Once Upon a Time ...

Once Upon a Time ...

No one knew then, of course, that Harold would become Hal Holbrook ’48, the famed actor who brought Mark Twain to life on stage; who has been awarded a Tony and an Emmy for that portrayal; who has been nominated for Emmy after Emmy after Emmy (in fact, he has been nominated 12 times, taking five of those awards home) for his television and film roles.

When Holbrook enrolled in Denison in 1942 he was asked to dinner at the home of Ed Wright, professor of theatre. “That was the beginning of a friendship that was going to last 54 years,” writes Holbrook in his 2011 memoir, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain.

After Holbrook returned to Denison from serving in the U.S. Army, Wright handed his student and Holbrook’s then-wife, Ruby, a Twain sketch to work out. But Hal wasn’t sold at first. “The Mark Twain sketch was a problem,” writes Holbrook in Harold. “I thought it was the corniest thing I’d ever read. I didn’t want to tell Ed that because I thought it would hurt his feelings, since some of this stuff he did in his solo show was so far out in the cornfield that it would have been embarrassing, if he weren’t so brilliant at it.” But Holbrook eventually confessed his misgivings to Wright, who urged him on anyway. Good thing. That show would eventually become Mark Twain Tonight!, a solo piece, and one that Holbrook is still performing.

In honor of the legendary Hal Holbrook, the editors of the College’s news site, TheDEN, declared Feb. 17, Hal’s 90th birthday, “Hal Holbrook Day.”

In a recent interview with fellow Denisonian Michael Eisner ’64, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Holbrook discussed the ways in which the liberal arts—even chemistry classes for a theatre major—have influenced his career. You can see that video at denison.edu/Holbrook-Eisner.

Published November 2020