Cleveland, Ohio, native and World War II veteran Hal Holbrook (1925-2021) first shot to fame with his live stage performances as Mark Twain, which paved the way for an illustrious stage career and high demand as an actor in both film and television. The Oscar-nominated actor, who recently passed at the age of 95, excelled in many genres including drama, thrillers, horror and action films, often in character roles that showcased his tremendous range and grounded screen presence. Discover the many talents of Hal Holbrook in this selected filmography.
Though he had been around in movies for years, Holbrook first grabbed the world’s attention in a major way with his role as Deep Throat, the mysterious informer who helped reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein break open the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. His clandestine meetings doling out information in parking garages are among the most unforgettable scenes in the film, and he became a familiar face on the big screen for years to come.
Holbrook’s career is filled with fine leading and supporting work in tense thrillers, including such unsung gems as Natural Enemies (1979) and Rituals (1977). One of his most memorable is this suspenseful tale of three astronauts Holbrook’s NASA official targets for murder after a planned trip to Mars goes awry—and has to be faked, leading to a massive cover-up.
This horror anthology from George A. Romero and Stephen King is packed with iconic moments, and Holbrook gets more than a few himself in his story, “The Crate.” As a college professor repeatedly browbeaten by his wife in public, he stumbles across a unique opportunity when something strange and sinister is discovered beneath a stairwell in his building. And remember, “Just tell it to call you Billie.”
John Grisham’s bestselling legal thriller was the first of his works to come to the big screen, with Tom Cruise starring as a young attorney who finds out his new firm is far more than dangerous than it appears. Holbrook shows his sinister side once more as Oliver Lambert, a senior partner concealing many dirty secrets.
John Carpenter’s spooky follow-up film to the classic Halloween (1978) stars Holbrook as a tormented priest reckoning with his seaside town’s dark past, which causes a ghostly ship to appear a century later on a mission for revenge. Holbrook’s tense climactic showdown in a fog-enshrouded church gave the film one of its most indelible images.
James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander reprised their acclaimed stage performances in this powerful biopic based on the life of fighter Jack Johnson, whose interracial relationship in the early 1900s and unstoppable winning streak in the ring made him the target of powerful forces. Holbrook offers sturdy support as Al Cameron, who plays a pivotal role in Jack’s eventual fate.
Holbrook earned an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor in director Sean Penn’s unforgettable depiction of the true story of Christopher McCandless and his perilous journey into the Alaskan wilderness. Holbrook’s role as a widowed leather craftsman forms the emotional core of the film as he forges a connection with the young traveler.
After portraying Abraham Lincoln twice for television, Holbrook shifted gears to take on the role of journalist and political influencer Francis Preston Blair for Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning drama, with Daniel Day-Lewis portraying the American president.
Clint Eastwood’s second outing as tough-talking San Francisco cop Dirty Harry pitted him against a death squad of rogue vigilante policemen, with Holbrook on board as his superior who has a lot more going on than meets the eye.
Oliver Stone’s compelling meditation on greed and ethical compromise earned an Academy Award for leading actor Michael Douglas, with Holbrook cast opposite him in contrast as a stockbroker whose personal integrity makes him a more admirable mentor for up-and-coming traders. Though originally intended to be more compromised in Stone’s script, the character ended up becoming a glimmer of hope in the film’s world of cutthroat finance.