Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Hal Holbrook tells us to visit Jackass Hill

Actor Hal Holbrook, 86, has been playing Mark Twain for 57 years, a decade longer than Samuel Clemens wrote as Mark Twain. In the first week of our Twain trip we drove 1,325 miles (almost 500 more than I anticipated), 300 of them roundtrip last night to see Holbrook as Twain at a sold-out performance in Vincennes, Ind.

Holbrook performed a part of Huckleberry Finn and recounted Twain’s version of his life: “I didn’t want to work. All I wanted was employment. So I became a newspaper reporter.” Twain learned from his first editor: “First get the facts. Then you can distort them as much as you please.”

Otherwise Holbrook spent most of the night targeting human depravity and hypocrisy— Christianity, Congress and the press. He especially attacked the silent lie (“the unspoken one, you simply keep still”). Holbrook not merely performed but also polished Twain’s lines, increasing their power with his exquisite timing.

We wangled our way into a post-performance reception with Holbrook who, upon hearing about our Twain trip, recommended that we visit Twain’s cabin at Jackass Hill in the Sierras. See what he said in this video.

Loren Ghiglione

Video by Dan

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