Sept. 24, 1990: Mark Twain returned to Wilkes-Barre after 119 years to kick off the 1990-91 Broadway series for F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
This wasn’t the real Twain, of course, but rather actor Hal Holbrook, who for the past several decades had toured the United States as the revered author in his one-man show.
A review of Holbrook’s performance in the Citizens’ Voice described him as “ageless.”
“(T)he amazing thing about his excellent offering is that as the world changes so does Holbrook’s Twain,” the review added. “Polished and sincere, he gives a nicely measured performance of this legend.”
“I was a youngish man when I started the research and heavy editing on the Twain material,” Holbrook said of his portrayal. “You grow in a role as you go through passages of your life.”
Some 22 years later, Holbrook was to return to the Kirby Center to perform as Twain again, but the performance was canceled because of an “unforeseen conflict in scheduling.”
Holbrook started portraying Twain in a two-person act he created with his first wife, Ruby, in the late 1940s, according to a Feb. 2 Los Angeles Times article. The pair performed the show at high schools across the southwest.
Holbrook then developed it into a one-man show. His first solo performance as Twain took place at Lock Haven State College (now Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania) in 1954, according to a 1990 Indiana Gazette article. He continued performing at nightclubs and off-Broadway until he finally landed on Broadway in 1966. His portrayal of Twain won him the Tony Award for best actor in a play for 1966.
Twain wasn’t Holbrook’s only act. He starred in numerous television shows and movies, including portraying Abraham Lincoln in the television mini-series “Lincoln” and “North and South” and a recurring role in two popular CBS sitcoms, “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade.”
Holbrook died on Jan. 23 at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 95.
Brian Fulton has been the librarian at The Times-Tribune for the past 14 years. On his blog, Historically Hip, he writes about the great concerts, plays/musicals and celebrity happenings that have taken place throughout NEPA. He is also the co-host of the local history podcast, Historically Hip. He competed and was crowned grand champion on an episode of NPR quiz show “Ask Me Another.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9140; or @TTPagesPast