R.I.P. Hal Holbrook, the Mark Twain impersonator who replaced Perry Mason
The recurring star of TV movies, miniseries and Evening Shade was 95.
Read to Me
American icons Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln are big shoes to fill. Hal Holbrook did both repeatedly, perfectly. He developed his spot-on impression of the author formerly known as Samuel Clemens in his 20s, in a one-man show titled Mark Twain Tonight! It was a role and show he took to Broadway, winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1966. A year later, Mark Twain Tonight! made the leap to television as a CBS special. Holbrook once joked that he played "Mark Twain" longer than Samuel Clemens.
It was a role that led to a long screen career, often in roles of stately leaders. At the start of the Seventies, he landed a lead role in The Bold Ones: The Senator, part of The Bold Ones drama franchise. It won him an Emmy Award. A few years later, he portrayed Abe Lincoln in Carl Sandburg's Lincoln. It was a role he would reprise a decade later in the Civil War miniseries North and South.
The following year, 1986, the Ohio native joined his third wife, Dixie Carter, on the sitcom Designing Women, playing the love interest of Julia Sugarbaker, played by his real-life spouse. After a few seasons, his character was killed off so that Holbrook could take the role in another sitcom, Evening Shade, the Burt Reynolds vehicle about a former pro football player living in Arkansas. Holbrook played Reynolds' father-in-law, newspaperman Evan Evans.
In 1993, Raymond Burr passed away, leaving a gaping hole at the heart of the Perry Mason Mysteries TV movie series. Paul Sorvino first stepped in alongside Barbara Hale's Della Street in 1993's A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Wicked Wives, but Hal Holbrook became the go-to replacement for Perry Mason in three movies aired in 1994–95. His character, "Wild Bill" McKenzie displayed the charm and panache expected of an ace attorney. His wife, Dixie Carter, also appeared in A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle.
On the big screen, Halbrook earned acclaim as the government source "Deep Throat" in All the President's Men (1976) and as a veteran stockbroker in Wall Street, just to name two of his memorable roles.
Holbrook died on January 23, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 95.