Hal R. Holbrook

Hal R. Holbrook, 1948

B.A., Denison University
L.H.D., The Ohio State University
D.F.A., Denison University

Citation awarded May, 2002

Hal enrolled in Denison University in 1942. His college career was cut short by service in the U.S. Army during World War II, but after the war he returned to continue his studies as a theatre major under his mentor, Professor Ed Wright. By the time of his graduation in 1948 he was already performing an early version of the Mark Twain characterization which would become the hallmark of his creative life. Fresh out of college, Hal and his first wife Ruby Johnston Holbrook, class of 1950, began their professional careers in high school assembly halls with a two-person show featuring historical characters from Shakespeare to Twain.

In 1959, after five years of touring America and another five scrambling for theatre and television jobs in New York, all the while working on the Twain character, he opened his solo Mark Twain Tonight! in a tiny theater off Broadway. “The critics went wild” wrote the Associated Press. “Mr. Holbrook’s material is uproarious, his ability to hold an audience by acting is brilliant” (N.Y. Times). His future with Mark Twain was sealed.

Over a six-decade career, Hal’s professional accomplishments have ranged from stage to television to film. Over 50 television roles have brought him five Emmy Awards, and seven other Emmy nominations, from his controversial 1971 series The Senator to Abraham Lincoln and the stage manager in Our Town. Among his 35 films are Magnum Force, Midway, All The President’s Men, Creepshow, Wall Street, The Firm, The Bachelor, Men of Honor, and this year’s The Majestic.

His nearly 70 stage plays, both in New York as well as in regional theaters, have included Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Henry IV (Hotspur), After the Fall, Glass Menagerie, Man of LaMancha, Our Town, King Lear, Uncle Vanya, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He is honorary chairman of the National Corporate Theatre Fund and recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award.

For 48 consecutive years, Mark Twain Tonight! has remained his signature performance, making it one of the longest running shows in theatre history, the recipient of a Tony Award and a Drama Critics Circle Award. His 90-minute CBS television special was nominated for an Emmy Award and seen by an audience of 22 million. He continues to add to a repertoire of Twain material which keeps pace with the human condition.

Hal has been honored by universities with honorary degrees (including the Doctor of Fine Arts from Denison in 1980). He has received the Edwin Booth Award for Excellence in Theatre in Washington, D.C. (1998), and recently was inducted into the New York Theatre Hall of Fame. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress/singer Dixie Carter. Together they have five children.