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 you could see his acting talents grow and improve. 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 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, 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.
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 Holden than good looks, and a warm smile though; he could give a real depth to his characters 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 Holden play Joe Bonaparte, a violinist turned boxer. Holden and Stanwyck became good friends, and he was forever grateful to her for persuading producers to take a chance on him. Holden 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), Holden had really honed his acting skills; his character in that 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. Holden 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 Holden 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.
Holden 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 other than 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 made me an instant fan of William Holden. 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.
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).
From the first time we see him 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. Holden 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, young, Breezy(Kay Lenz)meets middle aged estate agent, Frank Harmon(Holden). The two slowly become friends and then both fall in love.
There is trouble and heartbreak ahead though, as Frank’s friends don’t accept his relationship, and Frank himself has doubts that this May-December romance can last. Breezy has no such doubts, she loves Frank and doesn’t care about their age gap.
Holden 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. Holden 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.
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.Holden acts his age here, his character is not a dashing ladies man in control of this situation.
Holden 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 love Holden in the beach scene where Breezy kisses him 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
3- Golden Boy
5- The World Of Suzie Wong
For all the joy Holden brought to his fans, his own life was sadly not filled with much happiness. He became an alcoholic, and he physically aged long before he should have done. He and Audrey Hepburn fell in love when they worked together on Sabrina; Hepburn ended their relationship when she discovered Holden had had a vasectomy, which meant she would not be able to have had 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.
Holden was a dedicated conservationist and set up the Mount Kenya Game ranch. Following his death, Powers founded The William Holden Wildlife Foundation which is still working today.
On November the 12th, 1981, 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.