Hal Holbrook Biography (1925-)". Film Reference.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Hal Holbrook". Biography.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Veteran actor Hal Holbrook's loving his Oscar nod". CNN.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Oscars: Robert Duvall Becomes Oldest Supporting Actor Nominee Ever". Yahoo News. 15 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "That Evening Sun". Variety. Retrieved March 26, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b "Hal Holbrook is always up for challenging fare". LA Times.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "First-Look Photo: Anthony Hopkins In 'Go With Me' – Berlin". Yahoo.com. Retrieved February 9, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "Hal Holbrook Filmography". Washington Post. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai "Hal Holbrook List of Movies and TV Shows". TV Guide. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Hal Holbrook at the Internet Broadway Database". Awards. 
  11. ^ "Holbrook, Harold Rowe, Jr., S/Sgt Assisted". Together We Served.com. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c d Patrick S. Pemberton (January 5, 2016). "Hal Holbrook channels Mark Twain on stage". San Luis Obispo.com. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  13. ^ a b "Holyoke History Room & Archives Valley Players Collection (1941-1993). HPLA2007.527". Holyokehistory.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  14. ^ http://www.the-lambs.org
  15. ^ a b "New York World's Fair '64". Westland.net. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  16. ^ Malia Wollan (January 24, 2011). "Mark Twain. Now a Career for the Mustachioed". New York Times. ...has played Twain going on 57 years, longer than Samuel Langhorne Clemens did. 
  17. ^ a b "Hal Holbrook". Master Works Broadway.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  18. ^ Baker, Brian (9 April 2006). Masculinity in Fiction and Film: Representing Men in Popular Genres, 1945-2000. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 104. ISBN 978-1-84714-149-1. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  19. ^ Brunsdale, Mitzi M. (26 July 2010). Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes. ABC-CLIO. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-313-34530-2. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  20. ^ "Deep Throat is W. Mark Felt. And Hal Holbrook. And Kirsten Dunst. And . . .". New York Magazine.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  21. ^ "On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers". 
  22. ^ "Men of Honor (2000)". The New York Times.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  23. ^ "Nashville Film Festival". PR Web.com. Retrieved April 24, 2009. 
  24. ^ "Hal Holbrook Joins Sons of Anarchy". Cinemablend.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  25. ^ "Hal Holbrook Totally Owns the "Water for Elephants" Trailer". NBC New York.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  26. ^ Gerhardt, Tina (31 December 2012). "Matt Damon Exposes Fracking in Promised Land". The Progressive. 
  27. ^ "'Planes: Fire & Rescue' Interview with Hal Holbrook". Movie Web.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  28. ^ Michael Ausiello (August 16, 2016). "Bones Enlists Acting Vets Ed Asner and Hal Holbrook for Final Season". TVLine.com. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  29. ^ a b c "Hal & Dixie". Carroll County Chamber.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 
  30. ^ Biography for Hal Holbrook at the Internet Movie Database
  31. ^ a b c Hal Holbrook (October 14, 2016). "Hal Holbrook, on 'The Birth of a Nation'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 25, 2017. 
  32. ^ "Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain". US MacMillan. Retrieved January 28, 2017. 
  33. ^ "Hal Holbrook, bringing 'Mark Twain' to PAC, is ready to vent". Postcresent.com. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  34. ^ a b "Hal Holbrook Speaks Out Against Republican Party Leaders". LA Times.com. Retrieved May 10, 2015. 
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Roger Ebert. "Hal Holbrook". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved January 27, 2017. 
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Hal Holbrook -Awards". IMDB.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]