Holden in a publicity photo, 1954
|Born||William Franklin Beedle, Jr.
April 17, 1918
O'Fallon, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||November 12, 1981 (aged 63)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Exsanguination following a fall|
|Education||South Pasadena High School|
|Alma mater||Pasadena Junior College|
|Occupation||Actor, wildlife conservationist|
|Spouse(s)||Brenda Marshall (m. 1941–71)|
|Awards||Academy Award for Best Actor (1953)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor (1974)
William Holden (April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981) was an American actor. Among the most popular movie stars of all time, Holden was one of the biggest box office draws of the 1950s. Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1953 for his role in Stalag 17, and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for his role in the 1973 television film The Blue Knight.
Holden starred in some of Hollywood's most popular and critically acclaimed films, including such blockbusters as Sunset Boulevard, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild Bunch, Picnic, The Towering Inferno, and Network. He was named one of the "Top 10 Stars of the Year" six times (1954–1958, 1961), and appeared on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years…100 Stars list as number 25.
Early life and career
Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in O'Fallon, Illinois, the son of Mary Blanche (née Ball; 1898-1990), a schoolteacher, and William Franklin Beedle, Sr. (1891-1967), an industrial chemist. He had two younger brothers, Robert and Richard. Holden's paternal great-grandmother, Rebecca Westfield, was born in England in 1817, while some of his mother's ancestors settled in Virginia's Lancaster County after emigrating from England in the 17th century. His younger brother, Robert W. "Bobbie" Beedle, became a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and was killed in action in World War II, over New Ireland, on January 5, 1944.
His family moved to South Pasadena when he was three. After graduating from South Pasadena High School, Holden attended Pasadena Junior College, where he became involved in local radio plays. Contrary to legend and theatre publicity, he did not study at the Pasadena Playhouse, nor was he discovered in a play there. Rather, he was spotted by a talent scout from Paramount Pictures in 1937 while playing the part of an 80-year-old man, Marie Curie's father-in-law, in a play at the Playbox, a separate and private theatre owned by Pasadena Playhouse director Gilmor Brown. His first film role was in Prison Farm the following year.
Holden's first starring role was in Golden Boy (1939), in which he played a violinist-turned-boxer. Next he starred with George Raft and Humphrey Bogart in the Warner Bros. gangster epic Invisible Stripes later the same year, followed by the role of George Gibbs in the film adaptation of Our Town. After Columbia Pictures picked up half of his contract, he alternated between starring in several minor pictures for Paramount and Columbia before serving as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, where he acted in training films for the First Motion Picture Unit. Beginning in 1950, his career took off when Billy Wilder tapped him to star as the down-at-the-heels screenwriter Joe Gillis, who is taken in by faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard, for which Holden earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Following this breakthrough film, his career quickly grew in stature as he played a series of roles that combined good looks with cynical detachment, including a prisoner-of-war entrepreneur in Stalag 17 (1953), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a pressured young engineer/family man in Executive Suite (1954), an acerbic stage director in The Country Girl (1954) with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, a conflicted jet pilot in the Korean War film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), a carefree playboy in Sabrina (1954), a wandering college football star in Picnic (1955), a dashing war correspondent in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), his most widely recognized role as an ill-fated prisoner in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) with Alec Guiness, a World War II tug boat captain in The Key (1958), and an American Civil War military surgeon in John Ford's The Horse Soldiers (1959) opposite John Wayne.
He also played a number of sunnier roles in light comedy, such as the handsome architect pursuing virginal Maggie McNamara in the controversial Production Code-breaking The Moon Is Blue (1953) with David Niven, as Judy Holliday's tutor in Born Yesterday (1950), as a playwright captivated by Ginger Rogers' character in Forever Female (1953) and as Humphrey Bogart's younger brother, a playboy, in Sabrina (1954), which also starred Audrey Hepburn. In 1954, Holden was featured on the cover of Life.
On February 7, 1955, he appeared as a guest star on I Love Lucy as himself. His career peaked in 1957 with the enormous success of The Bridge on the River Kwai, but Holden spent the next several years starring in a number of films that rarely succeeded commercially or critically. By the mid-1960s, the quality of his roles and films had noticeably diminished.
In 1969, Holden made a comeback when he starred in director Sam Peckinpah's graphically violent Western The Wild Bunch, winning much acclaim. Also in 1969, Holden starred in director Terence Young's family film L'Arbre de Noël, co-starring Italian actress Virna Lisi, based on the novel of the same name by Michel Bataille. This film was originally released in the United States as The Christmas Tree and on home video as When Wolves Cry.
Five years later, he starred with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in the critically acclaimed disaster film The Towering Inferno, which became a box office smash and one of the highest grossing films of Holden's career. He was also praised for his Oscar-nominated leading performance in Sidney Lumet's classic Network (1976), a prescient examination of the media written by Paddy Chayefsky, playing an older version of the character type he had become iconic for in the 1950s, only now more jaded and aware of his own mortality.
In 1974, Holden won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his portrayal of a cynical, tough veteran LAPD street cop in the television film The Blue Knight, based upon the best-selling Joseph Wambaugh novel of the same name.
In 1980, Holden appeared in The Earthling with popular child actor Ricky Schroder, playing a loner dying of cancer who goes to the Australian outback to end his days, meets a young boy whose parents have been killed in an accident, and teaches him how to survive. During his last years, Holden also appeared in his second Irwin Allen film, When Time Ran Out, a critical and commercial failure and heavily disliked by Holden himself; his final film, Blake Edwards's S.O.B., was more successful and a Golden Globe-nominated picture.
While in Italy in 1966, Holden killed another driver in a drunk driving incident. He received an eight-month suspended sentence for vehicular manslaughter.
Holden maintained a home in Switzerland and also spent much of his time working for wildlife conservation as a managing partner in an animal preserve in Africa. His Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki (founded 1959) became a mecca for the international jet set.
Marriage and relationships
Holden was married to actress Ardis Ankerson (stage name Brenda Marshall) from 1941 until their divorce (after many long separations) in 1971. They had two sons, Peter Westfield (born November 17, 1943) and Scott Porter (born May 2, 1946; died January 21, 2005, San Diego, California). He also adopted his wife's daughter, Virginia, from her first marriage. William was also a distant cousin to news anchor and game show panelist, the late John Cameron Swayze through the family of 17th century British judge Samuel Swayze.
During the filming of Sabrina (1954), Audrey Hepburn and the already-married William Holden became romantically involved. She hoped to marry him and have children, but she broke off the relationship when Holden revealed that he had undergone a vasectomy.
Holden met French actress Capucine in the early 1960s. The two starred in the films The Lion (1962) and The 7th Dawn (1964). They began a two-year affair, which is alleged to have ended due to Holden's alcoholism. Capucine and Holden remained friends until his death in 1981.
In 1972, Holden began a nine-year relationship with actress Stefanie Powers, which sparked her interest in animal welfare. After his death, Powers set up the William Holden Wildlife Foundation at Holden's Mount Kenya Game Ranch.
According to the Los Angeles County Coroner's autopsy report, Holden was alone and intoxicated in his apartment in Santa Monica, California, on November 12, 1981, when he slipped on a rug, severely lacerated his forehead on a teak bedside table, and bled to death. Evidence suggests he was conscious for at least half an hour after the fall. It is probable that he may not have realized the severity of the injury and did not summon aid, or was unable to call for help. His body was found four days later.
In popular culture
Holden makes a cameo appearance in Walker Percy's 1961 novel "The Moviegoer". Percy's hero, Binx Bolling, encounters the star in the French Quarter: "Today I am in luck. Who should come out of Pirate's Alley half a block ahead of me but William Holden!"
In 2011, Holden's stepdaughter, Virginia Holden Gaines, published a book, Growing Up with William Holden: A Memoir, reliving her memories of life with her father.
In a podcast for Turner Classic Movies (February 2012) singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega revealed that years after she had released her famous song "Tom's Diner", she was told that her line from this song ("I open up the paper, there's a story of an actor who had died while he was drinking, it was no one I had heard of") actually referred to William Holden, and that "You can date Tom's Diner day by the date of his death". Video on YouTube
In the film Mona Lisa Smile, students gossip about an affair between their professor Katherine Watson, a California native, and William Holden.
|1939||Million Dollar Legs||Graduate who says "Thank You"||uncredited|
|Golden Boy||Joe Bonaparte|
|Invisible Stripes||Tim Taylor|
|1940||Our Town||George Gibbs|
|Those Were the Days!||P.J. "Petey" Simmons|
|1941||I Wanted Wings||Al Ludlow|
|1942||The Fleet's In||Casey Kirby|
|The Remarkable Andrew||Andrew Long|
|Meet the Stewarts||Michael Stewart|
|1943||Young and Willing||Norman Reese|
|Reconnaissance Pilot||Himself||short film|
|Wings Up||Himself||short film|
|1947||Blaze of Noon||Colin McDonald|
|Dear Ruth||Lt. William Seacroft|
|1948||The Man from Colorado||Capt. Del Stewart|
|Rachel and the Stranger||David Harvey|
|Apartment for Peggy||Jason Taylor|
|The Dark Past||Al Walker|
|1949||Streets of Laredo||Jim Dawkins|
|Miss Grant Takes Richmond||Dick Richmond|
|Dear Wife||Bill Seacroft|
|1950||Father Is a Bachelor||Johnny Rutledge|
|Sunset Boulevard||Joe Gillis||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor|
|Union Station||Lt. William Calhoun|
|Born Yesterday||Paul Verrall|
|1951||Force of Arms||Sgt. Joe "Pete" Peterson|
|Submarine Command||Lt. Cmdr. Ken White|
|1952||Boots Malone||Boots Malone|
|The Turning Point||Jerry McKibbon|
|1953||Stalag 17||Sgt. J.J. Sefton||Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated – New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
|The Moon Is Blue||Donald Gresham|
|Die Jungfrau auf dem Dach||Tourist||cameo|
|Forever Female||Stanley Krown|
|Escape from Fort Bravo||Capt. Roper|
|1954||Executive Suite||McDonald Walling||Venice Film Festival Special Award for Ensemble Acting|
|Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto||Narrator||uncredited|
|The Country Girl||Bernie Dodd|
|The Bridges at Toko-Ri||Lt. Harry Brubaker|
|1955||Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing||Mark Elliott|
|Picnic||Hal Carter||Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor|
|1956||The Proud and Profane||Lt. Col. Colin Black|
|Toward the Unknown||Maj. Lincoln Bond|
|1957||The Bridge on the River Kwai||Shears|
|1958||The Key||Capt. David Ross|
|1959||The Horse Soldiers||Major Henry Kendall|
|1960||The World of Suzie Wong||Robert Lomax||Nominated – Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance|
|1962||Satan Never Sleeps||Father O'Banion|
|The Counterfeit Traitor||Eric Erickson|
|The Lion||Robert Hayward|
|1964||Paris When It Sizzles||Richard Benson/Rick|
|The 7th Dawn||Major Ferris|
|1966||Alvarez Kelly||Alvarez Kelly|
|1968||The Devil's Brigade||Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick|
|1969||The Wild Bunch||Pike Bishop|
|The Christmas Tree||Laurent Ségur|
|1971||Wild Rovers||Ross Bodine|
|1972||The Revengers||John Benedict|
|1974||Open Season||Hal Wolkowski|
|The Towering Inferno||Jim Duncan|
|1976||Network||Max Schumacher||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated – BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated – National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor
|1978||Fedora||Barry "Dutch" Detweiler|
|Damien: Omen II||Richard Thorn|
|1979||Escape to Athena||Prisoner smoking a cigar in prison camp||uncredited|
|1980||When Time Ran Out||Shelby Gilmore|
|The Earthling||Patrick Foley|
|1955||Lux Video Theatre||Intermission Guest||episode: Love Letters|
|I Love Lucy||Himself||episode: Hollywood at Last|
|1956||The Jack Benny Program||Himself||episode: William Holden/Frances Bergen Show|
|1973||The Blue Knight||Bumper Morgan||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie|
|1976||21 Hours at Munich||Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber|
Box Office Ranking
For a number of years exhibitors voted Holden among the most popular stars in the country:
- 1954 - 7th (US)
- 1955 - 4th (US)
- 1956 - 1st (US)
- 1957 - 7th (US)
- 1958 - 6th (US), 6th (UK)
- 1959 - 12th (US)
- 1960 - 14th (US)
- 1961 - 8th (US)
- 1962 - 15th (US)
- Heymann, C. David (2009). Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 25. ISBN 1-416-55629-X. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
- "Ancestry of William Holden." Genealogy.com. Retrieved: November 13, 2011.
- Capua 2009, pp. 16–17.
- Capua 2009, pp. 54–55.
- "Film Ratings." IMDb. Retrieved: December 6, 2012.
- Capua 2009, pp. 135–136, 141.
- Capua, Michelangelo William Holden: A Biography (2010) p. 162-3
- Brown, Andrew M. "When Alcoholics drink themselves to death." The Telegraph, April 7, 2011.
- Bennett, Bruce. "William Holden's Unscripted Fall From Grace." New York Sun, July 2, 2008.
- John Cameron Swayze
- The Lion (hosted by Robert Osborne); air date: November 4, 2012 on Turner Classic Movies
- Strodder 2000, p. 112.
- Capua 2009, p. 165.
- Bacon, Doris Klein. "For Love of Bill." People, Vol. 17, No. 21, May 31, 1982.
- Capua 2009, p. 164
- "Hollywood Star Walk: William Holden". latimes.com. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Capua, Michelangelo. William Holden: A Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7864-4440-3.
- Gaines, Virginia Holden. Growing Up with William Holden: A Memoir. Newark, Notts, UK: Strategems, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9741304-5-3.
- Phillips, Gene D. Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2010. ISBN 0-8131-2570-7.
- Quirk, Lawrence J. The Complete Films of William Holden. Sacramento, California: Citadel Press, 1986. ISBN 978-0-8065-0998-3.
- Quirk, Lawrence J.The Films of William Holden. Sacramento, California: Citadel Press, 1973. ISBN 978-0-8065-0375-2.
- Strodder, Chris. Swingin' Chicks Of the Sixties. San Rafael, California: Cedco Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 0-7683-2232-4.
- Thomas, Bob. Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-312-33697-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to William Holden.|
- William Holden at the Internet Movie Database
- William Holden at the TCM Movie Database
- Profile @ Turner Classic Movies
- William Holden Wildlife Foundation
- William Holden at Find a Grave