These are clippings from Photoplay in the latter half of 1939. I think the first few are from August, then, as it was released in October, it was much discussed in the October issue and reviewed in the November one. The original owner of this set tore out quite a few pages and parts of pages, but it affected this topic less than a couple others I want to group together.
So Golden Boy (watch at YouTube) was William Holden's first role, and it's not apocryphal that he hung onto it because Barbara Stanwyck went to bat for him and also helped him learn how to act in a movie. But then praise for his performance followed, and he was considered someone from whom great things were expected. The film is now hopelessly dated, Lee J. Cobb's performance in particular, yet at the time it was thought to be a worthy adaptation of the play by Clifford Odet.
if he were still alive, would be 95 when this is posted. Now, let's face it. Even if he hadn't died by "misadventure," no way was this guy making it to 95. Odds were against him living past 70. On the other hand, my dad did. Of course, in my dad's family, dying at 77 was actually somewhat early. Okay, back to wherever we were headed.
My love for William Holden developed slowly over about 30 years, and then suddenly, bam! I could not get enough of him. At nearly 45 years old, I was crushing hard like 1977 ripping pages out of Tiger Beat hard. And after about a year of rewatching his films and catching up on so many I'd never seen, he started invading my thoughts. In 2011 I plastered one of my Tumblrs with him, posted about him here several times, and then last year I saw so much of him at other Tumblrs, etc., I was jealous. I mean that in the possessive sense. I've never minded sharing Gene Kelly or Hugh Laurie, etc., but Bill Holden was mine. What did a lot of young persons know about that world I was birthed into, the world which shaped who he became, and informed my sensibilities as I grew up and as it passed away? This world, the one we're in right now, is unrecognizable by comparison. To love this glowing yet damaged creature fully outside of context is to love a different person than do I. Yes, I cropped his wife Brenda Marshall out of this photo. It's a metaphor.
But that's mostly preposterous, of course. I know this. I know what it says about me, too. It's not, though, like I'd get into internet fights about it or whatever. It's just a reflection.
It's like how I am about James Garner. I can barely speak of it and risk suddenly being surrounded by a spontaneous retroactive adoration that waters down this particular intensity I've held onto for over 40 years. It's weird, but it isn't really weird at all. It's dreadfully, drearily ordinary. I so dislike confronting how ordinary I am sometimes, don't you?
William Holden was like Dean Martin in certain respects. He did what he did because that's what he did. He was both laid-back and very fussy. He appeared to be all surface; handsome, handsomely wearing what he wore, looking effortless, like sprezzatura.
Looking back, it's obvious how smart Dean Martin was, and that he was laughing at everyone else and how seriously they took themselves. I mean, their effort. He was serious when he needed to be, without all that energy-consuming effort.
I'm not sure Bill Holden was quite so smart, but I do think he possessed the same sharp view of himself, other people, the whole world. Some people, they're tortured by it all, and he was one of those people. And so, Africa, right? But also so much booze and cigarettes and needing to bathe over and over again. Perhaps trying to wash away something he could never take back. Anyway, it wasn't all effortless effort for him at all. Yet he kept at it.
I can love all that only retroactively because I've seen it in others, first hand, and because I'm fascinated by the puzzle of it all. In the every day present here and now, I like my puzzles to be crosswords or mazes on a little screen, and I am way, way over tortured passion. But it is a seriously groovy fantasy, not unlike when you're 15 and you find out a movie star you love prefers other men and you think, because you are 15 and silly, I could change him. He'd want me.
Nah, it's not really like that. It's just intensity, power, a sort of kinetic chiarascurro, and that's exciting; knowing what you know now, all that experience filters your view and colors your desires. You know how to play with fire, or at least imagine that you do.
Is someone reading this and thinking very earnest thoughts? Let's turn the record over and consider this. It is raining hard as I write this, the iPod across the room is playing a gentle jazz tune, I forgot to wash some of the paint off my legs from when I was working on a new canvas earlier, and in a few minutes, when I turn out the light to sleep, I'll press one of the pillows to my side in this great big bed, and contemplate something only briefly earnestly.
Bill Holden was a movie star, a box office hero. Did he want to be revered for more than that? Did he want to be revered at all? Probably not. Who can ever live up to it?
I watch this and grow sad and think, yes, he died too soon. It was a "wrong" death.
But I cannot be serious for more than 9 minutes at a time. (And as pt 2 appears to be missing, that's just as well.) So then I go back to thinking of him as my boyfriend Bill, just before I drift off to sleep.
I keep meaning to do these more regularly. This is three minutes long. The first minute is just me dithering because I spoke before thinking. :-) The two remaining minutes are an excerpt from a short essay posted here in 2011.
One of the best things about watching a William Holden movie from the mid-50s to early 70s is there's a high degree of likelihood he'll be in some state of partial undress, rather a lot of the time. In fact, if you look at candid photographs of him out having his real life adventures, you'll see that he's often shirtless in those as well, or unbuttoned, wearing shorts, barefoot, etc. The man clearly enjoyed being a natural part of nature, though they say (they who say these things) that he was obsessed with showering, too. Well, maybe there's the answer; you take a shower four times a day, you tire of putting on a new set of clothes each time.
But, and this is true of other Hollywood stars of his era and earlier, he is often seen onscreen with a hairless chest. They (same they or possibly another set altogether) say this was done for Picnic (1955) because he was (definitely but who cares?) a bit too old for the character he played, and the bare chest made him look younger. I dunno. That doesn't really add up for me, but whatever. His chest is also hairless in Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) andThe Bridge on the River Kwai (1957,) but not Sunset Blvd (1950,) The Bridges of Toko-Ri (1954) or Paris When it Sizzles (1964.) I don't remember at the moment what his chest hair condition was in The World of Suzie Wong (1960) but I think the reason we saw less of him in that film is in case it led us to figure out just what a man does with a call girl, and that would be bad.
So maybe in his case there was some kind of mid-late-50s ban on very hairy chests, which had him continually shaved up between Bridges and Paris, but other actors previously had this treatment as well. Funny Hollywood. They took the hair off men's chests, but added it to so many of their heads.
I mean, Bill Holden had one seriously hairy chest. And even though I grew up in the hairy man 1970s, this is not something I normally find specifically appealing. However, there are sometimes special circumstances. I do like hunting for treasure.
Here's the man, hairless and hairy.
"They let me grow it on my face."
Soon I'm going to do another gratuitous post about Bill, with images of him holding various (and mostly pointy) objects.
More William Holden pictures here, 3 pages so far. Yes, well.
Artie Shaw is playing, and I’m wishing there was a tie here that needed loosening. But it’s just me and the angry cat, who is snoozing her life away on the corner chair, probably dreaming of killing one or more of us so she can lap up our blood in tyrannical satisfaction.
There’s no use hiding the fact that in my imagination, the tie is being loosened from around the neck of someone who looks exactly like Bill Holden. He’d be 1950-attired right down to his skivvies, whatever passed for those 60 years ago. Um, no. Make it 1954, when the profile was leaner, the tie was longer, the shoes more casually elegant. Or elegantly casual, is probably the thing I mean. He smells faintly of shave lotion, Wildroot hair oil, laundry soap, the glass of Scotch he had at the train station bar before the ride home. The combination is subtle, yet coaxing. The back of his neck is sunned except right at the hairline, which is crisp, razor-sharp from a lunchtime visit to the barber. I know the texture of that skin so well, I can almost feel it under the weight of my fingertips as I press these keys.
The tie is discarded, collar unbuttoned, and he leans in to hum lightly in my ear as he pulls the clip from the back of my head, letting my hair cascade onto my shoulders and down my back.
I just realized it’s no longer thundering or pouring rain outside. The wind seems to have calmed, as well, and the silence is palpable after an evening of water hitting the roof, pouring out of the drains, rattling the windows—no, not quite silence, but it’s all background noise that emerged when the rain ceased. The clock ticks, the cat snores, the old TV hums as I’ve muted the music channel in order to properly think some of these things through. And asthma lingers. You can’t tell your lungs that since the weather has improved, they should instantly work better. But in 1954, I don’t have asthma, and my sharp intake of easy breath is stopped short as he tips my chin up and kisses me, teasingly tugging on my lower lip, pulling it in, and I bring my arms up under his to grip his shoulders, pressing against him. More thunder rumbles outside, interrupting my thoughts.
Where were they going to go, anyway? I can imagine the roughness of his cheek against my own, and I can imagine the somewhat unusual yet resonant tone of his voice as he whispers silly, intoxicating nothings in my ear. Right now, imagining much more than that would turn this loneliness into a kind of prison, which it already is, and the acute awareness of that is turning my thoughts from sensual fantasy to a kind of inexpressible nihilism. How ironically post-modern of me.
Can I not fully conjur it because it never fully existed? Oh, there’s the rain again. It’s swiftly, in half a minute, built from crawling and clamboring to a full stampede.
I discovered William Holden the day he died. I was in the 10th grade. Not a novice to gruesome celebrity deaths, at first I thought this one was just another crazy Hollywood dude gone wrong. I'd heard his name before but never took notice the way I already had with Grant, Cooper, Stewart, Cotten.
The first few movies of Holden's that I saw bored me a little, though it was easy to see that he had a handsome, affable charm. He just wasn't my type.
Born Yesterday changed my mind first. I didn't appreciate Judy Holliday then as I do now (and I do, a lot!) but Holden's ease and sharp charm grabbed hold of me.
And now that I'm so much older and see many movies differently than I once did, I love him in Executive Suite, Picnic, Sabrina (did you know Joseph Cotten played the older Linus role on Broadway? I wish he'd done so in the movie as well, instead of Humphrey Bogart,) even Paris When it Sizzles, though that movie is not nearly as good as it should be. I don't recommend it unless you're being completionist about Holden or about Audrey Hepburn. It is a very pretty movie, to be sure.
My favorite Holden films are from what I believe is a visually captivating era. This is a still taken for Sabrina.
That era is known for creating overwhelming sexual tension on film, as well, particularly in the blue collar setting found in Picnic.
I love him less in Stalag 17 and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, but those are good movies I can recommend. When I saw The Moon Is Blue I was disappointed by it (kinda like they were in M*A*S*H,) but it's a piece of film history you may want to look into if you're a student of how the Code was applied in different eras.
And I still have mixed feelings about Sunset Boulevard. I get why it's so good. But I just don't really enjoy it. However, Holden is so handsome and pathetic in it, the sets are perfect, Gloria Swanson is fairly awesome in her role, and the whole thing builds in a sort of thick intensity. If you can watch biting dramas, you have to see it. It's another important piece of film history.
When you think about it, William Holden appeared in quite a few important films. I've actually seen only about half of his films so far; he made 70 or so. There are at least a dozen more I hope to view. Maybe I'll count them up sometime.
Watch this when you have a quiet moment in which to bite your lip:
Watch this, too, if you have time. It's actually the penultimate scene from Executive Suite, carefully worded to suit both your economic view and mine...and grippingly well-delivered.
My type hasn't changed much over the past 30-35 years, but I will say it's matured and better-developed. I don't miss being a youth who didn't understand how to appreciate this:
William Holden was a long-time alcoholic and it did him in at the end, but he has an amazing film legacy for us to appreciate. Check it out in an interesting blog post here.