Actor Hal Holbrook Dies, Aged 95

Hal Holbrook

by James White |
Published on

Hal Holbrook, an actor who graced screens big and small, and memorably played humourist Mark Twain for years on stage, has died. He was 95.

Born Harold Rowe Holbrook, Jr. in Cleveland in 1925, he had a troubled early life, his father either in jail or in mental institutions and his mother abandoning him as a baby. Raised by his paternal grandparents in Massachusetts, Holbrook was quickly packed off to boarding school and a military academy. Drama class became a sanctuary and during his time in the Army, he joined an amateur theatre club. After meeting his first wife, Ruby Johnston, in the club, the pair spent five tough years touring with a show about great personalities from history, including Mark Twain.

Settling in New York in 1952, Holbrook began his screen career appearing on soap opera The Brighter Day, but with few other prospects at the time, he hatched the idea of a Twain one-man show, which led to huge success and a long run.

Holbrook made his film debut in 1966's The Group at the age of 41, kicking off a film career that saw him play a variety of kindly characters and some who used that charm to conceal more dastardly intentions. Among his more notable movies are the likes of Lincoln, Wall Street, Magnum Force, The Fog, All The President's Men, The Firm, Capricorn One, Fletch Lives and Into The Wild (which saw him nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar).

On TV, he was a regular cast member on Designing Women and Holbrook developed a successful career in guest and supporting roles, including on The West Wing, Sons Of Anarchy, The Sopranos and Grey's Anatomy.

"In 1970, I visited the set of the TV series The Bold Ones: The Senator to watch Hal Holbrook play Senator Hays Stowe," says Lincoln director Steven Spielberg. "From that day on, it was my dream to work with this transformative actor, and it finally happened 42 years later when he portrayed Preston Blair in Lincoln. Hal was, quite simply, an American classic who brought Mark Twain and so many of our nation’s most memorable characters back to life. He was unforgettable in All the President’s Men, Into the Wild and so many, many more roles over the years. I’ll be forever grateful for the time we spent together on Lincoln, and the world has lost a class act."

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