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Peter Salwen <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 3 Feb 2021 15:18:46 -0500
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Thanks for these, Kevin. Fascinating reading, as always.

On Tue, Feb 2, 2021, 1:59 PM Mac Donnell Rare Books <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Losing Hal is a kick in the gut, and I don't have the energy to absorb
> that news and write much at the same time, so I've pasted two texts
> below. The first is extracted from a personal note I sent his assistant.
> The second is my public tribute to Hal from the end of my essay on the
> voice of Mark Twain, published in Mark Twain Journal:
> I will be forever grateful that he found time to write a preface to Mark
> Twain and Youth, and grateful to you for guiding that process along.
> Donna and I will never forget the two hours of private conversation we
> shared with him the morning after his performance in San Antonio a few
> years ago. During that visit he explained that Dixie had "saved" him,
> and I am grateful that they found each other when they did. He spoke
> modestly of obstacles he'd overcome, and my admiration of him grew.
> Others will rightly talk about his talents and his career, but I will
> most remember his candor, kindnesses, and generosities. I assumed his
> passion for life and his 20 minute morning exercise routine would carry
> him beyond 100. I can just hear Hal laughing and asking me "You're
> surprised a 95 year old guy has died? That's not exactly headline news!"
> No, it isn't, but when a good soul passes our way, illuminating the sky,
> and then is gone, it certainly is. We were lucky to have him.
> From MTJ 57:2 (Fall 2019):
> Many Twainians are aware that Gillette once performed in front of Twain,
> but the entire story of that performance, including Twain’s reaction to
> Gillette’s impersonation, seems to have escaped notice by Twain
> scholars. On the evening of June 5, 1877, Gillette returned to Hartford
> after touring with John T. Raymond in the play Col. Sellers, and
> performed on stage at the Seminary Hall on Pratt Street. The first part
> of his three-part program included his imitations of Raymond playing
> Col. Mulberry Sellers and Anna Dickinson playing Anne Boleyn, and
> telling “The Jumping Frog, giving an imitation of Mark Twain.”  The
> second and third parts of his program included impersonations of Edwin
> Booth playing Hamlet and other dramatic vignettes. The next day Gillette
> got high praise for his entire performance, but his impersonation of
> Twain was singled out as “so well done that Mr. Clemens, who was
> present, might have fancied that he was on the stage.”  Apparently,
> that’s precisely what Twain fancied, for when Gillette gave an emotional
> speech to a Hartford Club luncheon in 1930, he “remembered high points
> in his career” and told of Mark Twain’s remark to him after that 1877
> performance, when Twain told him--no doubt in a slow drawl--that it was
> “one more reason for being sorry I was born.”  This was a typical Twain
> compliment, and whether the “I” referred to Gillette or to Twain
> himself, Gillette understood it for the compliment that it was, an
> endorsement of a job well done.
> [insert #14  Hal Holbrook, before & after]
> Hal Holbrook began performing on the road with his first wife Ruby
> toward the end of 1948 in Amarillo, Texas, and in 1949 he added Mark
> Twain to their repertoire (Holbrook Mark 10). His first solo performance
> in Mark Twain Tonight! occurred at State Teachers College in Lockhaven,
> Pennsylvania on March 19, 1954 (Holbrook Mark 42), and the show
> premiered off-Broadway on April 6, 1959. In 1966 he opened on Broadway
> and won a Tony Award. The following year it premiered on CBS and he
> received an Emmy for that TV special. By the time Holbrook retired from
> My Mark Twain! in 2017, he had performed it more than 2,100 times. Sam
> Clemens had been “Mark Twain” for forty-seven years, from 1863 to 1910;
> Hal Holbrook was “Mark Twain” for sixty-eight years, from 1949 to 2017.
> Despite the thirty-nine year interval between their careers there is
> significant overlap between Clemens’s and Holbrook’s audiences: In the
> 1950s, 60s, and 70s, there were people still living who had heard
> Clemens’s “Mark Twain” speak, and they sometimes showed up to see
> Holbrook’s “Mark Twain” perform.
> Of special interest to Twainians interested in the reconstruction of
> Mark Twain’s voice, is Hal Holbrook’s serious research into that voice.
> According to Holbrook, the only variation from Twain’s voice that he
> allows himself is that he speaks faster than Twain--because Twain’s slow
> pace would drive modern audiences to distraction—but it hardly seems
> noticeable.  Otherwise he has been meticulous. The story begins in 1956
> when Holbrook was contacted by Yale University Professor Norman Holmes
> Pearson, who wanted his opinion of a recording said to be by Twain.
> Holbrook listened to the recording and immediately noticed that the
> impersonator had a New England accent and seemed to speak at a faster
> clip than Twain, and expressed his doubts (MTS 1996 xxxi-xxxii). Pearson
> soon found out that the recording in question was the one Gillette had
> made for Professor Packard at Harvard in 1936.
> Some have pointed out that the Gillette impersonation is an
> impersonation of Mark Twain impersonating the characters in the jumping
> frog tale: Simon Wheeler at the beginning, then “one of the boys,” then
> Parson Walker, and finally Jim Smiley at the very end. However, except
> for the voice of Parson Walker, when Gillette’s own New England accent
> becomes quite evident, the others speak in an identical slow drawl, and
> the verdict of the newspaper reviewer in June 1877 confirms that
> Gillette was producing an accurate rendition of Mark Twain’s voice when
> telling this story.
> The version that is now preserved at Yale is the one that Holbrook used
> in styling his own impersonation of Twain, but he has also relied on
> other sources.  There was James B. Pond, Jr. (1889-1961), known as “Bim”
> Pond, the son of James B. Pond (1838-1903), who had been Twain’s lecture
> agent for his Twain-Cable tour (1884-1885) and his round-the-world
> lecture tour (1895-1896), who was himself a talent agent. Bim had heard
> Twain often when growing up, and actually demonstrated Twain’s drawl and
> intonations when Holbrook visited his New York office. Bim especially
> drawled out verbs and direct objects, and a long or short “a” in a word
> was more likely to get drawled than other vowels (Holbrook Harold
> 209-210; Holbrook Mark 27-28, 36). A similar pattern can be heard in
> Gillette’s impersonation. Holbrook also met Madame Charbonnel, who had
> known Twain in Vienna (Holbrook Harold 362). In Hartford, Holbrook met
> Miss Katharine Day, a descendant of Twain’s famous neighbor, Harriet
> Beecher Stowe. Miss Day had been a playmate of Twain’s daughters, and
> “her memories gave [him] some insight into the gracious side of
> [Twain’s] character” (Holbrook Mark 70).  In May 1958 Holbrook visited
> Twain’s ninety-four -year-old secretary, Isabel Lyon, in her Greenwich
> Village apartment. She propped herself up with a pillow, poured a
> Scotch, and lit a pipe Twain had given her, and told Holbrook things
> about Twain that he promised he would “never publish” (Trombley 260-61).
> Shortly after that visit Holbrook wrote her a note expressing his
> gratitude for being able to “listen to [her] talk about [Twain] and in
> trying to absorb [her] feeling about him. That is more important to me
> than any fact, though I’ll be after you with queries about them in the
> future.”  Holbrook paid her several more visits.
> [insert #15 and #16, Holbrook’s letter to Lyon]
> In November 1959 Caroline Harnsberger, an independent Twain scholar,
> wrote to her friend Clara Clemens, telling her that “as you can see, I
> am in the thick of the latest Twain excitement—the success of Hal
> Holbrook in his recreation of your father.” She described her visit with
> Holbrook, the experience of watching him apply his make-up before a
> show, and described his stage presence before telling Clara that “he
> told me that he has been booked for three weeks in Los Angeles . . . and
> that he was hoping so much to be able to meet you.”  Clara and Holbrook
> finally met on April 12, 1961, and Clara reported back to Harnsberger
> two days later that “I am really writing to say that Mr. Holbrook was
> here day before yesterday and took us all “by storm.” He is certainly
> all you said—and more too . . . . I would so like to see you soon and
> discuss Mr. Holbrook and his eyes.”  During his visit Clara suggested
> that Holbrook should do an impersonation of Jesus Christ (Trombley 265).
> When later asked to explain Clara’s fascination with his eyes, Holbrook
> just grinned.
> [insert #17 Clara writing about Holbrook]
> There is, of course, one other intriguing theory of how Holbrook has
> been able to replicate Mark Twain’s voice. Holbrook was born in
> Cleveland, Ohio as Harold Holbrook, and as a child was sometimes called
> Harry. In May 1872 Twain and his family paid a visit to Cleveland at the
> invitation of Mary Mason “Mother” Fairbanks, the slightly older woman
> who had befriended Twain during his Quaker City excursion, becoming a
> lifelong friend and advisor. During their stay, Twain visited the
> Cleveland Club and signed their guest register. The signature
> immediately above Twain’s is that of a “Harry Holbrook.” Holbrook’s
> association with Mark Twain therefore seems to have begun much earlier
> than he has admitted. Some may quibble about the date, but this theory
> would otherwise explain a lot.
> [insert #18 1872 Cleveland Club guest register]
> The landscape of Mark Twain’s literary voice is one of unfolding vistas
> and enticing terrain: Short stories, interviews, travel narratives,
> political satire, novels for readers young and old, interviews, poems,
> public and private letters, letters written and dictated (and letters
> never mailed), journals, annotations in his books in which he seems to
> have anticipated a reader looking over his shoulder, and speeches. But
> the landscape traversed in the search for the recovery or reconstruction
> of Mark Twain’s physical voice is scarred with lost opportunities and
> regrets, littered with tantalizing clues that repeatedly lead to rabbit
> holes and box canyons, and its few meadows of fertile soil nourish hopes
> and imaginings that may never bloom. Yet, in the impersonation of Mark
> Twain by Hal Holbrook we have a voice that resonates with Twain’s aural
> DNA, for in the beginning Twain begat Gillette, and when Twain saw
> Gillette’s work he saw that it was good; Gillette begat Holbrook, and it
> was good. Hal Holbrook is as close as we can come to a rendering of
> Twain’s voice, and it’s closer than anyone has imagined until now.
> In a letter written early in his career, dated February 21, 1956,
> Holbrook wrote to a potential client about his portrayal of Mark Twain,
> describing at length the content and other details of his show,
> concluding with a declaration that would hold firm for the next sixty
> years:
> I never break character as Twain. I give the entire performance as Twain
> would have given it –talking, acting out selections from his books,
> commenting between on what struck his humor about people and things, and
> what made him angry. I am extremely enthusiastic about the man and his
> ideas and am eager to transfer it to audiences. I have the greatest
> faith in Mark Twain’s material. I haven’t met anyone yet who couldn’t
> carry a solid lesson away from it.
> In all the years since writing that letter, Holbrook has spoken publicly
> and written passionately about the truth and relevance of Mark Twain’s
> words, and Twain’s role as the subversive savior of American culture—if
> only America will listen. When Holbrook’s devotion to the serious truths
> of Twain’s message is taken into account, it is not unreasonable to
> imagine Howells calling Holbrook the Lincoln of Mark Twain
> impersonators.
> It must be remembered that “Mark Twain” is a fictional character, a
> persona that was constructed and performed by Sam Clemens, just as
> Shakespeare created his characters and very likely played some of them
> on stage. But Shakespeare did not leave behind a body of literature
> written by one of his characters, making that character’s voice
> essential for an understanding of his plays. Holbrook has played the
> role of Mark Twain as did Clemens, just as Sir Laurence Olivier played
> the role of Hamlet, but nothing is riding on anyone’s portrayal of
> Hamlet beyond the character of Hamlet himself. Any Twain impersonator
> carries the entire body of Twain’s works upon his shoulders. Holbrook
> has borne this immense burden gracefully and with passion. If by some
> stroke of good fortune an authentic voice recording of Mark Twain ever
> surfaces, it will no doubt sound like some damn fool trying to
> impersonate Hal Holbrook. Even if that day never comes, the voice of
> Mark Twain shall never be silent.
> Kevin
> @
> Mac Donnell Rare Books
> 9307 Glenlake Drive
> Austin TX 78730
> 512-345-4139
> Member: ABAA, ILAB, BSA
> You can browse our books at:
> ------ Original Message ------
> From: "John R. Pascal" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: 2/2/2021 7:39:52 AM
> Subject: Hal Holbrook Is Now Truly with Mark Twain Forever
> >
> <
> >
> >
> >Thank God six classes of The Writings of Mark Twain got to know him.  One
> class got to meet him.
> >Future classes will continue to study and appreciate him.
> >
> >John R. Pascal, M.B.A., M.A.
> >Teacher of 9th, 11th Grade English Honors, & The Writings of Mark Twain
> Honors
> >Seton Hall Preparatory School
> >Contributing Author to Mark Twain and Youth