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.

Everett Collection

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.

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CaptainDunsel 38 months ago
For another great Holbrook performance, check out "Murder by Natural Causes". He plays a TV "psychic" whose wife (Katherine Ross) is plotting to do him in by triggering a heart attack. or is she? From the typewriters of Levinson & Link.
TheDavBow3 38 months ago
He was so funny in Evening Shade. Also enjoyed him in "All The President's Men" and "Midway". RIP
DethBiz 38 months ago
RIP Mike Henry aka Junior from Smokey and the Bandit as well. "I'm gonna go home and smack your mamma in da mouth!"
TheDavBow3 DethBiz 38 months ago
Junior - "Daddy, I gotta go pee pee." Buford - "Swallow it!"
TheDavBow3 DethBiz 38 months ago
I remember Mike Henry playing Tarzan in the movies in the late '60s. R.I.P., Mike
scp 38 months ago
I had not heard or seen anything about this until just now, which is weird given how much of a star he was. RIP.
froghorn7 38 months ago
Being a Mark Twain fan, I attended Mark Twain Tonight presentations whenever Hal was in my area and saw him many times over the years, even taking my small special ed class to see him. i got to meet him several times....once at a special event when his book came out for a special meet and greet signing event, and, after a presentation at Thousand Oaks after Dixie's death. I was invited to the Green Room after the event because I had brought a card and rose. i was one of the last he spoke to after he made his way around the room which included Delta Burke and her husband and other celebrities. I was the odd ball but Hal was so cordial and apologetic about the postponement of his presentation. A true gentleman! What I don't understand is why it took so long to publicize his passing......he would have been 96 on February 17th, so in my mind he was 96!
JohnKlein 38 months ago
Loved Hal Holbrook. Acted in many TV shows and movies I liked over the years. But when I see him I always think of a movie I saw with my father and best friend at the Tower Theater (double feature, pretty sure it was Batman) in the late 60's. Movie was "Wild in the Streets". Also had Shelly Winters. Movie is really beyond words. I can still remember my father, smoking a cig, looking at me out of the corner of his eyes. Couldn't figure out to stay or go. Check it out if you're over 30 ;-) RIP Hal.
UTZAAKE JohnKlein 38 months ago
When I saw that Hal Holbrook had died, the first thing that popped into my mind was Wild in the Streets. For the uninitiated, he played a RFK-type politician who recruited Max Frost to help promote his senatorial campaign, only to eventually become Frost's last over-30 adversary. That is, before the callous Frost began making enemies with those younger than 10.
robertabbott UTZAAKE 38 months ago
I heard about Wild In the Streets but never got the chance to see it. I was given the understanding the slogan "Don't Trust Anyone over 30" came into existence because of this movie. I wish it was on DVD.
Wiseguy robertabbott 38 months ago
According to Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide it has been released on videocassette, laserdisc and DVD. Whether you can find it is another matter.
kkvegas robertabbott 38 months ago
You can get Wild in the Streets on DVD on Amazon for less than $14.00.
StrayCat 38 months ago
Is it my imagination or is there an abundance of these actors from the 50's-80's passing lately? Perhaps i never paid attention to this before.
dangler1907 StrayCat 38 months ago
It's not an abundance. It's a sign that you - like me - are getting older. One of the curses of age is that we watch so many icons and heroes dropping away ... because they were older than us to start with.
mjp 38 months ago
My earliest memory of his acting is from a made-for-TV movie I saw at 12 called "That Certain Summer." I remember how controversial it was in dealing with homosexuality. Since then, I have enjoyed his acting in so many roles. A long and productive life!
Bricat2001 38 months ago
How come no one is reporting those spam comments? I've been seeing them alot lately.
Also RIP hal, I used to watch the Perry Mason mystery movies when they were in the movies channel
ArnoldSmitty Bricat2001 38 months ago
Bricat, flag them. I did one last night and it's gone. Just flagged 2 below.
texasluva 39 months ago
I remember him mostly for Pueblo (1973), Magnum Force (1973), All the President's Men (1976), Midway (1976), The Fog (1980) then more or less fell off my radar but never forgotten. R.I.P. Sir.
BenSchockley texasluva 37 months ago
I too remember him in Magnum Force with Clint Eastwood, David Soul, and Robert Urich.
BrittReid 39 months ago
Very prolific actor to say the least. Always remember him as Lt Briggs. RIP.
Jeffrey 39 months ago
That's too bad about Hal Holbrook passing away. RIP. We will miss you.
AreliaPendergrass Jeffrey 39 months ago
Ninety-five is not a bad age to die. He lived a long and fruitful life. Left great memories in his films. May he RIP. 🌺
Dwight 39 months ago
I had the pleasure of seeing him perform “Mark Twain, Tonight” in person just a few years ago; he was at least 90 then. Very impressive.

His knowledge of Twain was incredible. He had a basic layout of how he would do the first half of the show. During intermission, he would decide what he would do for the second half.

Most of the roles he took were warm, down to earth people who deeply cared about those around him. I’d like to think that was just the type of person he really was.
DethBiz 39 months ago
RIP Mr. Holbrook. One of my favorites. Very few great actors left. Still to this day I wonder why in the 1980 movie The Fog as Father Malone he catapulted out of nowhere when Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis were looking for him in the church.
Barry22 39 months ago
RIP. One of my movie channels showed a crazy movie called "Wild in the Streets" a couple of nights ago. He was in it.
AreliaPendergrass Barry22 39 months ago

He played a wife killer in Stephen King’s film Creepshow. Adrienne Barbeau played his controlling, overbearing, obnoxious wife. I’d never seen him in that kind of role, but he was delightful to say the least! 😇
harlow1313 39 months ago
Sigh. I keep expecting to open up the Metv stories page to learn that I have died.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

― Mark Twain
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