It's been more than 60 years since Hal Holbrook first donned the white suit, grayed his hair, put on the droopy mustache and took to the road with his one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!"
"I don't think much anymore about being in character," said Holbrook, who brings the show to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center on Oct. 8. "It's natural to me."
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was a humorist, author and social critic in the 1800s and early 1900s who wrote and performed under the name Mark Twain.
The author of novels such as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," Twain pointed out Americans' foibles, skewered politicians and the pompous and touched on race relations and other serious subjects.
"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress," he famously said.
This is the type of satire that runs through Holbrook's dialogue.
Holbrook, who turned 90 in February, is one of America's most legendary actors. His body of work includes a Tony Award, five Emmy awards, and a 2008 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film "Into the Wild."
Audiences also recognize Holbrook from roles in more than 40 films including "Lincoln" and "All the President's Men" -- he played the mysterious Deep Throat. TV viewers know Holbrook from his appearances on TV's "Designing Women," on which Holbrook's late wife Dixie Carter was one of the show's stars.
But it's the role of Mark Twain, perhaps America's most influential author and perceptive social critic, that most defines Holbrook's career. And a time when a billionaire businessman is running for president and racial strife has gripped U.S. cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., Twain's observations on class differences, race and politics are as dead-on today as they were 100 years ago, Holbrook said in a recent phone interview.
"He came from this little town [Hannibal, Mo.] and became this world citizen, the most prominent citizen of our country," Holbrook said.
What Holbrook most admires about Twain, who died in 1910 at age 74, is that "he speaks the truth."
Holbrook wrote the original "Mark Twain Tonight!" in the 1950s.
To keep the show topical, Holbrook updates it with new material culled from Twain's writings. For the current tour, Holbrook said he plans to add passages from Twain's writings that touch on the subject of race relations.
"I thought now is the time to say this," he said.
While Holbrook will insert fresh material into the show, one thing he doesn't change is time frame. He always plays Twain in his later years.
"When I get out on stage, I never update the man," Holbrook said. "My whole purpose is to make people believe they're looking at Mark Twain, at that man, at that time, years and years ago."
While the show has many serious things to say, it also has its share of humorous moments. Among the highlights of the show for Holbrook are the passages from Twain's classic "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which Holbrook calls his favorite Twain book.
He calls it "a book of genius, real genius."
"It can never be out of date," Holbrook said.
A Twain Timeline
Nov. 30, 1835: Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens
1869: "The Innocents Abroad" published
1870: Clemens marries Olivia "Livy" Langdon
1871: Family moves to Hartford, Conn., from Buffalo, N.Y.
1872: "Roughing It" published
1873: "The Gilded Age", co-written with Charles Dudley Warner, published
1876: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" published
1881: "The Prince and the Pauper" published
1883: "Life on the Mississippi" published
1884: "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" published
1889: "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" published
1904: Livy Clemens dies.
April 21, 1910: Samuel Clemens dies at age 74
Source: The Mark Twain House & Museum
Mark Twain sites
If you want to learn more about Mark Twain, here are some places around the country you can visit:
The Mark Twain House & Museum
351 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, Conn. 06105
The sprawling 25-room mansion is where Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his wife, Olivia, lived with their three daughters from 1874 to 1891.
The Clemens family lived here during the time Clemens, as Mark Twain, penned the novels "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1876), "The Prince and the Pauper" (1881), "Life on the Mississippi" (1883), "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1884) and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" (1889).
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
120 N. Main
Hannibal, Mo. 63401
The complex includes the house along the Mississippi River where Samuel Clemens lived with his family when he was a young boy. It was built in 1843 or 1844, and the family lived here until 1853. The complex also includes a gallery with 15 Norman Rockwell paintings and the childhood homes of the people on whom Clemens based his characters Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.
The Mark Twain Study at Elmira College
One College Place
Elmira, New York 14901
Twain spent summers at Quarry Farm in Elmira, N.Y., which was his wife's hometown, Here, in this octagonal building, he wrote portions of several novels including "Life on the Mississippi," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The study is preserved on the campus at Elmira College, which also has an exhibit about Twain and statues of him and his wife.
This story has been updated to reflect that the Mark Twain Study is at Elmira College.