The Boy Who Became Mark Twain
By Hal Holbrook
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374281014, 480pp.
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Was it worth it, this awful struggle to survive, no matter what the cost?"
"Harold "is Hal Holbrook's affecting memoir of growing up behind disguises, and his lifelong search for himself. Abandoned by his mother and father when he was two, Holbrook and his two sisters each commenced their separate journeys of survival. Raised by his powerful grandfather until his death when Holbrook was twelve, Holbrook spent his childhood at boarding schools, visiting his father in an insane asylum, and hoping his mother would suddenly surface in Hollywood. As the Second World War engulfed Europe, Holbrook began acting almost by accident. Thereafter, through war, marriage, and the work of honing his craft, his fear of insanity and his fearlessness in the face of risk were channeled into his discovery that the riskiest path of all--success as an actor--would be his birthright. The climb up that tough, tough mountain was going to be a lonely one. And how he achieved it--the cost to his wife and children and to his own conscience--is the dark side of his eventual fame from performing the man his career would forever be most closely associated with, the iconic Mark Twain.
“It’s a gripping and illuminating tale, a peculiarly American saga of loneliness, sometimes misguided determination, luck, perseverance, marital failure and the life of a touring player in pre-interstate America.” —San Francisco Chronicle “[Holbrook] tells his life story beautifully, moving smoothly from being a young boy abandoned by his parents . . . to enjoying a celebrated career on stage and screen. The reader is hooked right from the book’s opening lines . . . Looking back with remarkable objectivity, Holbrook seems to be writing—with considerable sensitivity and insight—about another person entirely, someone who used to exist but has been overwritten by age and experience. This would be an unusual approach for any autobiography, and especially for a ‘star bio,’ but it works remarkably well here, perhaps because, in Holbrook’s case, his professional career is an important part of his life but hardly the only thing worth talking about.” —David Pitt, Booklist (starred review) “If I were to conjure an image of an individual who best fits the phrase ‘a real American,’ it would be Hal Holbrook. This book shows him as a complete person. You will be compelled by the wit and wisdom of this beautifully composed story of self-determination and survival.” —Robert Redford “Harold is full of humor, pain, and depth. I love this man and was enthralled with his riveting life’s journey. A great story from one of the great actors and storytellers of our time.” —Woody Harrelson “Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote to Mark Twain that he had just finished rereading Huckleberry Finn, ‘and am quite ready to begin again tomorrow.’ The final page of Harold will have you echoing Stevenson’s words.” —Mark Dawidziak “That one of America’s greatest actors should prove to be one of its great storytellers shouldn’t come as altogether astounding; after all, he’s been channeling the thoughts and nearly breathing the same creative air as the great Mark Twain for most of his life! But Hal Holbrook’s beguiling yarn exhibits its own spark of divine fire. His recall is as meticulous and honest as his acting, and the result is a page-turner. Mr. Clemens himself would surely approve.” —Jack O’Brien “All those years he has spent inhabiting the persona of America’s greatest storyteller left their mark: Hal Holbrook is a gifted storyteller himself—a master of the pause, a deft painter of the vivid detail that makes a scene come alive, a writer capable of recording with perfect pitch the voices that the fill the echo-chamber of memory. Whether he is evoking the loneliness of a child abandoned by his parents, the hunger of an aspiring actor, the anguish of a husband and father worried that he is failing his wife and his child, or the satisfaction of a man who overcomes obstacles as big as Mount Shasta, Hal Holbrook’s eloquence and searing honesty make this riveting book impossible to put down.” —Shelley Fisher Fishkin “Renowned stage and screen actor Holbrook recounts his early life in this stirring memoir . . . While Holbrook’s career stretches on for another half century, this encapsulation of his first 34 years is a movingly honest account of a life spent searching for meaning and purpose.” —Publishers Weekly “Like Mark Twain, the alter ego he portrayed on the stage, actor Holbrook (All the President’s Men; Into the Wild) has a knack for weaving delightful anecdotes with painful true stories . . . An insightful glimpse into Holbrook’s personal and professional life, retold with amazing detail and written with intelligence and raw humor.” —Richard A. Dickey, Library Journal “Noted actor Holbrook serves up a charming but unsentimental memoir of his early life . . . The events in this book end in —meaning, one hopes, that a sequel will appear in short order.” —Kirkus Reviews
Hal Holbrook is best known for his timeless portrayal of Mark Twain in the one-man show Mark Twain Tonight. But before becoming a beloved actor, he endured a painful childhood. In Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain, Holbrook reflects on how he finally found his way. More at NPR.org
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