Hal Holbrook

Hal Holbrook

Holbrook in the 1977 TV adaptation of the play Our Town.
Born Harold Rowe Holbrook, Jr.
(1925-02-17) February 17, 1925
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Culver Academies
Alma mater Denison University
Occupation Actor
Years active 1954–present
Notable work Mark Twain Tonight
Into the Wild
The Fog
All the President's Men
Magnum Force
Spouse(s) Ruby Holbrook
Carol Eve Rossen (1966–79)
Dixie Carter
(1984–2010; her death)
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][2][3]

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) and Men of Honor (2000).[2]

Holbrook's role in Into the Wild (2007) earned him both Screen Actors Guild Award and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor.[4] In his later career, Holbrook had a recurring role on the FX series Sons of Anarchy and has appeared as Francis Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012).[3]

Holbrook has won five Primetime Emmy Awards and a Tony Award for his 1966 portrayal of Twain in Mark Twain Tonight.[4]

Early life

Holbrook was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Aileen (Davenport) Holbrook (19051987), a vaudeville dancer, and Harold Rowe Holbrook, Sr (19021982).[1] After being abandoned by his parents at age two, he and his two sisters were raised by his paternal grandparents first in South 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.[5] Holbrook served in the United States Army in World War II and was stationed in Newfoundland, where he performed in theatre 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.[2] Ed Sullivan saw him and gave Holbrook his first national exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 12, 1956.[2] 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.[6] He joined The Lamns in 1955 where he began developing his one-man show, MARK TWAIN TONIGHT.[7] He was a member of the cast for several years and performed Mark Twain Tonight as the 1957 season opener.[6] 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.[2] 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.[8] 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.[8]

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.[9]

In 1964, Holbrook played the role of the Major in the original production of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy.[10] 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.[10]

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.[11][12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

Later career

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.[15]

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.[4] This renders Holbrook, at age 82, the oldest nominee in Academy Award history in the Best Supporting Actor category.[4] On December 20, 2007, Holbrook was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his work in the film.[4] 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.[4]

Holbrook appeared with wife Dixie Carter in That Evening Sun, filmed in East Tennessee in the summer of 2008.[16] The film was produced by Dogwood Entertainment.[16] It is based on a short story by William Gay.[16] 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.[16] 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."[16] 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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] In 2012, Steven Spielberg cast Holbrook to play Francis Preston Blair in Lincoln.[3] His recent films are Gus Van Sant's Promised Land (2012)[20] and the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014).[21]

Personal life

Holbrook and Dixie Carter at the 41st Emmy Awards, 1990

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]

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.[22] 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.[22] Holbrook and Carter remained married until her death on April 10, 2010.[23] 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 grew to love Dixie's home in McLemoresville, Tennessee, and continues to retreat there from the busy life on the road and in Hollywood. The local community responded by building the Dixie Theatre for Performing Arts in nearby Huntington, Tennessee, which features the Hal Holbrook Auditorium.[22]

Holbrook is a converted Christian, even though he tends to criticize the Bible at times.[24] He is a registered Independent, but tends to lean more liberal.[25] Holbrook has criticized the Republican Party since Barack Obama took office.[25] Holbrook is the great-uncle of fellow actor Boyd Holbrook.


Year Title Role Notes
1966 The Group Gus Leroy
1967 Mark Twain Tonight Mark Twain TV special
1968 Wild in the Streets Senator Johnny Fergus
1970 The Bold Ones: The Senator Senator Hays Stowe
1970 The Great White Hope Al Cameron
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters Watkins
1972 That Certain Summer Doug Salter TV movie
1973 Pueblo Captain Lloyd Bucher TV movie
1973 Magnum Force Lieutenant Briggs
1974 The Girl from Petrovka Joe
1974 Carl Sandburg's Lincoln Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
1976 All the President's Men Deep Throat
1976 Midway Commander Joseph Rochefort
1977 Julia Alan
1977 Rituals Harry
1978 Capricorn One Dr. James Kelloway
1978 The Awakening Land TV series Portius Wheeler - The Solitary
1979 When Hell Was in Session Commander Jeremiah A. Denton TV movie
1979 Murder by Natural Causes Arthur Sinclair TV series
1979 The Legend of the Golden Gun J. R. Swackhammer TV series
1979 Natural Enemies Paul Steward
1980 The Fog Father Malone
1980 The Kidnapping of the President President Adam Scott
1981 The Killing of Randy Webster John Webster TV series
1982 Creepshow Henry Northrup Segment: "The Crate"
1982 Girls Nite Out Jim MacVey
1983 The Star Chamber Judge Benjamin Caulfield
1984 George Washington John Adams TV miniseries
1985 North and South Part 1 Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
19861989 Designing Women Reese Watson TV series
1986 Portrait of America TV series
1986 Dress Gray General Charles Hedges TV series
1986 North and South Part 2 Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries
1987 Wall Street Lou Mannheim
1988 The Unholy Archbishop Mosely
1988 I'll Be Home for Christmas Joseph Bundy
1988 The Fortunate Pilgrim Dr. Andrew McKay
1989 Day One General George Marshall TV movie
1989 Fletch Lives Hamilton "Ham" Johnson
19901994 Evening Shade Evan Evans TV series
1993 The Firm Oliver Lambert
1996 Innocent Victims Bob Hennis
1997 Eye of God Sheriff Rogers
1997 Cats Don't Dance Cranston Voice
1997 Hercules Amphitryon Voice
1998 Beauty Alexander Miller TV movie
1998 Hush Dr. Franklin Hill
1998 Walking to the Waterline Man on the Beach
1999 The Bachelor Roy O'Dell
2000 Waking the Dead Isaac Green
2000 Men of Honor Mr. Pappy
2000 The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus Ak - Master Woodsman of the World Voice
2001 The Majestic Congressman Doyle
2001 The Legend of the Three Trees Narrator Voice
20012002 The West Wing Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan TV series
2002 Seventh Day Himself Documentary
2003 Country Music: The Spirit of America Narrator IMAX
2003 Shade The Professor
2006 The Sopranos John Schwinn TV series
2006 NCIS Mickey Stokes TV series
2007 Into the Wild Ron Franz
2008 ER Walter Perkins TV series
2008 Killshot Papa
2009 That Evening Sun Abner Meecham
2010; 2014 Sons of Anarchy Nate Madock TV series
20102011 The Event James Dempsey TV series
2011 Water for Elephants Old Jacob
2011 Good Day for It Hec
2012 Lincoln Francis Preston Blair
2013 Savannah Judge Harden
2013 Promised Land Frank Yates
2013 Rectify Rutherford Gaines TV series
2013 Monday Mornings Dr. Arvin Wayne TV series
2014 Planes: Fire & Rescue Mayday Voice
2016 Go with Me / Blackway Whizzer

Awards and nominations

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. 1 2 3 4 5 "Hal Holbrook Biography (1925-)". Film Reference.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 "Hal Holbrook". Biography.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 "Hal Holbrook is always up for challenging fare". LA Times.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Veteran actor Hal Holbrook's loving his Oscar nod". CNN.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  5. "Hal Holbrook at the Internet Broadway Database". Awards.
  6. 1 2 "Holyoke History Room & Archives Valley Players Collection (1941-1993). HPLA2007.527". Holyokehistory.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  7. http://www.the-lambs.org
  8. 1 2 "New York World's Fair '64". Westland.net. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  9. 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.
  10. 1 2 "Hal Holbrook". Master Works Broadway.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. "Deep Throat is W. Mark Felt. And Hal Holbrook. And Kirsten Dunst. And . . .". New York Magazine.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  14. "On Stage: New class of theater hall of famers".
  15. "Men of Honor (2000)". The New York Times.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 "That Evening Sun". Variety. Retrieved March 26, 2009.
  17. "Nashville Film Festival". PR Web.com. Retrieved April 24, 2009.
  18. "Hal Holbrook Joins Sons of Anarchy". Cinemablend.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  19. "Hal Holbrook Totally Owns the "Water for Elephants" Trailer". NBC New York.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  20. Gerhardt, Tina (31 December 2012). "Matt Damon Exposes Fracking in Promised Land". The Progressive.
  21. "'Planes: Fire & Rescue' Interview with Hal Holbrook". Movie Web.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  22. 1 2 3 "Hal & Dixie". Carroll County Chamber.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  23. Biography for Hal Holbrook at the Internet Movie Database
  24. "Hal Holbrook, bringing 'Mark Twain' to PAC, is ready to vent". Postcresent.com. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  25. 1 2 "Hal Holbrook Speaks Out Against Republican Party Leaders". LA Times.com. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 "Hal Holbrook -Awards". IMDB.com. Retrieved April 12, 2015.

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