William Holden Overview:

Legendary actor, William Holden, was born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on Apr 17, 1918 in O'Fallon, IL. Holden died at the age of 63 on Nov 16, 1981 in Santa Monica, CA and was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Early Life

William Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. on April 17th, 1918 in O'Fallon, Illinois.  The son of industrial chemist and high school teacher, Holden lived in a quiet, middle class house household during his most formative years. He moved with his parents and two younger brothers to South Pasadena at the age of three, where he received all his early education. It was while attending Pasadena Junior College that Holden got his first taste of performance, becoming involved radio plays.  In 1939 he graduated to stage plays, portraying am 80-year man at a small theatre called The Playhouse. During that performance a talent scout from Paramount Pictures noticed Holden. Soon after he made his first screen appearance in Prison Farm.

Early Career

Holden had another small, uncredited role in the forgettable Million Dollar Legs before landing his breakthrough role in Golden Boy. Of course, as the story goes, Holden almost didn't even get the role. Over 5,000 auditioned for the part of Joe Bonapartse, classical violinist turned professional boxer, the chances of the then-unknown Holden getting the role were very slim. However, both lead actress Barbra Stanwyck and the film's director Rouben Mamoulian lobbied for the young actor, giving Holden his both first leading role and his big break. Holden would later say all his career is owed to Stanwyck for insisting he be cast opposite her in the film. The next year he starred in the big screen adaption of the Sam Wood Film Our Town.

Through the 1940's, he continued role of a similar vein. In his next film, Arizona, he plays the all-American cowboy who catches the eye of rough-and-tumble frontier woman, Jean Arthur. In 1942 he starred opposite Dorothy Lamour as the socially shy sailor, Casey Kirby, in The Fleet's In. That same year Holden played an effortlessly efficient accountant, who get some much needed help from the ghost of General Andrew Jackson in The Remarkable Andrew. The next year he starred in the forgettable comedy Young and Willing before joining the WWII effort in 1943. While in the military, Holden served as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Air Forces, with much of his time spend acting in the First Motion Picture Unit training films. He was discharged from service in 1947.

Return to Hollywood

After being released from the military, Holden went right back to Hollywood. He starred in a series of profitable but ultimately forgettable films as his usual all American-guy in films such as 1947's Dear Ruth and 1948's Rachel and the Stranger. In 1949, he was finally cast against type as an escaped killer in the bow-budget film-noir The Dark Past, proving he could be more than the All-American he had been typed cast as for so long. The next year would prove to be Holden breakout year.

In 1950, Holden starred in two of his most remembered films, the first being the George Cukor comedy Born Yesterday opposite Judy Holliday. In the film, Holden plays mild manner Paul Verrall, hired junkyard tycoon, Broderick Crawford, to tutor his uncouth sassy mistress, Judy Holliday, in the ways of becoming an acceptable social accessory. The film was another success, ending up with five Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture. His second great picture of the year was Billy Wilder's biting indictment of the Hollywood system, Sunset Blvd. In the film, Holden plays the cynical screenwriter Joe Gillis, taken in by faded silent film star Norma Desmond after some financial trouble comes knocking at his door.  Despite it's less than flattering portrayal of Hollywood, the film was massive hit with both critics and audiences and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Holden's first for Best Actor.

After his role in Sunset Blvd, Holden's screen image changed from that of an all-American boy-next-door type to the now familiar coolly detached and cynical anti-hero. He would play that role to perfection in the prisoner of war drama Stalag 17, teamed again with director Billy Wilder. In the film Holden plays Sgt. J.J Sefton, a black marketer accused of spying for the Nazi in a Prisoner of War Camp. The film was both a critical and commercial success, with much of the praise going to the films leading man. For his efforts Holden would go to be win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Continued Success

With his all-American good looks and aloof, cynical attitude, by the mid 1950's Holden was one of the biggest box-office draws in America. He capitalized on his newfound screen persona, in 1954 Holden starred in five films. His first appearance was in the Robert Wise Film Executive Suite as McDonald Walling, an idealistic young engineer who must make his way through the political and corruption of big business.  He then reteamed with Billy Wilder for the May-December romantic comedy, Sabrina, starring opposite Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. His next film was the Korean War drama, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, starring with Grace Kelly, Mickey Rooney, and Fredric March. In the film, Holden portrays a disillusioned Navy Fighter pilot who must face his own feelings about the war while preparing for a dangerous mission. He would again star with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby in The Country Girl.

In 1955 he only starred in two films, the first being the forgettable revolutionary China-era romance Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. His other film of that year was big-screen adaptation of the William Inge play Picnic, opposite a young Kim Novac. Ironically, although Holden was the top box-office draw of 1956, his two films of that year, The Proud and Profane and Toward the Unknown, are two of his most forgettable. The next year Holden starred in one of his most memorable roles, Commander Shears, in the David Lean Prisoner of war Drama Bridge on the River Kwai. The film was a massive hit both commercially and critically. It was number one grossing films of the year and gaining a total of seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director.

Career Decline

As the decade wore on, Holden popularity began to wane. His last two films of the decade, The Horse Soldiers and The Key, were as forgettable as they were non-profitable. In 1960, he stars with Nancy Kwan in the cross-cultural Romance The World of Suzie Wong. Holden remained absent from the screen for two years, before returning with Satan Never Sleeps, The Lion, and The Counterfeit Traitor. His next film, Paris When It Sizzles reteamed him with Audrey Hepburn. Although critics universally panned the film, both Holden and Hepburn were praised for their efforts despite the lackluster script. In 1966 he starred opposite Richard Widmark in the western Alvarez Kelly. The next year, appeared in the star studded James Bond satire Casino Royale. In 1968, Holden starred in the WWII drama The Devil's Brigade.

Later Career and Death

In 1969 Holden starred in Sam Peckinpah's revisited Western The Wild Bunch. The follows a group of aging outlaws, fast becoming relics of the old west, as they prepare one last bank heist. The film's graphic, raw, and unglamorous representation of Old West violence as well its innovative camera/editing techniques made it a hit commercially and critically. Holden was singled out for his performance, with many critics calling his best since Stalag 17. Although his career would never reach the height it had in the mid 1950's, Holden would continue to work throughout the 1970's.  In 1972 he starred opposite Woody Strode and Ernst Borgnine in the Daniel Mann western The Revengers. In 1975, Holden appeared in the star-studded disaster flick The Towering Inferno with names like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Fred Astaire, and Faye Dunaway. The film was huge box office and critical hit.

Two yeas he would star in the Sidney Lumet classic Network. The film centers around a television networks decision exploit their semi-deranged rantings of their aging news anchor, and the aftermath of that decision. In the film Holden portrays the cynical and pragmatic News Division President, Max Schumacher. The film was a huge hit at the box-office and in the review papers, and would be nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for William Holden. Holden would lose the Oscar race that to fellow Network star Peter Finch. In 1978, Holden teamed with Billy Wilder one last time for the film Fedora. The film stars Holden as Dutch Detweiler, an aged Hollywood Producer who must lure a famed actress, reclusive actress, played by  Antonia Sobryanski out of retirement to kick start his career. The film is often seen as a companion piece to his earlier Wilder film Sunset BLVD, due to their similar plotlines. The next year he starred in the horror film Damien: Omen II. Two years later, he would make his final acting performance in the Blake Edwards Hollywood satire S.O.B.

On November 16th, 1981 William Holden was found dead in his apartment. An autopsy report cites that that on November 12th an intoxicated Holden was alone in his apartment, when he fell lacerated his head, causing him to bleed to death. He was 63 years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



William Holden was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actor for Stalag 17 (as Sefton) in 1953.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1950Best ActorSunset Blvd. (1950)Joe GillisNominated
1953Best ActorStalag 17 (1953)SeftonWon
1976Best ActorNetwork (1976)Max SchumacherNominated

He was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.

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William Holden Quotes:

Capt. Roper: When you're in the grave, Beecher, it doesn't matter too much how you got there.
Lt. Beecher: Well, I think it matters. I think it does.
Capt. Roper: Write the War Department.

Joe Gillis: Norma, you're a woman of 50, now grow up. There's nothing tragic about being 50, not unless you try to be 25.

Bernie Dodd: Does your wife really want you to play this part?
Frank Elgin: Yeah, she's all for it
Bernie Dodd: I was just wondering. The day I met her, she seemed a little difficult about terms and rather domineering, I thought.
Frank Elgin: She wasn't always like that
Bernie Dodd: Oh I know, I know. They all start out as Juliets and wind up as Lady Macbeths.

read more quotes from William Holden...

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William Holden Facts
He was very instrumental in animal preservation in Africa. In the 1970s he purchased a large acreage of land with his own money and began an animal sanctuary. His love of the wild animal was shared with his then companion Stefanie Powers (from "Hart to Hart" (1979)). He would appear on talk shows to promote the saving of animals and to spread the word of anti-poaching and illegal animal trade.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 391-397. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.

A hygiene fanatic, he reportedly showered up to four times daily.

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