Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr. (born February 17, 1925) is an American film, stage actor, and television director. He first received critical acclaim in 1954 for a one-man stage show he developed while studying at Denison University, performing as Mark Twain.
Year Title Role Notes Ref
1966 The Group Gus Leroy
1968 Wild in the Streets Senator Johnny Fergus
1970 The Great White Hope Al Cameron
1972 They Only Kill Their Masters Watkins
1973 Magnum Force Lieutenant Neil Briggs
1974 The Girl from Petrovka Joe
1976 All the President’s Men Deep Throat
1976 Midway (Midway) Commander Joseph Rochefort
1977 Julia Alan
1978 Capricorn One Dr. James Kelloway
1979 Natural Enemies Paul Steward [
1980 The Fog Father Malone
The Kidnapping of the President President Adam Scott
1982 Creepshow Henry Northrup Segment: “The Crate”
Girls Nite Out Jim MacVey
1983 A törvény ökle /The Star Chamber/ Judge Benjamin Caulfield
1987 Wall Street Lou Mannheim
1988 The Unholy Archbishop Mosely [
1989 Fletch Lives Hamilton “Ham” Johnson
1993 The Firm Oliver Lambert
1996 Innocent Victims Bob Hennis
1997 Eye of God Sheriff Rogers
Cats Don’t Dance Cranston Voice
Hercules Amphitryon Voice
1998 Hush Dr. Franklin Hill
Walking to the Waterline Man on the Beach
1999 The Bachelor Roy O’Dell
2000 Waking the Dead Isaac Green
Férfibecsület – (Men of Honor) Mr. Pappy
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus Ak – Master Woodsman of the World Voice
2001 The Majestic Congressman Doyle
The Legend of the Three Trees Narrator Voice
2002 Seventh Day Himself Documentary
2003 Country Music: The Spirit of America Narrator IMAX
Shade The Professor
2007 Into the Wild Ron Franz
2008 Killshot Papa
2009 That Evening Sun Abner Meecham
2011 Vizet az elefántnak – Water for Elephants Old Jacob
Good Day for It Hector
2012 Lincoln Francis Preston Blair
Promised Land Frank Yates
2013 Savannah Judge Harden
2014 Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey Himself Documentary
Planes: Fire & Rescue Mayday Voice
2015 Blackway Whizzer
Year Title Role Notes Ref
1967–2017 Mark Twain Tonight Mark Twain TV special
1970–1971 The Bold Ones: The Senator Senator Hays Stowe 8 episodes
1972 That Certain Summer Doug Salter TV movie
1973 Pueblo Commander Lloyd M. Bucher TV movie
1974 Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries; 6 episodes
1978 The Awakening Land Portius Wheeler TV miniseries; 3 episodes
1979 When Hell Was in Session Commander Jeremiah Denton TV movie
Murder by Natural Causes Arthur Sinclair TV movie
The Legend of the Golden Gun J. R. Swackhammer TV movie
1981 The Killing of Randy Webster John Webster TV movie
1983–1988 Portrait of America Himself 8 episodes
1984 George Washington John Adams TV miniseries; 3 episodes
1985 North and South Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries, 1 episode
1986 Dress Gray General Charles Hedges TV miniseries, 2 episodes
North and South: Book II Abraham Lincoln TV miniseries, 5 episodes
1986–1989 Designing Women Reese Watson 8 episodes
1988 The Fortunate Pilgrim Dr. Andrew McKay TV miniseries, 3 episodes
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Joseph Bundy TV movie
1989 Day One General George Marshall TV movie
1990–1994 Evening Shade Evan Evans 80 episodes
1998 Beauty Alexander Miller TV movie
2000 The Outer Limits Justice Oliver Harbison 2 episodes
Family Law Judge Richard Lloyd Episode: “One Mistake”
2001–2002 The West Wing Assistant Secretary of State Albie Duncan 2 episodes
2002 Becker Mr. Humphries Episode: “And the Heartbeat Goes On”
2003 Good Morning, Miami Jim Templeton 2 episodes
2005 Hope & Faith Edward Shanowski Episode: “A Room of One’s Own”
2006 The Sopranos John Schwinn Episode: “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh”
NCIS Mickey Stokes Episode: “Escaped”
2008 ER Walter Perkins 2 episodes
2010; 2014 Sons of Anarchy Nate Madock 5 episodes
2010–2011 The Event James Dempsey 10 episodes
2013 Monday Mornings Dr. Arvin Wayne Episode: “The Legend and the Fall”
Rectify Rutherford Gaines Episode: “Modern Times”
2017 Bones Red Hudmore Episode: “The New Tricks in the Old Dogs”
Grey’s Anatomy Dr. Lewis Klatch Episode: “‘Till I Hear It from You”
Hawaii Five-0 Leonard Patterson Episode: “Waimaka ‘ele’ele”
Awards and nominations
(2008) Nominated – Best Supporting Actor / Into the Wild
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards:
(2008) Nominated – Best Supporting Actor / Into the Wild
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards:
(2007) Nominated – Best Supporting Actor / Into the Wild
Online Film Critics Society Awards:
(2008) Nominated – Best Supporting Actor / Into the Wild
Screen Actors Guild Awards:
(2008) Nominated – Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role / Into the Wild
Primetime Emmy Awards:
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
(1967) Nominated – Mark Twain Tonight!
(1971) Nominated – A Clear and Present Danger
(1973) Nominated – That Certain Summer
(1974) Won – Pueblo
(1976) Won – Sandburg’s Lincoln
(1978) Nominated – The Awakening Land
(1969) Nominated – The Whole World is Watching
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama or Comedy Special:
(1978) Nominated – Our Town
(1971) Won – The Bold Ones: The Senator
Outstanding Informational Series:
(1988) Nominated – Portrait of America (segment: New York City)
Outstanding Performance in Informational Programming:
(1989) Won – Portrait of America (segment: Alaska)
Actor of the Year (Retired category)
(1974) Won – Pueblo
Holbrook’s role as Ron Franz in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007) earned him both Screen Actors Guild Award and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Until Robert Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015, Holbrook was the oldest actor to receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination.In 2009, Holbrook received critical acclaim for his performance as recently retired farmer, Abner Meecham, in the independent film That Evening Sun.
In his later career, Holbrook appeared as Francis Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), provided his voice as Mayday in the Disney animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014) and as Whizzer in Blackway (2015).
As a television actor, Holbrook is known for starring in and directing four episodes in Designing Women as Reese Watson, opposite his wife, Dixie Carter.Later in his career, he has starred in minor roles in Sons of Anarchy, The Event, and Rectify. He has guest-starred in many critically acclaimed television series such as NCIS, The West Wing, The Sopranos, ER, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, and Hawaii Five-0.
Holbrook has won five Primetime Emmy Awards and a Tony Award for his 1966 portrayal of Twain in Mark Twain Tonight. In 2003, Holbrook was honored with the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush.
Holbrook was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Aileen (née Davenport) Holbrook (1905–1987), a vaudeville dancer, and Harold Rowe Holbrook Sr. (1902–1982).
After being abandoned by his parents at age two, along with his two older sisters, they were raised by his paternal grandparents, first in Weymouth, Massachusetts, and later in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood. He graduated from Culver Military Academy, now part of the Culver Academies, and then from 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.
From 1942-46, Holbrook served in the United States Army in World War II and was stationed in Newfoundland. While stationed in Newfoundland, he performed in theater productions such as the play Madam Precious.
Holbrook’s first solo performance as Twain was at Lock Haven State Teachers College in Pennsylvania in 1954. Ed Sullivan saw him and gave Holbrook his first national exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 12, 1956. 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. He joined The Lamns in 1955, where he began developing his one-man show. He was a member of the cast for several years and performed Mark Twain Tonight as the 1957 season opener. The State Department even sent him on a European tour, which included pioneering appearances behind the Iron Curtain. In 1959, Holbrook first played the role off-Broadway. Columbia Records recorded an LP of excerpts from the show.
Holbrook performed in a special production for the New York World’s Fair (1964, 1965) for the Bell Telephone Pavilion. Jo Mielziner created an innovative audio-visual ride experience and used Holbrook’s acting talents on 65 different action screens for “The Ride Of Communications” with the movie itself known as From Drumbeats to Telstar.
Mark Twain would serve as an inspiration to Holbrook’s early and eventual entire career through his performance as Twain in Mark Twain Tonight
In 1967, Mark Twain Tonight was presented on television by CBS and Xerox, and Holbrook received an Emmy for his performance. 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. Holbrook won a Tony Award for the performance in 1966. Until Holbrook retired in 2017, aged 92, Mark Twain Tonight toured the country, which amounted to over about 2100 performances. He has portrayed Twain longer than Samuel Langhorne Clemens did.
In 1964, Holbrook played the role of the Major in the original production of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. 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. In 1966, Holbrook starred opposite Shirley Booth in the acclaimed CBS Playhouse production of The Glass Menagerie.
Holbrook co-starred with Martin Sheen in the controversial and acclaimed 1972 television film That Certain Summer. 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.
In 1976, Holbrook won acclaim for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in a series of television specials based on Carl Sandburg’s acclaimed biography. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the 1970 series The Bold Ones: The Senator. In 1979, he starred with Katharine Ross, Barry Bostwick, and Richard Anderson in the made-for-TV movie Murder by Natural Causes. Holbrook also had a major role on the sitcom Evening Shade throughout its entire run. Early in his career, Holbrook worked onstage and in a television soap opera, The Brighter Day. 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.Holbrook was the narrator on the Ken Burns documentary Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery in 1997.
From 1986-89, Holbrook had a recurring role as Reese Watson on Designing Women, opposite his wife Dixie Carter. For a short period between 1988 and 1990, Holbrook directed four episodes of the series.
In 1999, Holbrook was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
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.
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. At the time, this rendered Holbrook, at age 82, the oldest nominee in Academy Award history in the Best Supporting Actor category.
On December 20, 2007, Holbrook was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his work in the film. 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.
In 2003, President George W. Bush honored Holbrook with a National Humanities Medal for “charming audiences with the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain as Twain’s outlook never fails to give Holbrook a good show to put on”.
Holbrook appeared with wife Dixie Carter in That Evening Sun, filmed in East Tennessee in the summer of 2008. The film, produced by Dogwood Entertainment, is based on a short story by William Gay. 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. 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.” 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.
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
Holbrook appeared as a featured guest star in a 2006 episode of the HBO series The Sopranos and the NCIS episode “Escaped”. 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. He also had a multiple-episode arc on The Event, an American television series on NBC, appearing in the 2010–2011 season.
In 2011, Holbrook appeared in Water for Elephants. In 2012, Steven Spielberg cast Holbrook to play Francis Preston Blair in Lincoln. His recent films are Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land (2012), the animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue (2014), and in the minor role as Whizzer in the drama film Blackway (2016).
In 2014, Holbrook was the subject of Scott Teems’ documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey depicting Holbrook’s long lasting career as portraying Twain. It was premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival that same year.
In 2016, Holbrook was cast as Red Hudmore and appeared in the final season of Bones on January 17, 2017. On March 23, 2017, aged 92, he appeared on an episode on Grey’s Anatomy playing a retired thoracic surgeon whose wife is a patient, and on Hawaii Five-0 later in the year.
In September 2017, after six decades of playing the role of Mark Twain, Holbrook announced his retirement from the one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! Holbrook indicated that he would like to continue working on movies and television.
Holbrook has been married three times and has three children. He married a Canadian, Ruby Elaine Johnstone (born August 28, 1923; later known as actress Ruby Holbrook) on September 22, 1945, and they had two children, Victoria Rowe Holbrook and David Vining Holbrook. 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.
He married actress and singer Dixie Carter on May 27, 1984; the couple remained married until Carter’s death from cancer on April 10, 2010 (aged 70).
Architect Hoyte Johnson of Atlanta redesigned Carter’s Tennessee family home and created an environment that the couple shared with family and friends.Holbrook said 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. 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. In 2011, Holbrook’s memoir, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Holbrook is a converted Christian, although he has occasionally criticized the politicization of religion. He is a registered independent, but leans towards the liberal end of the political spectrum. He criticized the Republican Party while Barack Obama was in office.
In 2016, he castigated then-Republican-candidate Donald Trump for not having “the maturity to run the country”. In 2017, Holbrook again criticized President Trump, saying, “We have [Trump] who has been elected president now who is upending and destroying a great many of our American values…he’s trying to distort the American dream, which he’s doing every hour of the day.”Holbrook opposes President Trump’s immigration ban while praising the protests against the ban.
In October 2016, Holbrook wrote a letter to The New York Times defending actor-director Nate Parker over his alleged 1991 rape of a woman and Parker’s controversial film The Birth of a Nation. He urged others to “move on” from Parker’s past and to view the film which was “an exceptional piece of artistry and a vital portrait of our American experience”.
The local community of McLemoresville, Tennessee, hometown of his late wife Dixie Carter, constructed the Dixie Theatre for Performing Arts in nearby Huntingdon, Tennessee, which features the Hal Holbrook Auditorium.
On June 8, 2017, actor J. G. Hertzler announced his candidacy as a U.S. House Representative for New York’s 23rd congressional district in the 2018 elections. In his campaign, he plans to act “in the persona of Mark Twain”, to present his ideas “through the brilliant humorist for all ages” as a tribute both to Twain and to Holbrook.
Upon his retirement from his Mark Twain persona, The HuffPost hailed Holbrook as “the man who has done more to keep Mark Twain on people’s minds than anyone else”.