Monday, September 24, 2018

Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain

Author:  Hal Holbrook
Genre:  Biographies

Hardcover; Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780374281014; 9780374533595
480 Pages
Various Prices; $7.99 Amazon
September 13, 2011


Harold is the actor Hal Holbrook's personal memoir about his struggle to discover his true self, even as he learned to transform himself onstage.  Abandoned at two by his mother and father, Holbrook commenced an unlikely and engrossing journey.  He spent his childhood at boarding schools and Culver Military Academy, and began acting almost by accident.  Through the army, marriage, college, and working to learn his craft, his fearlessness in the face of risk spurred the realization that success as an actor was his birthright.  The climb up that forbidding mountain was a lonely one.  And the toll of his achievement - the cost to his wife and children and to his own conscience - is the dark side of fame he would eventually earn by portraying the man his career would forever be most closely associated with:  Mark Twain.


I will admit that I lost interest in this book almost immediately as it is filled with endless detail upon detail of things most people aren't really interested in (and I'm not one to be interested in 'tell all' books, so even that would be better.  It's more 'I went here, spent that' type of detail).  However, I've read enough to know that this isn't a biography in the true sense of the word.  I'm not saying it's a bad book; not at all.  It's just boring as far as autobiographies go.

The book, to me, appears to be written only to assuage Mr. Holbrook's guilt over his first marriage and the two children from that union.  It starts with his birth and centers on the beginnings of his career and ends with his performing his one-man show Mark Twain and finally makes a name for himself.  There were so many years after this, both on the stage, in television, and even film that followed; yet this book touches on none of that.

The other main focus is his first marriage to Ruby which produced two children, Victoria and David.  There is no mention of his second marriage - which produced a daughter, Eve; nor of his final - and lasting - marriage to actress Dixie Carter.  By reading it, you would think that after he topped his career with Twain, no other role came his way.

On the contrary, he continued to act for many more years with distinctive roles.  He has even been nominated for an Academy Award.  But we are to learn none of that.  Since it has been at least seven years since this book was written, it's not as if he hasn't been able to continue his story.  But it seems he doesn't want us to know anything else about his life.

In the end, I get the feeling that this book was written more as an apology to his first family - Ruby and his children by that marriage - than out of any need to tell the story of his life (which again, has much more to it thus far).  While I have no doubt he has regrets about his first marriage and his children, I believe that it might have been better if he had just sat them down and explained his reasoning to them instead of taking the reader on that journey with him in order to justify his actions in being an absent father.  After all, and I say this without judgment to those who think otherwise, being deprived of his own parents should have at least taught him the benefit of being around his own offspring, but apparently it didn't.


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