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William Holden (April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981) was an Americanmarker film actor.

Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1954, and the Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1974. One of the top stars of the 1950s, 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 #25.

Early life and career

Holden, eldest of three sons (brothers were Robert & Richard), was born as William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in O'Fallon, Illinoismarker, the son of Mary Blanche (née Ball), a schoolteacher, and William Franklin Beedle, Sr., an industrial chemist. The family, which moved to South Pasadena, Californiamarker when he was three, was of Englishmarker descent; Holden's paternal great-grandmother, Rebecca Westfield, was born in Englandmarker in 1817, while some of his mother's ancestors emigrated in the 17th century to Millenbackmarker, Lancaster County, Virginiamarker in the U.S.marker from Englandmarker.

After graduating from South Pasadena High Schoolmarker, Holden attended Pasadena Junior Collegemarker, where he became involved in local radio plays. Contrary to legend and theatre publicity, he did not study at the Pasadena Playhousemarker, nor was he discovered in a play there. Rather, he was spotted by a talent scout from Paramount Pictures in 1937 while appearing as an old man in a play at the Playbox, a separate and private theatre owned by Pasadena Playhousemarker director Gilmor Brown. His first film role was in Prison Farm the following year.

Hollywood's "Golden Boy"

His first starring role was in Golden Boy (1939), in which he played a violinist turned boxer. That was 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. 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, 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), a conflicted jet pilot in the Korean War film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), a wandering braggart in Picnic (1955), a dashing war correspondent in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), an ill-fated prisoner in The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker (1957) and a WWII tug boat captain in The Key (1958).

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), as Judy Holliday's tutor in Born Yesterday (1950), as a playwright captivated by Ginger Rogers' character inForever Female (1953) and as Humphrey Bogart's younger brother, a playboy, in Sabrina (1954), which also starred Audrey Hepburn.

Holden starred in his share of forgettable movies — which he was forced to do by studio contracts — such as Paris When It Sizzles (1964), also co-starring Audrey Hepburn. By the mid-1960s, his roles were having less critical and commercial impact.

Later career

In 1969, Holden 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 Noel, 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 Towering Inferno. He was also praised for his Oscar-nominated leading performance in Sidney Lumet's Network (1976), playing an older version of the character type he had perfected in the 1950s, only now more jaded and aware of his own mortality. In 1980, Holden appeared in The Earthling with 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. Schroder later named one of his sons Holden.

During his last years, he also appeared in When Time Ran Out and Blake Edwards's S.O.B.. While his second Irwin Allen was a critical and commercial failure and largely disliked by Holden himself, his other last film directed by Edwards was more successful and a Golden Globe-nominated picture.

Personal life

Brenda Marshall, 1952
Holden was married to actress Brenda Marshall from 1941 until their divorce (after many long separations) in 1971. They had two sons, Peter Westfield (born in 1944) and Scott Porter (born in 1946, died 2005, San Diego, CA). He also adopted his wife's daughter Virginia from her first marriage.

Although never involved in politics himself, he was best man at the marriage of his friend Ronald Reagan to Nancy Davis in 1952. He maintained a home in Switzerlandmarker 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 Nanyukimarker, Kenya, (founded 1959) became a mecca for the international jet set.

In 1974, he began a 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.

Holden suffered from alcoholism and depression. In 1966, he was involved in a car accident in Italymarker in which the other driver was killed. It was determined that Holden had been driving under the influence of alcohol; he was charged with vehicular manslaughter and received an eight-month suspended prison sentence. Overcome with guilt, friends said this led the actor to even heavier bouts of drinking.

His younger brother, Robert W. "Bobbie" Beedle, was a Navy fighter pilot who was killed in action in World War II, on January 5, 1945. After The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955) was released, Beedle was remembered by his squadron-mates as having been very much like Holden's character Lt. Harry Brubaker.


In late 1980 Holden reportedly was diagnosed with lung cancer after visiting a lung specialist in Hanovermarker. Holden was alone and intoxicated in his apartment in Santa Monica, Californiamarker, when he apparently slipped on a throw rug, severely lacerated his head on a night table, and bled to death. Evidence suggests he was conscious for at least half-an-hour after the fall but 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 on November 16, but forensic evidence suggests Holden likely died four days earlier. He was 63 years old.

Holden was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Oceanmarker.



Short subjects

  • Reconnaissance Pilot (1943)
  • Wings Up (1943)
  • You Can Change the World (1951)

Awards and nominations

Academy Award


  • Best Foreign Actor Nomination for Picnic (1955)
  • Best Foreign Actor Nomination for Network (1976)

Emmy Award


  1. Ancestry of William Holden
  2. The religion of William Holden, actor
  3. Thomas, Bob. Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983. ISBN 0297783440.


  • Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas, St. Martin's Press 1983
  • The Films of William Holden by Lawrence J. Quirk, Citadel Press 1973

External links

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