Hal Holbrook’s Brooklyn Interview
The recent death of actor Hal Holbrook at 95, the alter-ego of Mark Twain, reminded me of my first teaching assignment. In that year of 1962, I faced a remarkably bright class of students in Shell Bank Junior High School No. 14 in Sheepshead Bay. Always challenging, they expressed themselves in an annual literary art student publication named For Teeners. This goal permitted them to vent their verse, art, theatrical and literary expressions.
Fortunately, Holbrook’s star had begun to rise with his interpretation of Mark Twain Tonight in 1955 and he then tackled Robert Sherwood’s play, Abe Lincoln in Illinois in an off-Broadway production. The students in my English class were determined to see it and interview him backstage. Helene Kuschner and Janice Wayne volunteered to question the star.
Holbrook, then only 35, not only relished the attention but granted the pupils an interview and allowed them to watch while he made up for the role as Lincoln. To these young teenagers, he told them of the importance of education and setting goals. He stressed knowing about world affairs and the importance of research to achieve an accurate portrayal on the stage. His long career on the stage and screen followed this advice.
While this accomplishment might seem unusual in students so young, the following year Judy Goldberg captured a mail interview with 84-year-old Irish playwright Sean O’Casey who advised her that “Courage” was humanity’s greatest virtue.
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