Most everyone has that one family member with a story for any and every occasion, right? Mine is my 75-year-old Uncle Jack White, Jr., middle child of a strict U.S. Air Force Colonel, and goofy older brother to my mom.
As aforementioned, my Uncle Jack is goofy, a true character. While serving in the U.S. Military, he was next in line to be drafted in the Vietnam War before the final lottery was drawn in spring of 1975. He married (and divorced) four times and is now partnered with a lovely holistic veterinarian in North Carolina. He is a recovering alcoholic, and for many years, did social work and community theatre. Not necessarily together — although, Jack was apt to try anything.
As a kid, being around my uncle was a joy because he would inevitably take the stage – usually in a local restaurant or hotel room – and weave a yarn for his family with vivid details and voices. The stories were never rehearsed, but they always culminated in the most entertaining of punchlines.
With the news of Hal Holbrook’s passing on January 23, I am reminded of one such time my uncle told us a tale. Even a brag, perhaps. Did I actually remember him telling us that he had dinner with famed actor Mr. Hal Holbrook? The timing of this storytelling was most likely around Holbrook’s Evening Shade years, shortly before I would come to remember him as Father Malone or Henry Northrup.
As I struggled with details, I sought out confirmation. And while reading something on the internet does not do it justice – especially when the involved party is an entertainer by nature – I present to you Jack White Jr.’s pithy narrative of the time he met Hal Holbrook.
No, you’re not making it up. Hal Holbrook began his professional career, in lieu of remaining in, and graduating from, Denison University by traveling a supper club circuit throughout the Midwest. His idea was to develop a one-man show, based on the characterization of General Ulysses S. Grant.
However, when he presented the idea to his theatre professor, a Mr. Edward A. Wright, he was ultimately dissuaded on the grounds that there was little factual verbatim history in Grant’s years and, moreover, little humor, which Ed Wright felt was important to establishing a relationship with an audience and a word-of-mouth reputation to sustain and attract future audiences.
So, Ed suggested Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.
Thus began Hal’s career performing his one man show, “Mark Twain Tonight”.
And, that brings me to meeting Mr. Holbrook.
In my sophomore year at Denison, having declared my major as theater arts, I was awarded one of two annually bestowed Edward A. Wright (performance based) Scholarships.
During the spring semester, following, Edward Wright invited me and one other theatre student to attend one of Hal Holbrook’s performances, which was to be presented at Otterbein College (now University) in Westerville, Ohio.
Days later we were told that Mr. Holbrook had also agreed to have supper with us before the show. OMG, were we thrilled or what!?!
So, the four of us enjoyed supper, at a small cafe in Westerville, at around 2:30 pm because it took four hours in the make up process to transform the 40 year old Mr. Holbrook into the 80 year old Mark Twain … but, I’m sure he regaled his friends for many years with tales about the time he had supper with Jack White, Jr.
Hal Holbrook is already missed, but legacies live on through stories, be it on screen or via small anecdotal moments.
My Holbrook sentiments are, of course, permanently attached to his film and TV personalities, but perhaps more importantly, to my Uncle Jack and his talent for telling a tale told to me over 25 years ago.