William Holden's Biography and Filmography

  William Holden's Home Page | William Holden's Biography and Trivia Page | William Holden's Filmography | William Holden's Photos |  
Welcome to
William Holden's Biography and Trivia Page.

Hello and welcome, to William Holden's Biography and Trivia Page. Here you will find bio information and trivia about the great film star William Holden.

William Franklin Beedle Jr.,

Early life and career

Born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in O'Fallon, Illinois on April 17, 1918, he was the eldest of three sons of William Franklin Beedle, Sr., an industrial chemist, and Mary Blanche Ball, a teacher. The family, who moved to Pasadena, California when he was three, was of English descent; Holden's paternal great-grandmother, Rebecca Westfield, was born in England in 1817, while some of his mother's ancestors immigrated to the U.S. in the 17th century from Millenback, Lancaster, England. He plunged into high school and junior college sports activities as a means of "proving himself" to his demanding father. While studying chemistry at Pasadena Junior College, he became involved in local radio plays and with the Pasadena Playhouse, leading to his discovery by a talent scout from Paramount Pictures in 1937. The handsome, earnest young Holden had bits in Prison Farm (1938) and Million Dollar Legs (1939) before being chosen out of 65 candidates (including John Garfield) to play sensitive Joe Bonaparte in the Columbia production of Golden Boy.

Hollywood's "Golden Boy"

There are very few "overnight" stars in Hollywood history; their creation is a convention generally reserved for the movies themselves. But William Holden beat the odds by achieving instant stardom with his first leading role, that of the wholesome young prizefighter who wants to be a violinist in Golden Boy (1939). His inexperience made filming difficult, and after two weeks Columbia president Harry Cohn was ready to fire him, but costar Barbara Stanwyck, who had great faith in Holden, persuaded the executive to relent. Although the film took some liberties with the Clifford Odets play, Holden's performance was singled out for near unanimous praise. (The actor remained forever grateful to Stanwyck for "pulling him through" that picture). After Columbia Pictures picked up half of his contract, he was soon very much in demand as a clean-cut leading man in pictures for Paramount and Columbia. His early films didn't always show him to best advantage, but Holden built a fan following on the strength of well-received appearances in Our Town, Arizona (both 1940), I Wanted Wings, Texas (both 1941), The Remarkable Andrew, Meet the Stewarts, The Fleet's In (all 1942), and Young and Willing (1943).

He served with the Army Air Corps during World War II, where he acted in training films and achieved the rank of lieutenant. He returned to the screen in 1947, first with a cameo in Variety Girl then with a leading role as an aviator in Blaze of Noon. Still youthfully handsome, Holden worked in comedies, dramas, thrillers, and Westerns with equal facility, appearing in Dear Ruth (1947), Apartment for Peggy, The Man From Colorado, Rachel and the Stranger (all 1948), Miss Grant Takes Richmond, Streets of Laredo and Dear Wife (all 1949).

But Holden's maturity, built in part on his wartime experiences, came to the fore in The Dark Side (1948), in which he played an escaped killer, and reached fruition in Billy Wilder's sardonic black comedy, Sunset Blvd (1950, regarded by many as his finest performance), as the hack screenwriter who milks his unhealthy relationship with washed-up movie star Gloria Swanson. His unqualified success in these characterizations (he was Oscar-nominated for Sunset Blvd.) presaged many later portrayals of cynical, world-weary opportunists. Wilder exploited that aspect of Holden's talent in his 1953 prisoner of war drama Stalag 17 which won the star his only Academy Award for his finely limned characterization of a smooth-talking con man who may or may not be informing on his fellow prisoners.

Unfortunately, Holden was a double victim of the studio system. His long-term contract was shared by Columbia and Paramount, which not only underpaid him, but forced him into potboilers unworthy of his talent and popularity. Good movies like Born Yesterday (1950), in which he played the tutor hired by gangster Broderick Crawford to give Judy Holliday "class," were counterbalanced by strictly standard time-fillers like Submarine Command (1951) and Forever Female (1953). Other 1950s' assignments included Union Station (1950), Force of Arms (1951), Boots Malone, The Turning Point (both 1952), The Moon Is Blue and Escape From Fort Bravo (both 1953). His luck improved in mid-decade, with a string of fine films: Executive Suite (which reunited him with Stanwyck), The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Sabrina, The Country Girl (all 1954), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), and Picnic (also 1955, which included the smoldering dance scene with Kim Novak that Holden was so nervous about he had to film it dead drunk!). Many of these films were among the top grossers of their day, solidifying Holden's star standing during the transitional decade of the 1950s, which saw many big names of the 1930s and 1940s pass from the scene. He became one of Hollywood's most popular and potent leading men.

After making Toward the Unknown and The Proud and Profane (both 1956), Holden negotiated a ground-breaking contract with Columbia to star in David Lean's blockbuster The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which made him a part-owner of the film; the film was, quite rightly, an enormous success, and the deal he made paid him handsomely for years to come. The Key (1958), The Horse Soldiers (1959), and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) were to follow.

Holden loved traveling; he accepted some film assignments for the opportunity to go to exotic locations, and journeyed to other regions of the world on his own. (He even owned a country club in Kenya, where he spent much of his time in later years). In fact, his other activities probably accounted for the perceptible decline in the quality of his performances during the 1960s; he seemed tired and disinterested as the decade wore on: The Counterfeit Traitor, Satan Never Sleeps, The Lion (all 1962), Paris - When It Sizzles, The 7th Dawn (both 1964), Alvarez Kelly (1966), Casino Royale (1967, in a cameo), The Devil's Brigade (1968), and The Christmas Tree (1969).

He suffered from alcoholism and depression for many years. By the early 1960s, his roles were having less critical and commercial impact. In 1966 while in Italy, Holden was involved in a car accident in which the other driver was killed. It was determined Holden had been driving under the influence of alcohol; he was charged with vehicular manslaughter, and received an eight-month suspended prison sentence. Holden was overcome with guilt and friends said this led to even heavier bouts of drinking. The actor reportedly had another secret: For many years he did undercover work for the CIA, delivering messages to foreign leaders during his travels.

Later career

Sam Peckinpah's blood-soaked Western, The Wild Bunch (1969), took advantage of Holden's increasingly apparent weariness; as one of the aging outlaws who plans to retire after staging a final haul, he turned in one of his best performances in years. Wild Rovers (1971), The Revengers (1972), and Breezy (1973, directed by Clint Eastwood) didn't amount to much, but Holden enjoyed considerable success in the TV-movie The Blue Knight (1973, earning an Emmy Award for his performance), The Towering Inferno (1974), and, especially, Network (1976). The latter film, a brilliant black comedy written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, offered him one last really impressive star turn (for which he secured his final Oscar nomination), as the jaded TV executive at first indifferent to, then finally repulsed by, the disgraceful practices of his peers. 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.

Holden's final few films included Damien-Omen II (1978), Fedora (also 1978, for Billy Wilder), Ashanti (1979), The Earthling (1980), and Blake Edwards' black comedy about Hollywood, S.O.B (1981, a fitting follow-up for the man who'd starred in Sunset Blvd.

Private life

Holden was married to actress Brenda Marshall (Ardis Ankerson) 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). He also adopted Virginia, his wife's daughter from her first marriage. Holden had a busy social life, maintained a home in Switzerland to avoid heavy taxation on his earnings and also spent much of his time working for wildlife conservation as a managing partner of the Mount Kenya Safari Club in East Africa. He began a long relationship with actress Stefanie Powers which sparked her interest in animal welfare (Powers later became President of the "William Holden Wildlife Foundation" and a director of their Mount Kenya Game Ranch).

Other possible children

In addition to reported affairs with a number of Hollywood actresses (including Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Capucine, and a "yearly rendezvous" with Shelley Winters), Holden is said to have had a seven-year relationship with Eva May Hoffman, the wife of composer Emil Newman (Randy Newman's uncle). Hoffman had two children, Arlene Newman (who later married Dennis Crosby), and William Robert Newman. Arlene was apparently told by her uncle Irving Newman (the father of Randy Newman) that Holden was her father. Some have further speculated that her brother William, who is said to resemble the actor, was named after him and is also his child.


William Holden died as the result of a fall in his high-rise apartment on the seaside cliffs of Santa Monica, California in November 1981. Holden was alone and heavily intoxicated when he apparently slipped on a throw rug, gashed his head on a night table and bled to death. Evidence suggests he was conscious for at least a half an hour after the fall but may not have realized the severity of the injury and didn't summon aid. His body was found on November 16, but forensic and other evidence suggested he had been dead for several days and most likely died on November 12.

His body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Bob Thomas' melancholy biography, "Golden Boy," revealed that the handsome, self-assured actor so admired by men and women alike onscreen was in fact a man fraught with insecurity who essentially drank himself to an early grave.

Return to Menu
Return to Menu

William Holden's Trivia


Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#57). [1995]

Every April 1, he sent Barbara Stanwyck two dozen roses and a white gardenia, marking the anniversary of the first day of filming of "Golden Boy."

Was the best man at Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis's wedding in 1952.

Served in WWII; returned as lieutenant in the Army Air Force.

Died from a laceration to his forehead which was caused by hitting his head during a bout of heavy drinking. He apparently remained conscious for half an hour or so after the injury but never realized he should phone for help. Had he done so, he would surely have lived.

Brian Donlevy was his best man when Holden married Brenda Marshall in 1941. A Congregationalist Church service was planned in Las Vegas. Since William and Brian were still filming The Remarkable Andrew (1942), there were delays, and it was 3AM before they arrived for the ceremony. By that time the minister had long gone to bed. It was 4PM Sunday before another preacher could be found to perform the wedding. After they were married, they had a champagne breakfast and hopped a plane back to Los Angeles so Brian and he could wrap up shooting, and Brenda was off to Canada to film some location footage that she was still working on. It would be three more months before they would have a real honeymoon (one mishap after another postponed it ... including the TWO of them having to undergo emergency appendectomies)! He was very instrumental in animal preservation in Africa. In the 1970s he purchased a large acreage of land with his own money and began an animal sanctuary. His love of the wild animal was shared with his then companion Stefanie Powers (from "Hart to Hart" (1979)). He would appear on talk shows to promote the saving of animals and to spread the word of anti-poaching and illegal animal trade.

A hygiene fanatic, he reportedly showered up to four times daily.

Ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Immortalized in [Canadian band], Blue Rodeo's song "Floating" with the lyric: "I need love and it's you, And I feel like William Holden floating in a pool" - Greg Keelor, the writer of the song, said this: "That sort of quiet desperation at the end of a relationship when nothing's really making sense and I sort of had the image of William Holden at the beginning of Sunset Blvd. (1950) in my head, and I'd always sort of related to that character floating in that pool. I was always hoping for the opportunity to play the gigolo for some wealthy woman. This is a song about identifying with that sort of compromised existence." Although it is thought by some that J.D. Salinger got the name for his hero Holden Caulfield in "The Catcher in the Rye" when he saw a marquee for this film, starring William Holden and Joan Caulfield, Salinger's first Holden Caulfield story, "I'm Crazy," appeared in Collier's on December 22, 1945, a year and a half before this movie came out.

Won Best Actor for his role in Stalag 17 (1953). When accepting his statue at the Acadamy Awards, simply stated, "Thank you" and walked off.

His role in Stalag 17 earned him a Best Actor Academy Award. Holden felt he didn't deserve it, saying he thought Burt Lancaster should have won for From Here to Eternity.

Holden said that, at some point, he lost his passion for acting and that it eventually just became a job so that he could support himself.

He was voted the 63rd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Was very active in the Republican party.

Was named #25 Actor on the 50 Greatest Screen Legends by the AFI He became a star after Golden Boy. However, never formally trained as an actor, he had a bad couple of weeks when the movie started shooting. Co-star Barbara Stanwyck stepped in and started tutoring him on the craft of acting, and his performance improved greatly. He would remain lifelong friends with Barbara and would also credit her with saving his burgeoning career. They would go on to make two other movies together: Executive Suite and Variety Girl.

He had a very successful on-screen collaboration with director Billy Wilder. They would work together on four films over the course of their respective careers, including Fedora, Sabrina, Stalag 17 and Sunset Blvd.

His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at: 1651 Vine St., Hollywood, CA.

Was friends with photographer Peter Beard.

Is portrayed by Gabriel Macht in The Audrey Hepburn Story (2000) (TV)

In the song 'Tom's Diner' by Suzanne Vega, the lyrics 'I open up the paper/there's a story of an actor/who died while he was drinking/he was no one I had heard of' refer to Holden, whose death was indeed reported in the New York Post on November 18, 1981, when the song was written.


The Towering Inferno (1974) $750,000
The Wild Bunch (1969) $250,000
The Horse Soldiers (1959) $750,000 + 20% of profits
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) $250,000 + 10% of the gross worldwide
Sabrina (1954) $150,000
Sunset Blvd. (1950) $30,000

Personal quotes

"For me, acting is not an all-consuming thing, except for the moment when I am actually doing it."

"Take any picture you can. One out of four will be good, one out of ten will be very good, and one out of fifteen will get you an Academy Award."

"Movie acting may not have a certain kind of glory as true art, but it is damn hard work."

"I don't really know why, but danger has always been an important thing in my life - to see how far I could lean without falling, how fast I could go without cracking up."

"There are two kinds of women -- those who pay too much attention to themselves and those who don't pay enough."

Famous Lines

Here are a few of our favorite lines from William Holden.

Joe Gillis (Sunset Boulevard ):
"That was last year. This year I'm trying to earn a living."

Setton (Stalag 17):
"Just one more word. If I ever run into any of you bums on the street corner, just let's pretend we never met before."

David Larrabee (Sabrina):
"Sabrina, Sabrina, where have you been all my life?"

Bernie Dodd (The Country Girl):
"Why is it that women always think they understand men better than men do?"

Mark Elliot (Love is a Many-Splendored Thing):
"We have not missed, you and I - we have not missed that many-splendored thing."

Hal Carter (Picnic):
"What's the use, baby? I'm a bum. She saw through me like an X-ray machine. There's no place in the world for a guy like me."

Major Shears (Bridge on the River Kwai):
"As for me, I'm just a slave. A living slave."

Max Schumacher (Network):
"All of a sudden, it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and death is suddenly a perceptible thing to me - with definable features."

Max Schumacher (Network):
"If I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Lorena Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything that you and the institution of television touches is destroyed. You're television incarnate, Diana - indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy."


1940: National Board of Review Award: Best Acting, Our Town; one of 17 performers cited
1942: National Board of Review Award: Best Acting, The Remarkable Andrew; one of 31 performers cited
1950: Oscar: Best Actor (nom) Sunset Blvd.
1950: New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor (nom) Sunset Blvd.
1953: Oscar: Best Actor, Stalag 17
1953: New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor (nom) Sunset Blvd.
1954: Venice Film Festival Special Jury Prize: Ensemble Acting, Executive Suite; cited as one of six actors in ensemble
1954: NATO/ShoWest Star of the Year Award
1973-74: Emmy: Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series, The Blue Knight
1976: Oscar: Best Actor (nom) Network
1976: New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor (nom) Network


Pasadena Junior College in Pasadena, California

Return to Menu
Return to Menu

E-mail the Webmaster

View and stick a pin in my guest map to let me know where you visited from !
Thank you, Dudley.

Free Guestmap from Bravenet Free Guestmap from Bravenet

Return to Menu
Return to Menu