Turner Classic Movies
Holden, William
Written by Diana Saenger   

williamholden.jpgWilliam Holden - The Golden Boy

Date of Birth: April 17, 1918

Place of Birth: O'Fallon, Illinois

Date of Death: November 16, 1981

Place of Death: Santa Monica, California

Cause of Death: injuries from a fall

William Holden went from being a cynical and rebellious youth to earning the title of Hollywood's Golden Boy in the late 1930s. Audiences loved him, and mention his name today and you'll still get sighs from some of the females who idolized him. By the 1950s and after earning a Best Actor Oscar for his role as an American POW in Stalag 17, Holden was one of the decade's top stars. From beginning to end, however, it would be Holden's own doings that brought him grief and ultimately played a part in the end of his life.


Holden was born William Franklin Beedle Jr.

His father's position as an industrial chemist and his mother's job as a teacher made the family quite prosperous. His childhood behavior is said to have been energetic, filled with sports, and often boisterous. Holden attended Pasadena Junior College, supposedly to follow in his father's footsteps, but fate stepped in when he was seen in a school play by a Paramount rep who signed Holden to a contract. Columbia would later take over half of the contract and Holden did films for both studios.

William Holden & Barbara Stanwyck © Columbia Pictures
His first two film appearances were unaccredited, but his next role was no small part. In Golden Boy (1939), Holden played Joe Bonaparte, a musician who wants to be a boxer. Supposedly Barbara Stanwyck mentored Holden at night during the filming, the only thing that kept the as yet unskilled star from being let go. No sooner had he showed screen promise than he was whisked away to fight in World War II. Holden served as a lieutenant in the Army's special services unit.


Holden barely had time to acclimate from the war before finding himself back in front of the camera. He made films continuously during the 1940s and 50s enjoying moving from his first clean-cut guy status and into more complicated characters. The films included a range of dramas - I Wanted Wings (1941), Blaze of Noon (1947), comedies - The Remarkable Andrew (1942), Meet the Stewarts (1942) and westerns - The Man From Colorado (1948) and Streets of Laredo (1949).

Before Holden's Oscar-winning role in Stalag 17 in 1953, he appeared as the gigolo Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950) opposite Gloria Swanson, and in 1955 he starred in Picnic with Kim Novak. One of Holden's most popular films was The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957). The new Casino Royale may have Daniel Craig, but Holden played a CIA agent in the 1967 original version.

By the 1970s Holden's was starting to pick and choose his roles such as Network (1976), which earned him a Best Actor nomination and Ashanti (1979). His last feature film was S.O.B. in 1981.


In 1941 Holden married actress Brenda Marshall, who starred opposite Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk. Between both of their acting schedules they rarely saw each other, but managed to stay married for 30 years and they had two children, Peter and Scott. Holden also adopted Marshall's daughter Virginia, from Marshall's previous marriage to Richard Gaines. Holden and Marshall divorced in 1971.

Following the divorce Holden claimed to have lost his passion about acting. He started drinking quite a bit, and some say it began to affect his career, as well as his relationship with women he dated such as Stefanie Powers, Audrey Hepburn, with whom he starred in Sabrina (1954) and Grace Kelly with whom he starred in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955). Alcohol is blamed for the fall that took Holden's life.

One of the best westerns around, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), featured Holden as Pike Bishop, part of a group of aging desperados bound together by the same greed.

At one point in his life Holden moved to Switzerland and became active in animal preservation in Africa, buying land and starting an animal sanctuary in the 1970s. As co-owner of the Mount Kenya Safari Club, his affection for animals was a shared interest with Powers, and the two worked together on animal preservation endeavors. Holden also left a large sum of money to Powers for such work, and she initiated the William Holden Wildlife Foundation.

His work still stands today as a testament to Holden's incredible talent, and it's no wonder he was chosen by Empire magazine in 1995 as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history.

williamholdengloriassunsetblvd.jpgGloria Swanson & William Holden in Sunset Blvd ©Chronicle Books, Turner Classic Movies




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