Recently, legendary actor Hal Holbrook supportively starred opposite Emile Hirsch in the Sean Penn helmed biopic “Into the Wild.” The emotional timbre of Holbrook’s performance of the character Ron Franz, with honest and pitch-perfect insouciance, is not something the actor, writer and director honed overnight.
Born in 1925, Hal began working in television in the 1950s. He had grown up mostly in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, where he attended the Culver Academies. Like many of his generation, he served in the Army in during World War II. After the war, he attended Denison University, where he began a relationship with the character of Mark Twain, which he would later develop into “Mark Twain Tonight”, a one-man show on stage.
Though he is known for his spot-on impersonation of the great American writer, Hal Holbrook learned his craft both on the boards and by appearing in the TV soaps like “The Brighter Day” (1954). He is an Emmy- and Tony-Award winning actor, with memorable roles as Abraham Lincoln, as Senator Hays Stowe on “The Bold Ones: The Senator” (1970) and as Capt. Lloyd Bucher on “Pueblo” (1973) (TV). All of these roles brought him Emmy Awards, with “Pueblo” bringing him two, as Best Lead Actor in a Drama and Actor of the Year – Special.
More famous roles for Holbrook have been “The Major” in the original Broadway production of Arthur Miller‘s “Incident at Vichy”, and as Martin Sheen‘s significant other in the controversial and acclaimed TV movie “That Certain Summer” (1972) (TV), the first TV movie to sympathetically portray homosexuality. In the 1990s, he had a regular supporting role in the TV series “Evening Shade” (1990), playing Burt Reynolds’s father-in-law.
In film, Holbrook also has made an indelible mark. His portrayal of the enigmatic “Deep Throat” in All the President’s Men (1976), one of the major cinema events of the mid-’70s., has remained with audiences decades after. And on January 22, 2008, he became the oldest male performer ever nominated for an Academy Award, for his supporting turn in Into the Wild (2007)
The 1966 “Mark Twain Tonight” Broadway production which brought great acclaim, and a Tony Award, was eventually taped, and Holbrook won an Emmy nomination. By the time he reprised the show on Broadway in 1977 and in 2005, he had played Mark Twain, aka, Samuel Clemens, over 2,000 times on stage. Hal even played Mark Twain for the President, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Mr. Holbrook will be presenting his latest film, “That Evening Sun,” at the Film Forum this June.
(sources: imdb.com, thateveningsun.com, lakeplacidfilmforum.com, nytimes.com)