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Celebrated Mark Twain impersonator dies aged 95

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Gavin Wilson and Hal Holbrook at Mr Holbrook’s 90th birthday (Photograph supplied)

An American actor famed for his portrayal of writer and humorist Mark Twain was yesterday praised by a Bermudian actor who tackled the same role.

Hal Holbrook – who portrayed Mark Twain, a regular visitor to Bermuda, on stage for more than six decades – died last month aged 95.

Gavin Wilson, who has played the writer in his one man show Mark Twain: Reminiscences & Other Lies, said Mr Holbrook’s performance in Mark Twain Tonight! had amazed and inspired him.

Mr Wilson said he spoke to Mr Holbrook five years ago at the actor’s 90th birthday in Hartford, Connecticut after the senior returned to the role.

He said: “Mr Holbrook was still very alert – he had just done a two hour performance at 90 years old.

“He was lovely and very unassuming, a very warm and embracing kind of person.

“There was no celebrity status or anything like that with him. He was just one of the crowd – it’s wonderful when you meet someone like that.”

Mr Wilson said Mr Holbrook visited the island for a one-night-only performance of Mark Twain Tonight! in 1985.

He said: “It was the year of Halley’s Comet and Twain was famously born with the comet and said he would go out with it.

“Hal saw the value of that and he was familiar with Twain’s visits to the island.”

Mr Wilson said he scraped together $100 to buy a ticket and was blown away by the performance.

He said: “It was the best thing I have ever done. I was absolutely astounded by this man’s performance.

Mr Wilson added: “What got me more than anything else was looking around at the audience and seeing them laughing at 100-year-old jokes.”

He said that when he decided to create his own show years later, he listened to Mr Holbrook’s performances on a regular basis to master Twain’s accent.

Mr Wilson added: “Hal Holbrook had found a copy of an old Edison wax recording – not of Twain, but by a close friend of Twain who was an immaculate impersonator.

“I was looking for the voice and that was the answer. I sat there day after day and drove my wife, Linda, nuts playing it and playing it and playing it.”

Mr Holbrook first played Mark Twain in 1952 and Mark Twain Tonight! opened in Pennsylvania two years later.

The show won a Tony Award in 1966 after it reached Broadway and Mr Holbrook continued to play Mark Twain on stage until 2017.

Mr Holbrook also appeared in silver screen roles, including Lincoln, Into The Wild and All The President’s Men, along with television shows such as Designing Women.

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain (File photograph)
Gavin Wilson as Mark Twain (Photograph supplied)

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Published February 09, 2021 at 8:24 am (Updated February 09, 2021 at 8:24 am)

Celebrated Mark Twain impersonator dies aged 95

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