Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hal Holbrook, a real celebrity

One of the worst aspects of this age of celebrity is that the real celebrities seldom get written about any more, not least if they are also over 60 and male, let alone feature on the front covers of celebrity magazines side by side with the upcoming talent, to give upcoming talent something to aspire to!

Hal Holbrook has been a huge favourite of mine since early childhood for his sheer character, dignity and presence. Casting agents obviously noticed it too as his long film career has seen him cast as everything from Abraham Lincoln to fictitious presidents, military leaders, priests and judges, many paragons of everything good embodying the Stars and Stripes, some not so! (sic the corrupt Lieutenant Briggs in Magnum Force). He has also done his fair share of Shakespeare and other theatre.

Meanwhile he has simultaneously spent more than 60 years touring his very own award-winning one man show, 'Mark Twain Tonight!' as a remarkably convincing Mark Twain, though he has ruefully commented that he has needed less and less make-up as he has gotten older! This show is all the more remarkable as Mr Holbrook has painstakingly memorised pretty well every word Mark Twain ever wrote and introduces random selections in every show so that no two shows are ever the same (unless of course he cheated by reincarnating from the real Mark Twain; and watching Mr Holbrooks' performance, you can entirely believe this might be the case!) The show remains a hot ticket to this day, even though several young pretenders have tried to steal Mr Hobrook's thunder with their own versions.

Above is an extract from his famous 1966 recording watched by over 30 million people. I have the full video and it is among my most treasured possessions.

Not a bad litany of achievement for the son of a railroad hobo and I am delighted to note that Mr Holbrook has finally got round to penning his autobiography which will be out next month. I am sure it will be infinitely more fascinating than Jordan's!

A thoughtful interview with him here of the depth and seriousness we sadly now lack on British television.


Steve said...

Ashamed to say I have never heard of this man before and yet, watching the clip, he does look remarkably familiar (and not just because of the costume and make-up).

Wisewebwoman said...

You've hit on one of my faves, Laura, the man can do no wrong, what an awesome talent and he channels Twain.

moi said...

Holbrook's Twain is a national treasure! But while it's bad for the men, it's triple rough where women are concerned. Helen Mirren gets lots of press, but I think mainly because she still manages to look like a high fashion model, even in her mid-sixties.

Alistair said...

A fine actor.

I bet he would be pleased with a review like you give here.


The Poet Laura-eate said...

Steve, I think most people recognise him when they see his photo, even if his name doesn't immediately spring to mind.

WWW - a fellow lady of taste and discernment!

Moi, for sure older actresses get marginalised too, bar the lucky few like Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. It's very sad. Doesn't anyone consider that we need more older role models to look up to and admire and that these folk can be EVEN MORE interesting for it?

Thanks Alistair. It would be nice to think he might see it since I admire him so much. Am currently enjoying his performance in 'The Awakening Land' - an award-winning mini-series he starred in in the 1970s and which I just about remember from childhood about America's early white settlers. Superb stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I found this by random chance and felt compelled to comment even though I'm a year late! As a teenage girl growing up in the 70s I had a massive crush on Hal Holbrook, despite him being old enough to be my dad. My friends all thought I was weird. I loved his role as Lt. Briggs and Dr. Kelloway in Capricorn One. I fancied Briggs a lot despite him being such a baddie! To this day Hal remains one of my favorite actors. I was lucky enough to meet him in 1999 at one of his Mark Twain performances and he was such a lovely guy to talk to. I was over the moon! He's 87 now and still going strong! Gretchen xx

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Me too Gretchen. He was always my ideal of American manhood, though Martin Sheen comes a pretty close second and Gregory Peck 3rd! Many thanks for your lovely comment! So glad you got to meet him. I have a signed photo having sent a letter to him when I was about 12 - one of my most treasured possessions!