Mark Twain lives on through Hal Holbrook 


It has been a little over a century since the death of Mark Twain, but actor Hal Holbrook has been keeping Twain’s legacy alive with his show, Mark Twain Tonight!

Holbrook, who has been portraying the American novelist for about 60 years, recently performed at the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall on Saturday to a nearly-full house.

The 89-year-old actor, sporting a white suit and mustache, walked onto the stage to give his performance around 8 p.m.

Holbrook’s show consisted of him reciting various works from Twain, including excerpts from his autobiography, essays and novels.

Few stage props were used for the show, as a podium, a plush, red chair and a table set up on the three evenly-placed rugs were all Holbrook needed.



While the show’s program had a complete listing of Twain’s work, all selected by Holbrook, the actor has been known to improvise and choose different pieces with every new show.

In regards to talk of the improvised nature of the show, its program included a note stating, “he has generously conceded to a printed program for the benefit of those who are in distress and wish to fan themselves.”

The majority of the show involved Holbrook pacing back and forth along the stage, cigar in hand, as he performed pieces of satire.

Most notably, the performance focused on topics related to politics, organized religion and Twain’s personal life experiences.

Similarly, Twain would go on lecture tours and was often in demand as a feature speaker. His performances were typically seen as a precursor to modern-day stand-up comedy.

While Twain’s intellect revolved around issues regarding his era, Holbrook was still able to draw laughter with humor compatible with present-day.

“Washington is a stud farm for every jackass of America,” Holbrook said to a laughing audience.

Holbrook originally developed his impersonation of Twain as part of a two-person show between him and his first wife, Ruby. However, Holbrook gave his first solo performance in 1954.

From his initial solo act, the actor toured on his own every year since then.

After receiving critical acclaim from personalities such as Ed Sullivan, Holbrook amounted enough success to land him his first Broadway performance in 1966. He received a Tony Award for his performance and garnered further praise with the Emmy-nominated CBS special of Mark Twain Tonight!

He has also performed his show on Broadway in 1977 and 2005.

Holbrook is also widely known for starring in Hollywood films such as Magnum Force, All The President’s Men and Water for Elephants. He also received an Academy Award nomination for his role in the 2007 Sean Penn film, Into the Wild.

Appearances of Holbrook on television include the Emmy award-winning show The Senator, and guest appearances on shows such as The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy.

After a second intermission, Holbrook blew a cloud of cigar smoke from behind the curtains before walking back on stage.

The latter half of show ended with a dramatic reading of Huckleberry Finn and various other Twain pieces.

2 Responses to Mark Twain lives on through Hal Holbrook

  1. Steph

    I saw him last time he came to UNLV a few years ago. He was hilarious.

  2. Joe P

    It sounds like an extremely boring event, but cheers to you for preserving through it


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