Today is the 99th birthday of the actor William Holden. Have you seen Sabrina and Sunset Boulevard and Born Yesterday and Bridge over the River Kwai and Picnic and Towering Inferno and Network? Those films are are on my shortlist of my very favorites. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: William Holden
OCCUPATION: Film Actor
BIRTH DATE: April 17, 1918
DEATH DATE: November 12, 1981
EDUCATION: Pasadena Junior College
PLACE OF BIRTH: O’Fallon, Illinois
PLACE OF DEATH: Santa Monica, California
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME: 1651 Vine St.
BEST KNOWN FOR: William Holden was an actor who perfected the role of the cynic who acts heroically in spite of his scorn or pessimism.
Talented, thrill-seeking, Ronald Reagan’s best man: a life as captivating as his roles in Sunset Blvd and Stalag 17. Hollywood golden boy turned wildlife conservationist.
Few Hollywood actors have conveyed spiritual and physical pain with as much charismatic authority as William Holden.
This scion of a wealthy family in the chemical business first registered in films as a clean-cut, affably handsome lead in the 1940s, who matured into more rough and tumble roles.
Along the way his earnest qualities yielded to cynicism, perhaps most notably for writer-director Billy Wilder, in ‘Sunset Boulevard’, in 1950, and in his Oscar-winning performance in ‘Stalag 17’.
Over the years, the rigors of life and drink re-sculpted his features into an expressive leather that gave testimony to the ravages of the moral ambiguity that had characterized many of his best roles.
This quality may have been most eloquently expressed by his central performance as the desperado cowboy, Pike, in Sam Peckinpah’s violent autumnal Western classic, ‘The Wild Bunch‘.
He was born William Franklin Beedle on 17 April 1918 in Illinois. He was the eldest son of schoolteacher Mary Blanche and industrial chemist William Franklin Beedle SR. His family moved to South Pasadena when he was three-years-old. Holden was educated at South Pasadena high school and Pasadena Junior College where he became involved in local radio plays.
In 1937, Holden was discovered by a talent scout from Paramount Pictures who saw him portray an 80-year-old man in a play at the local and privately-owned theatre The Playbox. His first film was ‘Prisoner Farm’ (1938), in a role that was uncredited.
Holden became a star with his first substantial feature role as the boxer-violinist in ‘Golden Boy’ in 1939, a part that cast him opposite screen siren Barbara Stanwyck, who would later become his mentor.
In 1941, he married actress Ardis Ankerson (stage name Brenda Marshall) and they had two children – Peter born in 1943 and Scott born in 1946. After many long separations, they divorced in 1971.
Fighting in the Air Force as a second lieutenant in World War II, he returned to the screen after discharge with a more complex personality, and starred in box-office favorites, ‘Dear Ruth’ (1947) and ‘Rachel and the Stranger’ (1948). During the war, he continued to act in training films.
1950 proved to be Holden’s watershed year: he starred in two career landmarks, ‘Born Yesterday’, as Judy Holliday’s culture tutor-cum-lover, and Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’, as Norma Desmond‘s hack screenwriter gigolo.
In 1952, Holden was the best man to Ronald Regan when he married Nancy Davis but he never got involved in politics himself.
He won a best actor Oscar for his pessimistic POW suspected of being a Nazi informer, in Wilder’s ‘Stalag 17’, in 1953.
Holden went on to become a leading box-office star between 1954-58, including roles in ‘Executive Suite’ (1954), ‘Sabrina’ (1954) and ‘Picnic’ (1955). During the filming of Sabrina, he started a romantic relationship with his co-star Audrey Hepburn who wanted to marry and have children with him. The relationship ended when Holden revealed he had undergone a vasectomy.
He played a pivotal role in ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘ (1957) and his 1960s successes included ‘The Counterfeit Traitor’ (1962) and a career highlight in Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969).
During this period, he also appeared in ‘The 7th Dawn’ (1964), ‘Alvarez Kelly’ (1966) and the James Bond spoof ‘Casino Royale’ in 1967.
The 1970s saw him in ‘Towering Inferno’ (1974), which became Holden’s highest grossing film of his career and ‘Ashanti'(1979), as well the highly acclaimed ‘Network’ (1976), as a conscientious TV executive for which he was nominated for an Oscar. This was followed by ‘When Time Ran Out’ and ‘The Earthling’ in 1980.
Following his divorce from Marshall, Holden started a relationship with actress Stefanie Powers, which sparked her interest in animal welfare as Holden was a managing partner of a wildlife conservation sanctuary in Africa.
His final film performance came in Blake Edwards’ caustically comic look at Hollywood, ‘S.O.B’, in 1981. On 12 November 1981, he was alone and intoxicated in his apartment when he slipped on a throw rug and severely cut his head on a teak bedside table and bled to death. Holden’s body was found four days later and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean as was his request.
Powers set up the William Holden Wildlife Foundation at Holden’s Mount Kenya Game Ranch in his memory.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
S. O. B. (1-Jul-1981)
The Earthling (24-Jul-1980) · Patrick Foley
The Day the World Ended (28-Mar-1980)
Damien: Omen II (9-Jun-1978)
Network (27-Nov-1976) · Max Schumacher
21 Hours at Munich (7-Nov-1976) · Manfred Schreiber
The Towering Inferno (10-Dec-1974) · Jim Duncan
Open Season (Aug-1974)
The Blue Knight (11-Nov-1973)
The Revengers (21-Jun-1972)
Wild Rovers (23-Jun-1971) · Ross Bodine
The Christmas Tree (25-Sep-1969)
The Wild Bunch (18-Jun-1969) · Pike
The Devil’s Brigade (15-May-1968) · Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick
Casino Royale (13-Apr-1967) · Ransome
Alvarez Kelly (7-Nov-1966)
The 7th Dawn (2-Sep-1964) · Ferris
Paris When It Sizzles (16-Mar-1964)
The Lion (19-Aug-1962) · Robert Hayward
The Counterfeit Traitor (17-Apr-1962)
Satan Never Sleeps (22-Feb-1962)
The World of Suzie Wong (10-Nov-1960)
The Horse Soldiers (12-Jun-1959) · Maj. Henry Kendall
The Key (28-May-1958) · David Ross
The Bridge on the River Kwai (18-Dec-1957) · Shears
Toward the Unknown (27-Sep-1956) · Maj. Lincoln Bond
The Proud and Profane (13-Jun-1956) · Lt. Col. Colin Black
Picnic (11-Feb-1956) · Hal Carter
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (18-Aug-1955) · Mark Elliott
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (20-Jan-1955) · Lt. Harry Brubaker
The Country Girl (15-Dec-1954) · Bernie Dodd
Sabrina (22-Sep-1954) · David Larrabee
Executive Suite (6-May-1954) · McDonald Walling
Escape from Fort Bravo (22-Jan-1954) · Capt. Roper
Forever Female (Aug-1953) · Stanley Krown
Stalag 17 (1-Jul-1953) · Sgt. Sefton
The Moon Is Blue (3-Jun-1953) · Donald Gresham
The Turning Point (15-Nov-1952)
Boots Malone (11-Jan-1952)
Submarine Command (Nov-1951)
Force of Arms (13-Aug-1951) · Sgt. Joe Peterson
You Can Change the World (1951) · Himself
Born Yesterday (26-Dec-1950) · Paul Verrall
Union Station (4-Oct-1950) · Lt. William Calhoun
Sunset Blvd. (4-Aug-1950) · Joe Gillis
Father Is a Bachelor (22-Feb-1950)
Dear Wife (15-Nov-1949) · Bill Seacroft
Miss Grant Takes Richmond (20-Sep-1949) · Dick Richmond
Streets of Laredo (11-May-1949)
The Dark Past (22-Dec-1948)
Apartment for Peggy (15-Oct-1948) · Jason
Rachel and the Stranger (20-Sep-1948) · Big Davey
The Man from Colorado (7-Aug-1948) · Capt. Del Stewart
Variety Girl (29-Aug-1947) · Himself
Dear Ruth (10-Jun-1947)
Blaze of Noon (2-May-1947) · Colin McDonald
Young and Willing (5-Feb-1943)
Meet the Stewarts (21-May-1942)
The Remarkable Andrew (5-Mar-1942)
The Fleet’s In (24-Jan-1942)
Texas (9-Oct-1941) · Dan Thomas
I Wanted Wings (26-Mar-1941)
Arizona (25-Dec-1940) · Peter Muncie
Our Town (24-May-1940) · George Gibbs
Invisible Stripes (30-Dec-1939) · Tim Taylor
Golden Boy (5-Sep-1939) · Joe Bonaparte
Source: William Holden