During the 1950s and 1960s, William Holden was named one of the Top 10 Stars of the Year six times and won a number of awards for his acting abilities. Today, he is still regarded as one of the most important and influential Hollywood names in the mid-20th century.
William Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in 1918 in O'Fallon, Illinois. His father was an industrial chemist and his mother was a teacher. When Holden was three, the family moved to Pasadena, California, where he eventually went to Junior College and worked in local radio plays.
A talent scout discovered Holden in 1937 while he was performing as an old man at a private theatre owned by Gilmor Brown, the same man who directed commonly at Pasadena Playhouse. Holden appeared in the film Prison Farm, less than a year later.
By 1939, Holden was starring in movies such as Golden Boy. Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures shared a contract on Holden, and he appeared in films for bother of them, including Invisible Stripes, Our Town, Those Were the Days!, I Wanted Wings, and The Remarkable Andrew. He then served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he actually acted in several short training films.
After discharge from the army, Holden began to rebound his career with the 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. He then went on to play a prisoner or war in Stalag 17, for which he won the 1953 award for Best Actor. During the 1950s, he also appeared in many films, including Executive Suite (1954), Sabrina (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), Picnic (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and The Horse Soldier (1959), among others.
The 1960s were also a busy time for Holden, with a number of films, including Paris, When it Sizzles (1964), Casino Royale (1967), and The Devil's Brigade (1968). Although he played many memorable roles, he also was forced by contract to do a number of movies that flopped, including Paris, When it Sizzles, which also starred Audrey Hepburn. By the mid-1960s, his career was beginning to plummet, although he did have some more good roles in The Towering Inferno, Network, and The Earthling, in which he acted alongside child actor Ricky Schroder, who later named a son after Holden.
Holden got married to Brenda Marshal, a popular actress, in 1941. The couple went through a number of difficult periods and long separations. They had two sons together—Peter Westfield, who was born in 1944, and Scott Porter, who was born in 1946. Holden also legally adopted his wife's daughter, Virginia, from her first marriage. The couple finally divorced for good in 1971, although both spent long periods with other people. He had a long term relationships with actress Stefanie Powers, which whom he founded the William Holden Wildlife Foundation and directed the Mount Kenya Game Ranch.
It was reported that Holden had a number of affairs with Hollywood actresses, including Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Capucine, Shelley Winters, and Eva May Hoffman. Hoffman was actually the wife of composer Emil Newman, and strong visual evidence suggests that Holden is the biological father of Arlene and William, Hoffman and Newman's children. This was never proved or disproved. He also socially connected with Ronald Reagen, to whom he was best man during his marriage to Nancy Davis.
Holden suffered from both alcoholism and depression during his career. In 1966, he was involved in a car accident in Italy in which he was found to have been driving under the influence. The other driver involved in the accident died, and Holden was charged with vehicular manslaughter. He served time in prison and was overcome with guilt and grief after this incident, leading to even heavier drinking, unfortunately.
In 1981 at the age of 63, Holden died in his apartment in Santa Monica, California, when he slipped on a throw rug and gashed his head. Holden was alone at the time and intoxicated. Evidence suggests that he was conscious for some time after the fall, but for whatever reason did not call for help and, as a result, bled to death. His ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
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