Theater archives

Mark of Awareness: Watching Holbrook Take Aim at Twain’s Favorite Targets


I dreamed I saw Mark Twain last week, as real as you or me. “I thought you were dead, Mr. Clemens,” I said. “Oh, I am,” he replied. “Reports of my death are no longer so exaggerated as they used to be. But I’ve got a stand-in carrying on my lecture tour—fellow named Holbrook. What do you think of him?”

“I’d call him first-rate,” I said. “When I see him pacing up and down on that big Broadway stage, puffing on his cheroot, I’d almost say he was you. Only he takes a lot of pauses these days, and somehow I don’t think you’d have trouble remembering your own lines.”

“You could be wrong,” replied the eminent author. “I published an awful lot of wordage in my time, and Holbrook says he’s got nearly 16 hours of it by heart. You can forgive him a few hesitations with that much Twain whizzing through his brain. Besides, what’s your hurry? The theater’s there to be savored, and so am I. No need to rush us.”

“Granted,” I agreed. “A lot of what you wrote seems even more worth savoring today—especially the stuff about religious extremists and the way party-line dogmas reduce congressmen to criminal idiocy.”

“Not that they need much reducing,” Twain responded dryly. “Give a congressman a handshake and he’ll steal your grip. As for those—what did I call them?—’escapees from the wildcat religious asylum,’ they work the old preacher confidence game: One hand whacks you on the head with the Bible while the other one picks your pocket. If the public were smarter, they’d hoot down all their preachers and come to hear Holbrook recite me.”

“I’ll buy that,” I said. “I first heard him as you back in 1961. He’s slowed down some since then. But he’s more easygoing now, like he’s relaxing at home instead of giving a lecture. And he never misses with the little darts you stick in all our national frauds.”

“I never could resist those big, bloated targets,” said Twain. “I hope Holbrook sticks it to ’em for a long, long time. I’d go see him myself—but I’m staying dead till this administration’s out of office.”