At 60, Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight is the longest running one-man show in theatrical history. Holbrook, who will be 90 in February, has been playing Mark Twain longer than Samuel Clemens did. This beautiful and haunting black and white documentary mixes interview and archival footage with scenes showing the actor preparing for a recent performance as Twain that took place in San Luis Obispo. The portrait that emerges overflows with the humanity of an epic and the pathos of a tragedy. Hovering above it all is the spirit of Holbrook’s third wife, Dixie Carter, who died a little over a year before the film was made.
How did you find this story?
The genesis of the film started back in 2008, when I first met Hal and Dixie to convince them to be in my film, That Evening Sun. At that first meeting, Dixie told me her longtime dream was to see a film made about the Twain show. And then she told me I was the one who would make it!
And what made you decide she was right about that?
As anyone who ever had the privilege to know Dixie can attest, she could be a very persuasive woman, and once she got her mind set on something it was pretty much impossible to deny her. So she kept on me about the documentary, telling me how important it would be, telling me it was a story the world needed to hear. But it wasn’t until I finally saw the show for myself that I realized she was right. And I realized how much I wanted to tell this story.
What happened when she died?
When Dixie passed away unexpectedly in 2010, my producer (Laura D. Smith, a Santa Barbara native!) and I just started shooting. We paid for the film ourselves, getting help from countless folks along the way. It has been a labor of love, and we couldn’t be happier to finally be sharing the film with the world.