Holbrook on stage portraying Twain.

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. UH Digital Library.

Gary Ketcham ’91 recalls a past encounter with actor, Hal Holbrook

Shortly after the recent passing of critically acclaimed actor Hal Holbrook, Gary Ketcham, Class of 1991, reached out to the Law Library.  He requested a copy of an article he wrote about the actor in 1990 for The Opinion, the law school’s student newspaper, and shared his story of a chance encounter with Holbrook at a Florida airport, just months after the article was published. Read his story below.

I am an alumnus of the UB School of Law - Class of '91 and I was a staff writer for the law school student newspaper, The Opinion.

For the March 21, 1990 edition of The Opinion newspaper I was fortunate enough to volunteer to cover the story about Hal Holbrook coming to the Buffalo Shea's Theater for a performance of his "Mark Twain Tonight" one-man show.  The article appeared on page 10 of the March 21, 1990 issue.

There is an additional interesting twist to this story.

A few months after publishing the article, I flew down to Florida to visit my family, and after leaving the car rental desk at the airport I looked up and saw Hal Holbrook standing alone in the lobby of the Bradenton-Sarasota airport.  I was incredulous.  So I swiftly and quietly scampered over to greet him and I noticed this tremendous look of disappointment on his face -- that his identity had been discovered.

photo of Ketcham.

Gary Ketcham, circa 1990

So I made my encounter very brief.  I told him that I saw his performance at Shea's Theater in Buffalo and had written an article about it.  Then I asked if he had a business card with his address, so I could send him a copy of the article -- to get his opinion of it.

He gave me his card and I quickly let him be on his way.

A month or so later I received a short letter from him.  He said he enjoyed the article and that its graphic point-by-point detailed description of the performance fully captured the subtle nuances of the scenes he had tried to portray in the show.

The most amazing part of this performance is that at no time did you feel that you were watching Hal Holbrook acting-out as Mark Twain.  It was Mark Twain who entered the stage and it was Mark Twain who left the stage an hour and a half later.  That was the magic of Hal Holbrook's performance.  And that was the enormous power of Mark Twain's wit and wisdom.

Many articles about theatrical performances like this leave the reader feeling that "they missed it" -- if they were not able to attend.  But I wanted to try to write this article with such graphic detail and imagery that the reader would feel that they had actually 'experienced' the performance -- almost as though they had been there.  When I recently read this article for the first time in 30 years, I became convinced that I had come very, very close to achieving that objective.  And I want to express my profound gratitude to the professionals at the UB Law School library who had the wisdom, the insight and the motivation to digitize every single issue of the Opinion newspaper for posterity -- and for moments like this.

With Hal Holbrook's recent passing, I thought it would be fitting to resurrect this article for republication, along with this interesting storyline, as a tribute and memorial to Hal Holbrook's life.  His Mark Twain performances were such an important part of his life and acting career.  And for everyone who takes the time to read this Opinion article -- their time will not have been wasted.