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Hal Holbrook ‘Couldn’t Stop Watching’ Wife Dixie Having ‘These Big Flirting Scenes’ with ‘The Nicest Fellow'

Busayo Ogunjimi
Mar 19, 2022
11:20 A.M.
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Hal Holbrook endured two failed marriages before he met his wife, Dixie. She was faithful to him, but at some point, he got jealous because she had sizzling flirting scenes with a man Holbrook wouldn't rule out as a competitor.

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The late Hal Holbrook was regarded as one of the gurus of stage and screen, and the woman he would come to love until his death was also pretty talented. 

Her name is Dixie Carter, and she is multi-talented, possessing the ability to play up to three musical instruments and also act quite convincingly. 

[Left] Dixie Carter and her husband, Hal Holbrook at an event; [Right] A younger Dixie Carter and her husband, Hal Holbrook at an event | Source: Getty Images

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Dixie made her debut in the professional theater world in 1960 when she produced "Carousel" locally. Then, some three years down the line, she moved to New York and bagged a role in Joseph Papp's production of Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale." 

Compared to the man she loved until his death, her portfolio may look scanty; however, that was never an issue for them. Holbrook was most famous for his performance as Mark Twain — a role that helped him bag a Tony and an Emmy. 

He thrived on stage, but his reputation was mostly earned on TV; he has played memorable roles, including that of Senator Hays Stowe on "The Bold Ones: The Senator" (1970) and Captain Lloyd Bucheron's "Pueblo" (1973). 

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Dixie Carter during Opening Night with Dixie Carter - February 15, 1996 | Photo: Getty Images

He won Emmy awards for his role in "Pueblo" in two different categories, first as Best Lead Actor in a Drama and as Actor of the Year. 

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On January 22, 2008, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in "Into the Wild" (2007), making him the oldest male performer ever nominated for the role. 

Despite their respective fame, not everyone knows that these two talents were married for nearly three decades. Their romantic love story began after they had both endured two failed marriages, so they had almost given up hope of ever finding soulmates. Here are the details about the couple's relationship and life together. 

Actors Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter arrive for the annual Academy nominees luncheon February 04, 2008 | Source: Getty Images

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MARRIAGES THAT LEFT WOUNDS 

Carter and Holbrook had been on the cusp of giving up on romance when fate brought them together. Before their relationship, the two had been in previous unions that left scars. Carter's first marriage was to Wall Street financier Arthur Carter, and it lasted a decade before it ended in 1977. 

Even before they finally divorced, the two had split up a couple of times, so it must not have been too shocking for the actress, who was also given custody of their daughters, Ginna and Mary-Dixie.  

Dixie Carter during 2nd Annual Quality Viewing Television Awards at Beverly Garland Hotel in Los Angeles. | Source: Getty Images

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She got married again in December 1977 to Broadway star George Hearn, whom she met 16 years before at a Memphis production of her professional debut, "Carousel." 

The relationship lasted for 11 months, and it was tumultuous and painful. Dixie said, "We had these extremely Byronic, romantic ideas about each other." She added, "I guess we found out, to our heartbreak, that it was a fairy-tale romance too fragile for the real world. The wounds will never heal."

Unlike Carter, Holbrook remained with his first wife, actress Ruby Johnston, for 21 years, and the union produced two kids, Victoria and David. 

Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter during 5th Annual Genesis Awards at Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. | Photo: Getty Images

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By 1977, the actor was separated from his second wife and was with another actress named Carol Rossen. The two, who share a daughter they named Eve, tried to make things work, but it ultimately ended in a divorce. 

MEETING TRUE LOVE AND PLANS FOR LIFE

When Holbrook met his third wife, something resonated deep within him, and she felt it too. Carter once said, "Hal and I recognize something in each other that wouldn't have been possible to understand if we had met 15 years ago."

Fate and their careers brought them together in 1980 when they played opposite each other as husband and wife in the movie "The Killing of Randy Webster."

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Actor Hal Holbrook attends the '‘Promised Land' Los Angeles premiere at Directors Guild Of America on December 6, 2012 | Source: Getty Images

They used to believe that their encounter had been an entirely fortunate one. However, Carter has also admitted that the painful experiences from their previous marriages were common ground for them. 

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In her words, "We both have a deep melancholy in our natures and haven't been able to shrug off or laugh off what's happened to us in our lives. We battle against that sadness, that melancholy."

The two got on well together because of their oddly complementary natures. Carter had a lot of vivaciousness which was a perfect complement for Holbrook's always worrying nature, and his unwavering support was a great boost to Dixie's precarious self-esteem. 

Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter attending AARP The Magazine's Seventh Annual Movies For Grownups Awards in Los Angeles, California, in February 2008. | Source: Getty Images

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She said, "I believe that the dissolution of a marriage comes about by the breaking down of self-esteem." Holbrook also noted:

"There is something about this that encourages me to use the better sides of my nature. That's not to say I haven't sometimes been terrible."

The two had no idea their union would work out well, and while making plans to get married, they had both gotten cold feet. Finally, speaking about their marriage, they said, "We've both lived by ourselves for so long that privacy could be a problem."

Hal Holbrook plays the role of American author, humorist and lecturer in his performance of "Mark Twain Tonight" at the University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences Auditorium on January 30, 1984 | Source: Getty Images

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In an old joint interview with Holbrook, Dixie, who backed up her fear, said, "Worried? Lord, yes. Good, God! I have fears floating through my ears all the time. But I want very much to be happy with Dixie."  

If his iron will do not suffice, Carter's house rule was a powerful backup plan that kept their romance alive. She explained:

"Every evening at 6:30 I say, 'No phone calls. I don't care if it's the Pope; that's it. Break out the wine!' We're both dead set—not in a crazy way—on having fun every day."

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After their marriage, Holbrook moved out of his apartment in Brentwood into Carter's four-bedroom Westwood home, located on an acre of land dotted by orange, guava, and kumquat trees.

The actresses' daughters lived there too, and they had a friendly relationship with Holbrook's offspring Eve, who lived with her mother in Pacific Palisades. 

JEALOUSY AND MORE IN THE COUPLE'S RELATIONSHIP 

Despite how great they got along with each other, there was one time Holbrook's born-to-worry nature almost ruined their relationship. 

Hal Holbrook plays the role of American author, humorist and lecturer in his performance of "Mark Twain Tonight" at the University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences Auditorium on January 30, 1984 | Source: Getty Images

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They were once rivals in the New York and London productions of Thomas Babe's drama, "Buried Inside Extra," and Holbrook had taken his character home with him even though Carter's never went past the stage door. 

"I got terribly jealous because she had these big flirting scenes with [actor] Billy Roberts, who is the nicest fellow going. He used to just drive me nuts. But I couldn't stop watching it. It was like boring a nail into my heart," Holbrook said

His pain most likely stemmed from the scars he had from his previous marriages, but neither Carter nor him let his jealousy ruin what they had. 

Actors Dixie Carter (L) and Hal Holbrook arrive at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 27, 2008 | Source: Getty Images

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They patched things up shortly after, and it was also around the same time they started planning to get married. Despite their fears, Carter and Holbrook were well matched. Speaking about how the actor made her feel, the actress said

"Hal makes me feel talented, that I'm a good singer, a good mother, but most of all a good human being." 

She also added: "With my first two husbands, I always kinda sensed they thought there was something wrong with me. Maybe I was too flighty, or whatever. I think Hal is an absolute prince. So as long as we keep these shimmery attitudes toward each other, I think we'll be in good shape."

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Actors Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter arrive for the annual Academy nominees luncheon February 04, 2008 | Source: Getty Images

LOVE TILL LAST BREATH

Carter and Holbrook got married in 1984, and they remained happily married until her demise on April 20, 2010. The talented actress, who enjoyed portraying steely southern belles, passed away from cancer complications at 70.

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Holbrook confirmed her death, "This has been a terrible blow to our family," he said at the time. "We would appreciate everyone understanding that this is a private family tragedy."

Holbrook had been 14 years older than her, but the actor was blessed with a longer life and went on to live 11 more years after she passed on.

Hal Holbrook with his wife Dixie Carter during 60th Annual Tony Awards | Source: Getty Images

In those years, he returned to the stage and kept doing what he loved until death came knocking on January 23, 2021, at the ripe old age of 95. Holbrook's personal assistant, Joyce Cohen, confirmed his death. 

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