Born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on April 17th, 1918, William Holden became one of the most popular movie stars of the 1950s and is probably my favourite actor from that era.
After graduating from high school he became involved in local radio plays and by the late 30s was appearing in a number of uncredited roles in films at Paramount.
He got his big break in 1939 when he changed his surname to Holden after the assistant director on the big film he was going to work on was divorcing actress Gloria Holden.
The film was Golden Boy which also starred Barbara Stanwyck in which he played a violinist turned boxer. The film has dated now but it propelled him into leading roles in the early 1940s which was cut short when he was called up into the US Air Force where he acted in training films – somewhat quite different to Lee Marvin’s WWII experiences from last weeks post.
After the war he resumed his film career which was proving rather unremarkable until he landed the part of the down-at-heel screenwriter taken in by a faded silent film actress in Billy Wilder’s magnificently scathing drama of Hollywood in Sunset Blvd. (1950). It’s in my top 20 favourite films of all-time.
Holden was exceptional in a role he would make his own in the coming years playing a self-loathing cynical lead. He also helped set up in having Gloria Swanson delivering one of THE all-time great lines in movie history.
In the same year he also played opposite the superb Judy Holliday in the wonderful comedy Born Yesterday, and for the next few years he was on a golden run with hit after hit.
In 1953 he won the Best Actor Oscar in Stalag 17, again directed by Billy Wilder, for his outstanding portrayal as the enterprising and unsympathetic cynic who barters openly with the German guards for various luxuries. This mixture of drama and comedy was quite unusual for the time and still stands as one of the best POW films ever made.
Other films he starred in during this period included Sabrina, The Country Girl, The Bridges At Toko-Ri and Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.
Although a little old for the main role in 1955s Picnic he bought a sensual air to his role as the wandering vagrant, never better exemplified in this lovely scene where he dances with Kim Novak’s character.
Holden then starred in David Lean’s The Bridge On The Rover Kwai which was a huge financial and critical success.
By the 1960s Holden was becoming less interested in his films and became more involved as a managing partner in an animal preserve in Africa where he fell in love with the wildlife and created the Mount Kenya Game Ranch.
In 1969 he has a great role as the outlaw leader Pike in Sam Peckinpah’s blood-soaked superb western The Wild Bunch, and was one of many stars featured in 1974’s The Towering Inferno.
Two years later he gave his last great leading performance in Network as the world-weary TV news division president; and two years after that he had another good role in the Billy Wilder film Fedora.
An alcoholic for most of his life, Holden died on November 12th, 1981, aged only 63, when he bled to death in his apartment after cutting his forehead from slipping on a rug while drunk and hitting a bedside table.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . The Man in Lincoln’s Nose.
24 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #55”
There were other people in the scene where Kim Novak dances sensually, beautifully, engagingly?
Well I never.
Happy Australia Day!
He was way too old for “Picnic”
But was always appealing
Sic Transit Gloria Swanson
Sunset Boulevard def one of the best psycho bitch movies and one of the best movies EVER. Love it how Cecil B DeMille plays himself.
I love Betty Schafer too.
Heh. I got the coordinates Wolfman. One of my favourites.
I love that cyncial American tough guy schtick too- same with Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. ‘Poor guy, he always wanted a pool’.
Nice one calli . . . and one of my all-time favourites as well.
A happy Australia Day to everyone as well.
same to you Wolfman
Amazing to think it was made way back in 1950 for its acidic black look at Hollywood.
Yes. The cynicism is very full on but characters like Betty and Artie are likeable and give you hope.
Phew! I got a little *ahem* ‘warm’ watching him move. Gorgeous physique and energy.
I might need to lie down for a bit…
Holden was a very good actor, but I think he was horribly mis-cast in Bridge on the River Kwai..
The character called for a sleazy looking misfit, not the rugged good looker.
Lee Van Cleef or Richard Boone would have been terrific in the role, but I guess the producers wanted the big name box office star in Holden.
Sunset Blvde is wonderful and both actors are top rate in it. I still can’t believe how tiny Gloria Swanson was. That line about small pictures, so true.
William Holden was also good in Sabrina – I thing he was perfectly cast as the younger brother. (But playing opposite Bogart and Audrey Hepburn would not have been hard).
His cameo in ESCAPE TO ATHENA (1979) was a classic and probably the highlight of that film.
True . . . he was playing his character from Stalag 17.
Dyed his hair blonde playing the younger and rakish brother. It’s a very enjoyable romantic comedy that sh!ts all-over the awful remake with Harrison Ford.
And don’t forget his wonderful late career performance in maybe the greatest ever Western – Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, as the experienced old hand leading an outlaw gang trying to make one last score and escape to Mexico, but things just go wrong. Even in a very strong cast he was memorable.
That scene with Kim Novak is pure art and beauty – magnifique.
Yes it is . . . and way back in 1955 when the film was released it caused quite a stir with the Moonglow dance which was about as steamy as Hollywood could get in evoking sex.
Looking at it today it is tasteful and sensuous.
At least he ended his days with the delectable Stephanie Powers.
I lived in HK for sixteen years, quite a few of them in a crumbling block of old apartments in Causeway Bay not far from the ferry pier in Wanchai. (alas, no longer there). Two floors of the building were devoted to horizontal refreshment for American sailors and associated activities went on in lots of additional private rooms scattered through the building.
For that reason, I have always had a soft spot forTheWorld of Suzie Wong.
Holden is ideally cast here. The story is as coyly ridiculous and twee as Pretty Woman , or even Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but never mind.
Put yourself out there. Take a chance. Holden is the cautious, reliable character who does just that, a would be artist conscious of social status and race but tempted to throw it to the wind (for a while). I think he plays such a character beautifully.
This mixture of drama and comedy was quite unusual for the time and still stands as one of the best POW films ever made.
Really? If its that good, where is his attempt to jump to freedom on a motorcycle? I thought not. Ha.