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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, William Holden, Film Star and Hollywood “Golden Boy”

April 17, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Long before the super stars of today, William Holden was the “Golden Boy” of Hollywood. Debuting at the age of 20, Holden would have an impressive career that spanned more than 40 years and earned him numerous nominations and awards.

William Holden’s Early Days

William Holden was born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on April 17, 1918, in O’Fallon, Ill. His father was an industrial chemist, and his mother, Mary Blanche Ball, was a teacher. When he was 3, Beedle's parents moved the family to Pasadena, Calif.

As a student studying chemistry at Pasadena Junior College, young William also participated in radio plays and spent time at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1937, a talent scout from Paramount Pictures discovered him, and switched his last name to something more glamorous: “Holden.”

Good looks and a muscular build helped Holden secure the lead in the drama “Golden Boy,” but the roll was tough for him. Co-star Barbara Stanwyck helped him learn the fundamentals of performing for a camera.

Holden’s Notable Accomplishments

Holden's budding film career was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Army Air Force.

After the war, he returned to the big screen, securing important roles such as screenwriter Joe Gillis in the classic “Sunset Boulevard,” and as a tutor in “Born Yesterday.” He later moved on to films like “Stalag 17,” for which he won an Oscar, and “Sabrina.” 

During the course of his career, the handsome and powerful actor shared the screen with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Kim Novak. In fact, a slow dance between Novak and Holden in the film “Picnic” is considered a powerful scene in movie history.

Holden also acted in “Network,” a 1976 production that received five Oscar nominations and three awards in acting categories. Holden didn't receive an award for this movie, but he was one of the nominees.

The Rest of the Story

Holden was married to actress Brenda Marshall. Together, they had three children, including a daughter from Brenda's first marriage.

In the 1950s, Holden traveled to Africa on a safari with two friends. Sharing a love of nature and a concern for the dwindling animal heards of East Africa, Holden and fellow purchaser Don Hunt took a great interest in conservation. When a 2,000-acre farm surrounding the inn was put up for sale, the Mount Kenya Game Ranch was created. Holden’s legacy lives on through the wildlife preservation he helped establish in Kenya. He often called it his greatest work.

Holden’s final role was as a hard-drinking producer in the 1981 movie “S.O.B.” In November of that same year, he was found dead in his Santa Monica home. His death was ruled an accident, the result of head injuries sustained from a fall while he was likely intoxicated.

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