Hal Holbrook was honored with the Julie Harris Award at the Actor's Fund 15th Annual Tony Award Viewing Party in Los Angeles on June 12, 2011. Previous recipients of the award have included Julie Harris, Rita Moreno, James Earl Jones, Lauren Bacall and Liza Minnelli.
The star-studded fundraising event was held at Skirball Cultural Center and was the only approved simulcast of the Tony Awards. The gala was hosted by Marilu Henner with guest appearances by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Martin Sheen and Sean Penn.
Penn, who previously directed Holbrook in Into the Wild, presented the award to the 86-year old actor in front of friends and family members at the sold-out gala dinner.
"Hal always got it on the first take, but you wanted to make him do it again, just so you could watch him work," Penn said.
Henner, who worked with Holbrook and played his daughter on the hit series Evening Shade, looked stunning as she energetically entertained the dining guests during the professionally choreographed commercial breaks of the simulcast.
Holbrook referred to himself as a vagabond when he accepted his award and earlier on the red carpet had discussed that aspect of the acting profession in relationship to the services provided by the Actor's Fund. He said he learned a lot about the Actors Fund while studying for his award-winning performance as Mark Twain.
"Not all of us have been lucky enough to make a steady income from this profession we love so much. It's nice to know an organization such as the Actors Fund exists to watch our backs, while we concentrate on using our craft to make the world a richer place to live," Holbrook said.
Earlier in the evening, several reporters on the red carpet tested Henner's memory. Henner had recently appeared on 60 Minutes, as one of six people being studied in the United States with superior autobiographical memory. She was all smiles as she recounted what she did on every random date thrown at her. Henner said there is a book on the subject coming out soon.
"The actors fund takes care of everyone. It's not just for actors. Every show on Broadway does an Actors Fund benefit and it's always the best night of the entire run. They take care of people. They offer clothing, shelter, a job, medical procedures, or even just the ability to connect with somebody. That's why we do benefits like this," Henner said.
The Actors Fund was established in 1892 and is a four-star rated human services charity for anybody who has made a living in show business, according to Chairman of the Board, Brian Stokes Mitchell.
"I've been chairman for nine years and involved for 15. We help everybody. Makeup artists. ticket takers, circus performers, you name it. We provide assisted living, free health care, resources for dancers -- 87% of every dollar goes to the actual services," Stokes Mitchell said.
Actress Stephanie Powers, who just came out with a memoir called One from the Hart said she has performed as a singer for the Actors Fund for years.
""I'm a very active supporter of the Actors Fund and have been for many years. I'm very happy they are around and supporting us so magnificently. SAG could take a lesson from them," Powers said.
The gala raised $160,000 that evening and members of the public were able to purchase tickets for $250. The event was considered a success by organizers.
"We found out about this party about a year ago. We aren't part of this world. I'm a lawyer. We live in LA and we thought it would be fun -- less expensive than flying to New York. Tomorrow we go back to real life," said Alan Bloom with his wife Shelli.
Holbrook said it's important for actors to get back on the stage to learn their craft and to keep the mind going. He said it's a tremendous responsibility when you're standing in front of an audience for two or three hours because you can't take back what you just did. He said he still finds inspiration in watching other talented actors and said he was recently very impressed with Matt Damon's performance in Invictus and Hereafter.
"Beautiful work -- the character he played. I'm so impressed with his acting. He's wonderful, not showy but a great human being. I just saw Invictus and the movie Hereafter really got to me."
Holbrook's has plenty of beautiful work under his own belt. In addition to countless theater performances, he has done some 50 television movies and mini-series, been nominated for 12 Emmys and won five. He has had memorable roles on two sitcoms, Designing Women, (along side his wife, Dixie Carter) and Evening Shade, with guest appearances on The West Wing, ER, and The Sopranos.
His over 40 films include the just completed Water for Elephants, The Firm and That Evening Sun. In 2008, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Into The Wild, written and directed by Sean Penn.
Follow Cassandra M. Bellantoni on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StarShineSpeaks