Our mother reports that several of her friends took in Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight recently when it played at the municipal auditorium in her town (we had sort of forgotten that Holbrook is still extant and plying the provinces with his wheezy presentation of the author’s works).
At some point Holbrook recited from Huckleberry Finn and, as he has done for decades, employed the word "nigger." His and Twain’s use of the n-word has been semi-controversial dating to Holbrook’s first appearance as Twain on PBS back in the 1960s, and since then the book has occasionally come under attack by parents who believe its rendering of 19th century vernacular to be too much reality for the pre-adult minds of the 20th and 21st.
But apparently the news hasn’t hit the Hub City. Our mother’s friends said that Holbrook’s first use of “nigger” set off some audible grumbling in the audience, followed by a noticeable exodus of patrons who decided not to stick around for their full 30 or 40 dollars worth of Twain impersonation. Because it was dark, they were unable to tell whether the offended were persons of color or persons of non-color, or a mixture thereof.
Isn't it well past time for Hal Holbrook, who surely must be approaching the age at which Twain himself departed this vale of tears, to refrain from hectoring audiences with the irrelevant words of this long-dead white male, or at least extract the barbarisms from his works to make them palatable for today’s sensitized theater-goers? Otherwise, he may find himself being hit up by Gloria Allred for a just and equitable settlement to compensate for their injuries.
Our mother, who when we were very young read us the works of Mark Twain---in dialect---had no comment.