William Holden (1918 -1981)

 

Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:

There are very few "over night" stars in Hollywood history; their creation is a convention generally reserved for the movies themselves. But William Holden beat the odds by achieving instant stardom with his first leading role, that of the wholesome young prizefighter in Golden Boy (1939). He'd originally taken up acting as a lark while a student at Pasadena Junior College, but was spotted in a school play by a Paramount representative. The handsome, earnest young Holden had bits in Prison Farm (1938) and Million Dollar Legs (1939) before being chosen out of 65 candidates (including John Garfield) to play sensitive Joe Bonaparte, the violinist-turned-boxer in the Columbia production Golden Boy His inexperience made filming difficult, and after two weeks Columbia president Harry Cohn was ready to fire him-but costar Barbara Stanwyck, who had great faith in Holden, persuaded the executive to relent. Although the film took some liberties with the Clifford Odets play, Holden's performance was singled out for nearunanimous praise. (The actor remained forever grateful to Stanwyck for "pulling him through" that picture.)

William Holden 1918 - 1981

Although Holden supported George Raft in the Warner Bros. melodrama Invisible Stripes (also 1939), he was soon very much in demand as a clean-cut leading man. His early films didn't always show him to best advantage, but Holden built a fan following on the strength of wellreceived appearances in Our Town, Arizona (both 1940), I Wanted Wings, Texas (both 1941), The Remarkable Andrew, Meet the Stewarts, The Fleet's In (all 1942), and Young and Willing (1943). He served with the Army during World War 2, achieving the rank of lieutenant, and returned to the screen in 1947, first with a cameo in Variety Girl then with a leading role as an aviator in Blaze of Noon

Still youthfully handsome, Holden worked in comedies, dramas, thrillers, and Westerns with equal facility, appearing in Dear Ruth (1947), Apartment for Peggy, The Man From Colorado, Rachel and the Stranger (all 1948), Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Streets of Laredo and Dear Wife (all 1949).

But Holden's maturity-built in part on his wartime experiences-came to the fore inThe Dark Side (1948), in which he played an escaped killer, and reached fruition in Billy Wilder's sardonic black comedy, Sunset Blvd (1950, regarded by many as his finest performance), as the hack screenwriter who milks his unhealthy relationship with washed-up movie star Gloria Swanson. His unqualified success in these characterizations (he was Oscarnominated for Sunset Blvd presaged many later portrayals of cynical, worldweary opportunists. Wilder exploited that aspect of Holden's talent in his 1953 prisoner-of-war drama Stalag 17 which won the star his only Academy Award for his finely limned characterization of a smooth-talking con man who may or may not be informing on his fellow prisoners.

William Holden and Audrey Hepburn

Unfortunately, Holden was a double victim of the studio system. His long-term contract was shared by Columbia and Paramount, which not only underpaid him, but forced him into potboilers unworthy of his talent and popularity. Good movies like Born Yesterday (1950), in which he played the tutor hired by gangster Broderick Crawford to give Judy Holliday "class," were counterbalanced by strictly standard time-fillers like Submarine Command (1951) and Forever Female (1953). Other 1950s' assignments included Union Station (1950), Force of Arms (1951), Boots Malone, The Turning Point (both 1952), The Moon Is Blue and Escape From Fort Bravo (both 1953). His luck improved in mid-decade, with a string of fine films:Executive Suite (which reunited him with Stanwyck), The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Sabrina, The Country Girl (all 1954),Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), and Picnic (also 1955, which included the smoldering dance scene with Kim Novak that Holden was so nervous about he had to film it dead drunk!). Many of these films were among the top grossers of their day, solidifying Holden's star standing during the transitional decade of the 1950s, which saw many big names of the 1930s and 1940s pass from the scene. He became one of Hollywood's most popular and potent leading men.

After making Toward the Unknown and The Proud and Profane (both 1956), Holden negotiated a ground-breaking contract with Columbia to star in David Lean's blockbuster The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which made him a part-owner of the film; the film was, quite rightly, an enormous success, and the deal he made paid him handsomely for years to come.The Key (1958), The Horse Soldiers (1959), and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) were to follow.

Holden loved traveling; he accepted some film assignments for the opportunity to go to exotic locations, and journeyed to other regions of the world on his own. (He even owned a country club in Kenya, where he spent much of his time in later years.) In fact, his other activities probably accounted for the perceptible decline in the quality of his performances during the 1960s; he seemed tired and disinterested as the decade wore on:The Counterfeit Traitor, Satan Never Sleeps, The Lion (all 1962),Paris-When It Sizzles, The 7th Dawn (both 1964), Alvarez Kelly (1966), Casino Royale (1967, in a cameo), The Devil's Brigade (1968), and The Christmas Tree (1969).

The Wild Bunch

Sam Peckinpah's blood-soaked Western, The Wild Bunch (1969), took advantage of Holden's increasingly apparent weariness; as one of the aging outlaws who plans to retire after staging a final haul, he turned in one of his best performances in years.Wild Rovers (1971), The Revengers (1972), and Breezy (1973, directed by Clint Eastwood) didn't amount to much, but Holden enjoyed considerable success in the TV-movie The Blue Knight (1973, earning an Emmy Award for his performance), The Towering Inferno (1974), and, especially, Network (1976). The latter film, a brilliant black comedy written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, offered him one last really impressive star turn (for which he secured his final Oscar nomination), as the jaded TV executive at first indifferent to, then finally repulsed by, the disgraceful practices of his peers.

Holden's final few films includedDamien-Omen II (1978), Fedora (also 1978, for Billy Wilder), Ashanti (1979),EB> (1980), and Blake Edwards' black comedy about Hollywood, S.O.B (1981, a fitting follow-up for the man who'd starred in Sunset Blvd Shortly after completing the last-named movie, he slipped and fell, cutting his head open, and bled to death. Holden was married to actress Brenda Marshall from 1941 to 1971. Bob Thomas' melancholy biography, "Golden Boy," revealed that the handsome, self-assured actor so admired by men and women alike onscreen was in fact a man fraught with insecurity who essentially drank himself to an early grave.

 

FILM LISTINGS

Prison Farm (1938)
Million Dollar Legs (1939)
Golden Boy - 1939
Invisible Stripes - 1940
Our Town - 1940
Those Were the Days - 1940
Arizona - 1941
I Wanted Wings - 1941
Texas - 1941
The Remarkable Andrew - 1942
The Fleet's In - 1942
Meet the Stewarts - 1942
Young and Willing - 1943
Blaze of Noon - 1947
Dear Ruth - 1947
Variety Girl - 1947
Rachel and the Stranger - 1948
Apartment for Peggy - 1948
The Dark Past - 1948
The Man From Colorado - 1949
Streets of Laredo - 1949
Miss Grant Takes Richmond - 1949
Dear Wife - 1950
Father is a Bachelor - 1950
Sunset Boulevard - 1950
Union Station - 1950
Born Yesterday - 1950
Force of Arms - 1951
Submarine Command - 1952
Boots Malone - 1952
The Turning Point - 1952
Stalag 17 - 1953
The Moon is Blue - 1953
Forever Female - 1954
Sabrina - 1954
The Country Girl - 1954
The Bridges at Toko-Ri - 1955
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing - 1955
Picnic - 1956
The Proud and the Profane - 1956
Toward the Unknown - 1956
The Bridge on the River Kwai - 1957
The Key - 1958
The Horse Soldiers - 1959
The World of Suzie Wong - 1960
Satan Never Sleeps - 1962
The Counterfeit Traitor - 1962
The Lion - 1962
Paris When It Sizzles - 1964
The Seventh Dawn - 1964
Alvarez kelly - 1966
Casino Royale - 1967
The Devil's Brigade - 1968
The Wild Bunch - 1969
The Christmas Tree - 1969
Wild Rovers - 1971
The Revengers - 1972
Breezy - 1973
The Blue Knight - 1973
Open Season - 1974
The Towering Inferno - 1974
21 Hours at Munich - 1976
Network - 1976
Damien-Omen II - 1978
Fedora - 1978
Ashanti - 1979
The Day the World Ended - 1980
The Earthling - 1981
S.O.B. - 1981


26th Annual Academy Awards: William Holden - STALAG 17

Home