From his screen debut, until his untimely death, William Holden represented the classic leading man in Hollywood.
Born William Franklin Beedle Jr. in Illinois in 1918, he was once revered by classic Hollywood as “Golden Holden.” His acting career almost from the start was just that successful (some 75 credits overall from 1938 to 1981).
The Beedle family moved to California when Bill was around four years old, and Holden became in many ways a California boy. Always more interested in sports than acting, he more or less fell into acting during his days at South Pasadena Junior College, where he was spotted by a Paramount Pictures scout who signed him up and provided the new name.
Holden’s physical presence was magnetic from the start, and it was actually rival Columbia Pictures that provided his first big career break, casting him in a leading role opposite the popular veteran Barbara Stanwyck.
She pushed for an inexperienced Holden’s hiring for the lead as the musician-turned-boxer in 1939’s Golden Boy. The movie was a big boost to Holden’s fledgling career for which he was forever grateful. It’s been reported that he sent Stanwyck flowers each year marking the first day of the movie’s filming.
Enough said that Holden starred throughout his career in a series of unforgettable pictures, many of which are Hollywood classics. And he seemed to get better as he got older, and the hits kept coming — Picnic, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Boulevard, Fedora, Paris When It Sizzles, S.O.B, The Wild Bunch, Sabrina, Stalag 17, Network.
Holden was Oscar nominated as best actor for 1950’s Sunset Boulevard and for 1976’s Network. But he won the award for 1953’s Stalag 17. (Typically underrating his abilities, he felt he didn’t deserve the win.)
The actor’s personal life seemed idyllic, but was anything but. He was married to actress Brenda Marshall for three decades; they were widely viewed as one of Hollywood’s best looking married couples. (See photo below.) But, despite its durability their union (1941 to 1971) was far from happy, marred by multiple separations and infidelities on both sides. (Marshall died of cancer at age 76 in 1992, 11 years after Holden’s death.)
Holden had affairs with costars Capucine, Audrey Hepburn, Shelley Winters and Grace Kelly, among others. His final romance was with tv actress Stefanie Powers, his partner in African wildlife preservation via the William Holden Wildlife Foundation in Kenya.
Then there was the drinking problem that dogged Holden for years. It figured heavily in his much publicized death in the fall of 1981.
Holden, an inveterate world traveler, was in the U.S. where he maintained a Palm Springs home and a co-op apartment on the fifth floor of 535 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, California.
The actor, who had multiple business investments, had a piece of the 12-story building. In mid-November, 1981, Holden’s dead body was discovered in a bedroom floor in a pool of blood. He had been dead for four to five days. A subsequent County Coroner’s investigation ruled that Holden had been drunk, and evidently banged his head against a night table on getting out of bed, and had passed out before he could get help.
During his long career, he played various roles, perhaps a bit too old for some.
Holden’s final film was Blake Edwards‘ S.O.B. with Larry Hagman in 1981.