The William Holden Blogathon: Tribute To William


Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon about William Holden. Check out her site to read all the other entries. I can’t wait to read all the other posts about Holden’s films and life.

Instead of just talking about one specific film or role, I’d like to discuss William as an actor and to talk about two of my favourite performances from him.

William Holden is one of my favourite actors, he is always watchable and I will always check out a film if I see he is in it. I love his earlier films but I much prefer him in his later career.As William’s film career went on, I think that his acting talents grew and improved. I think it’s fair to say that in some of his early films he looked a little stiff, uncomfortable even on screen, but what I like is that you can see him grow in confidence as the years and the films go on.

In a way this acting growth makes me like him even more. I can take a journey with him and witness his acting ability grow and improve simply by watching his films. I think he looks more comfortable on screen the older he got. He could effortlessly switch between comic, romantic and dramatic roles. He could play emotionally reserved and devastatingly charming men and make you believe both types of performance.

In the late 1960’s, and into the 1970’s, William Holden continued to act on screen often in more supporting roles than lead ones. I especially like his performances in two later dramatic films Network and Breezy. I think it is such a shame that we lost him when he did. I have no doubt he would have continued turning in fine performances for many more years. I think he could have easily settled into a very successful career of supporting/character actor in his later years.


William in Stalag 17. Screenshot by me.

Charming, handsome, smooth and having the gift of making everything he did appear effortless about sums up William Holden in a nutshell. Born on April 17th, 1918, in Illinois, he would go on to become one of the most popular stars of the 1950’s and beyond. 

There was much more to William Holden than merely good looks and a warm smile; he could bring a great deal of depth to his characters, often with just a small look or expression.In 1939 he made a name for himself when he starred alongside Barbara Stanwyck in Golden Boy. This boxing classic sees a baby-faced William play Joe Bonaparte, a violinist turned boxer. William and Barbara Stanwyck became lifelong friends, and he was forever grateful to her for persuading producers to take a chance on him. William put a lot of heart into this performance and it placed him on the path to stardom.

By the time he was cast in Sunset Blvd (1950), William had really honed his acting skills; his character Joe Gillis, is torn between his growing feelings for Norma(Gloria Swanson) and what she can offer him(fame, wealth, status)and his desire for a normal life/relationship. William does such a good job of letting us really feel what Joe is experiencing inside, and he also crucially doesn’t get overshadowed by the great Gloria Swanson as the deranged Norma.At times William makes us dislike Joe for his treatment of Norma, he comes across as selfish and taking advantage of someone with obvious issues. At other times he makes you really feel for this Joe’s situation and we pity him as much as we do Norma. I’m not sure another actor could have portrayed all of that in quite the same way.

Many other hits followed for him after this. Stalag 17 (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar, and famously delivered one of the shortest ever Oscar speeches, simply saying “Thank You”.) Sabrina, Picnic and The Bridge on the River Kwai. He became one of Hollywood’s most popular actors.

William showed his funny side in 1955, when he appeared as himself in an episode of I, Love Lucy. He is clearly having a ball as he gets his own back on Lucy after she stares at him for ages, whilst he is trying to eat lunch in a restaurant. Every time I watch this episode I crack up, I think he showed great comic skills in this and it’s a shame he didn’t get to tap into those skills more often on screen. As funny as the episode is, I think it really does a good job of making us aware how annoyed celebrities must be at being endlessly gawped at or approached when out in public.

Yes of course you’ll be excited if you come across someone you’re a fan of, but I really don’t agree with approaching them unless it is at events like backstage signings or film premieres. They are people with lives just like us and they deserve their privacy and space too. This episode shows us how we’d feel if the tables were turned.

I’d like to talk now about two of my all time favourite William Holden performances.

                                          Sabrina, 1954, directed by Billy Wilder.

This was the first of his films that I ever saw. I not only fell in love with the film but it also made me an instant fan of William’s. I didn’t find myself thinking I had to see more of his work before deciding if I liked him or not. I liked him right away and was determined to check out more of his films to see what else he did.

Audrey Hepburn plays Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of the chauffer to the wealthy Larrabee family. Sabrina finds herself falling in love with the Larrabee brothers; the elder, serious, businessman, Lionel(Humphrey Bogart)and the handsome, fun loving, playboy youngest brother, David( Holden).


William dances with Audrey Hepburn in the film Sabrina. Screenshot by me.

From the first time we see him, William Holden makes us aware that David is a man who women fall hard for, he doesn’t treat his women badly, but he doesn’t commit to them easily either. William makes David a fun and charming character and you like him(despite his seeming indifference to Sabrina earlier in the story.)

I love his reaction when he sees Sabrina(now elegant and wearing Paris fashions)at the train station; slamming on the breaks of his car, reversing and turning on the charm full volume he offers her assistance, all the while being oblivious to who she is. It’s a funny scene and he makes it so.

I love the scene where David tells Lionel some home truths and receives a punch on the nose. It is a powerful moment because David(and Holden)is deadly serious for the first time in the film. He is not joking, he knows the truth and we also see that he has been paying attention to his families business all these years too. I love the scene where he takes charge and we believe he knows what he is doing after all. Holden makes this character development believable and that helps the scene immensely.

I never get tired of watching this charming romantic film. I love all the cast and the story, but Holden’s performance is a big reason this became a favourite.

                                           Breezy, 1973, directed by Clint Eastwood.

The story sounds cliché, but the film ends up being anything but. Free spirited Breezy(Kay Lenz)meets a middle aged estate agent, called Frank Harmon(William Holden). The two slowly become friends and then slowly begin to fall in love. There is trouble and heartbreak ahead though. Frank’s friends don’t accept his relationship with Breezy, and Frank himself has doubts that this May-December romance can last. Breezy has no such doubts, she loves Frank and she doesn’t care about their age gap.

William is so moving in this. Perfectly conveying his character tentatively allowing himself to fall in love and be vulnerable for the first time in years. William lets himself appear nervous, hesitant and vulnerable on screen. I love him in this role because he makes what Frank is going through believable, and you really feel his hesitation and conflicted emotions.


William as Frank in the film Breezy. Screenshot by me.

I think it is quite a brave role for him to have taken actually. He isn’t a movie star in this, he is just a regular guy undergoing a transforming event in his life. He really makes you feel what Frank is going through.William acts his age here, his character is not a dashing ladies man in control of this situation. 

William also shows us just how much effort Frank is putting in to try and change his introverted nature.Holden and Lenz work very well together, and there is a real tenderness in their shared intimate moments(both the emotional and the physical scenes.)

This film shows us that love is worth the risk. Who cares what other people think? Enjoy the remaining years of life and have fun. I am always left feeling exactly this at the end of this film. Life may not end up being perfect for this couple, but they’re certainly going to try and have a good time together. I especially love William in the beach scene where Breezy kisses Frank for the first time. He is taken aback, then you see something on his face that makes you realise he has fallen for her just as much as she has for him.

This is a film very much deserving of much more recognition. Two fantastic lead performances, an adorable dog with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen, and a poignant and funny story to tell. If you’ve never seen it before, I highly recommend watching it.

                                        Maddy’s Five Favourite William Holden Films

1- Paris When It Sizzles

2- Breezy

3- Golden Boy

4- Sabrina

5- The World Of Suzie Wong

For all the joy William Holden brought to his fans, his own life was sadly not filled with much happiness. He became an alcoholic and physically aged long before he should have done. He and Audrey Hepburn fell in love when they worked together on Sabrina. Audrey ended their relationship when she discovered that William had had a vasectomy, which meant she would not be able to have children with him(something she wanted more than anything else in life.)He found some joy in the last years of his life though, as the partner of Hart To Hart actress Stephanie Powers.

William Holden was also a dedicated conservationist and set up the Mount Kenya Game ranch. Following his death, Stephanie Powers founded The William Holden Wildlife Foundation, an organisation which is still working today. On November the 12th, 1981, William Holden fell at home and died after hitting his head. His body wasn’t found until four days later.  A very sad end for one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

Many thanks William for all the entertainment you have given me over the years. You are much missed. R.I.P.

Thanks to everyone for reading my post. Be sure to go and check out all the other entries over on Virginie’s site.

20 thoughts on “The William Holden Blogathon: Tribute To William

  1. thoughtsallsorts

    Fantastic post. I’ve only seen him in Westerns and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I’ve been meaning to see Sabrina for ages…you’ve convinced me. I definitely need to see him as someone other than a cowboy.
    My post will be up shortly.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Paul S

    A fine tribute! I’m a relative newcomer to William Holden, until recently I only new him from his later films such as The Towering Inferno and The Wild Bunch. I’m slowly working my way backwards through his filmography, I did recently watch Stalag 17 when I was on a Billy Wilder kick.
    Sabrina sounds the perfect film for a bank holiday weekend. I’ve seen bits of the remake but I can’t imagine that Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond can surpass William, Bogart and Audrey. Yet another example of how the classics did it better!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A Golden Weekend for the 2nd Golden Boy Blogathon! | The Wonderful World of Cinema

    1. maddylovesherclassicfilms Post author

      Many thanks, Patricia. Sometimes films you think will be well known don’t always end up being so. Breezy is a little gem. I enjoyed your post on Boots Malone, this is another one of his films that I have yet to see.


  4. Simoa

    My absolute favorite actor. I love seeing how he grew and became more comfortable as he got older. I’ll watch him anything, even those films from the early 40s that he hated. In something like Texas, you can see flashes of the brilliance that would come later, even if the film is largely forgettable. I agree with you on Sunset Blvd. and Sabrina too! Joe and David behave in disappointing ways, but something about Bill never makes his characters too despicable or unlikable. Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Virginie Pronovost

    Thanks so much for this beautiful tribute to our celebrated man! We can really feel the love and admiration you have for him. I truly enjoyed reading all your thoughts about the different roles.
    I Love Lucy’s episode is sooo hilarious! And Breezy is a very beautiful film.
    Interesting that Paris When It Sizzles is your favourite film of his! If you haven’t read Michaela’s (from Love Letters to Old Hollwood) review of it, you definitely should!
    Thanks so much for your participation! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. charsmoviereviews

    Excellent post! He was definitely a versatile actor, and could effortlessly capture your attention in any role. Sunset Boulevard is one of my all-time favourites, and you are spot on in describing our feelings of empathy yet also sometimes anger/disgust for him. I really need to see Breezy, so thanks for your insightful article and movie recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. thane62

    My late brother-in-law, Larry Pennell, was an actor and he worked with Holden on a (lousy) western called “The Revengers”. He loved him–said he was one of the greatest people he’d ever met in the business. Regretfully, I never got to meet him (although I did meet Ernest Borgnine, who was also in the film: what a nice man). I’ve always been a Holden fan, since seeing “The Bridge On The River Kwai” as a kid. I, too, think “Paris When It Sizzles” is greatly underrated.So is “The Wild Rovers”. Never get tired of “The Wild Bunch” (and ‘why not’?), “The World Of Suzie Wong” (don’t get me started on Nancy Kwan!),and “The Bridges At Toko-Ri”. That last one I wrote up on my site, and I’ve also done “Force Of Arms”, “Arizona”, Alvarez Kelly”, “Executive Suite”, “The Key”, “When Time Ran Out”, Escape To Athena”, “Breezy”, “The Devils Brigade”, “The Lion”, “The 7th Dawn” (speaking of love,he and Capucine were a big thing; another badly underrated film),”Satan Never Sleeps”, “Toward The Unknown”, “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing”,”Our Town” and “Sabrina”. Like Holden, I was seduced by Africa and have been there several times. I was lucky enough to go to the Mt. Kenya Safari Club and wander around. It’s gorgeous, but at $600 a night it was a bit much for this vagabond, so I had to contend with a drink at the bar (toasting Bill) and having my picture taken signing in the guest book, overlooked by a picture of the legendary host. Great article, Maddy: you write with such affection. I really like (and, well, can relate) to “Breezy”). A funny thing about “Sabrina” is that Bogart and Holden detested each other (Bogart could be difficult and he’d had some weird dislike going back years). Doesn’t show in the film. Thanks, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. maddylovesherclassicfilms Post author

    Hey Mark. Wow! great story, thank you so much for sharing about your brother -in- law. Yeah, I’ve read about Bogie and Holden not getting on. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know about what went on behind the scenes as it spoils the film magic for me, knowing that there was such hatred or awkwardness between actors.

    So happy to find another fan of The World of Suzie Wong! That film is so underrated and I don’t know why. Beautiful love story, and superb acting by Kwan and Holden.

    Thank you so much for your kind words about my ramblings 🙂

    I envy you having met and been associated with (in a way) so many actors. Nice to meet another fan of William Holden.



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