Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Played Mark Twain Longer Than Twain Himself, Dies Holbrook played the Southern humorist for more than six decades in his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight. He's also known for playing Deep Throat in All the President's Men.
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Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Played Mark Twain Longer Than Twain Himself, Dies At 95

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Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Played Mark Twain Longer Than Twain Himself, Dies At 95

Actor Hal Holbrook, Who Played Mark Twain Longer Than Twain Himself, Dies At 95

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/339640389/963175697" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Hal Holbrook has died, according to his daughter. He was the voice in the shadows of a parking garage in "All The President's Men." He won a Tony playing Mark Twain in "Mark Twain Tonight." He played that role into his 90s. Here's Jesse Baker.

JESSE BAKER, BYLINE: Hal Holbrook actually played the role of Mark Twain longer than Samuel Clemens did. Mark Twain was the pen name under which Samuel Clemens created classic American figures such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Holbrook brought to life the crotchety humorist for over six decades through the acerbic monologues he performed in his one-man show, "Mark Twain Tonight."

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "MARK TWAIN TONIGHT")

HAL HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) Originally, man started out a little lower than the angels, and he had been getting a little lower ever since.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) To place him properly at the present time, he stands somewhere between the angels and the French.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RICHARD SCHICKEL: There was real bite and a certain amount of savagery in that performance, but people loved it.

BAKER: Hal Holbrook's friend and film critic, Richard Schickel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCHICKEL: Hal made him lovable, you know, in some strange connection that he had made with Twain's character.

BAKER: For any other actor, this might have been a one-time stunt. For Hal Holbrook, it made his career. Holbrook first tried on Twain's trademark white suit right after college and continued to wear it long after he stopped needing the made-up wrinkles. Holbrook says he never stopped finding fresh humor in the lines he had first memorized decades ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HOLBROOK: Phrases like there are shoals and shoals of fools out there, running around outside the asylum, exhibiting some form of specialized insanity. I always laugh at that combination of words - specialized insanity, not just insanity, specialized insanity (laughter). It's gorgeous.

BAKER: That's Hal Holbrook, who spoke to NPR in 2008. His other signature role he would play only once in the shadows of a parking garage as the off-the-record source Deep Throat in the Watergate thriller "All The President's Men."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN")

HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) You tell me what you know and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that's all. Just follow the money.

BAKER: Following the money was fine advice for Woodward and Bernstein but not something Hal Holbrook applied to his career. He had cameos in dozens of television shows, from daytime soaps to primetime dramas, including "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing." His characters were not the hunky romantic leads. He was more the type of actor to catch the corner of your eye on screen and never let it go. Again, Richard Schickel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCHICKEL: Character guys sometimes - and character women as well - they linger in minds longer than some more hotshot leading people do. They turn up on TCM playing the best parts in the movie, you know. I think that's kind of where Hal will be ranked by theatrical and film history.

BAKER: Holbrook said Mark Twain would always be precious to him, but when he was nominated at the age of 82 for his first Academy Award in Sean Penn's film "Into The Wild," he told NPR he was thrilled to be acknowledged for his work outside of Twain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HOLBROOK: I've always wanted to just be an actor, just an actor. That's all I've ever wanted to be, play in different roles.

BAKER: In the end, it'll be hard to know who played the role of Mark Twain better - Samuel Clemens or Hal Holbrook.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker in New York.

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