HAROLD by Hal Holbrook


The Boy Who Became Mark Twain
Email this review


Noted actor Holbrook serves up a charming but unsentimental memoir of his early life.

The author is well known for one-man shows depicting Mark Twain in all his white-suited, cigar-chomping, brilliant finery. It may come as a surprise to some readers that Holbrook was scarcely out of childhood when the role was thrust on him, along with Shakespeare and Wilde and all the other stuff of a traveling theatrical troupe. His childhood was anything but easy. He opens with an incident in a principal’s office that would turn anyone from school, one of many acts of unrestrained evil that pop up from time to time in the narrative—besides, at his next school, he was filled with foreboding at the sight of “massive brick buildings resembling fortresses with openings on the roof for people to shoot at you.” Yet acts of kindness, it seems, came along more often enough that Holbrook did not despair. He reconnected with his mentally ill, absent father, whom he came to understand and forgive; he found encouragement among fellow actors in training, and particularly by an acting teacher in college. Holbrook set his sights low—he was elated when he learned of his first acting job that “they were going to pay me $15 a week”—but he quickly discovered that he excelled at his chosen work, which didn’t necessarily make the school of hard knocks any easier. Without boasting, Holbrook recounts being recognized early on as both a serious worker and a leader—during his Army years, the brass were constantly trying to make him an officer. But mostly his memoir is a matter of living out of a trunk, traveling dusty roads from town to town and enduring bad turns of fate, not least of them the blacklist of the McCarthy era.

The events in this book end in 1958—meaning, one hopes, that a sequel will appear in short order.


Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-28101-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2011


NonfictionJUST ONE MORE THING by Peter Falk
by Peter Falk
NonfictionTHE ENTERTAINER by Margaret Talbot
by Margaret Talbot
NonfictionTHE GOOD, THE BAD, AND ME by Eli Wallach
by Eli Wallach