Hey, classic film fans! Today is an extremely special day, because I couldn’t be more thrilled to honor our Golden Boy William Holden on what would have been his 100th birthday! This tribute would not have been possible without all three of our wonderful hosts of The Third Annual Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Centenary Celebration: Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema, Emily of The Flapper Dame, and Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood! This will be the first time that I’ve written a general tribute to a star for my blog, but Bill is more than deserving of the honor for his centenary, and I really appreciate you lovely ladies for giving me the opportunity to take on this challenge! I’ll also take this time to mention that this will likely be my final post before I begin my journey to Hollywood for the ninth annual TCM Classic Film Festival! I hope you’ve had the chance to look at my picks for the festival, and if you haven’t I’m delighted to report that I’ll actually be attending screenings of not one, but two of William Holden’s films, Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The World of Suzie Wong (1962). As a whole, the amount of support for Bill has been tremendous both online and on television, as he was named Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies in honor of this momentous occasion. Let’s all continue to celebrate this iconic actor and make his 100th birthday one to remember!
I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly when my love affair with William Holden began, but it was likely the better part of a decade ago. The first time that I ever heard his name was from a friend of my father’s after we began a discussion of classic film actors. I was still relatively new to classic movies, likely having only seen the basics by this point, and I distinctly remember him citing Montgomery Clift and William Holden as his two favorite Old Hollywood actors while suggesting that I should check out their movies. Neither of those names were ones that I recognized, but the recommendations did spark an interest in me. I began exploring Clift first, and as a result I didn’t end up watching anything of Bill’s until much later when I was branching out and watching some of Audrey Hepburn’s movies aside from the incredible Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) and sat down to watch Sabrina (1954) on Turner Classic Movies. Back then I didn’t make the connection between the man that I was watching onscreen and the actor who had previously been recommended to me, and while I did begin to get a taste of William Holden’s brilliant wit and comedic timing and of course noticed his dashing good looks, his performance in that film didn’t stand out in particular compared to that of Hepburn. At the time I also wasn’t aware of the beautiful and tragic offscreen relationship that occurred between Holden and Hepburn during the filming of Sabrina (1954), and I carried on with my interest in old movies without paying Bill much mind.
Like Sabrina (1954), many of William Holden’s other pictures placed him opposite leading ladies that garnered much more of the screen time and critical acclaim than he did, and these were the films that I ended up watching in the following months, with William Holden appearing as more of an afterthought in my mind and in the film’s. Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Country Girl (1954) are two such examples, and while I truly enjoyed Bill in them, I didn’t finally pay attention to him until I saw Born Yesterday (1950). Born Yesterday (1950) seems like a picture that fits the description of those that I have already mentioned as he stars opposite Judy Holliday, who won the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress for her portrayal of ditzy blonde Billie Dawn, while William Holden received third billing for playing her love interest with a meager amount of screen time in comparison. However, his few scenes made an insurmountable impression on me. Not only did I think (and still do, to this day) that Bill never looked more gorgeous than he did in that movie, something about his character’s genuine desire to help Billie as well as his sense of integrity and justice made him incredibly likable to me, and his role as writer Paul Verrall really allowed William Holden to explode into my consciousness.
From there I began to seek his films out, and more and more I found movies that I enjoyed that really highlighted his talent as a true star like The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), Picnic (1955), Stalag 17 (1953), the picture that won him his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, The Moon is Blue (1953), and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). At the same time I learned about what an interesting man he was offscreen as well through books and anecdotes from those who knew him best. I began to appreciate the man apart from his roles, a warm and generous person who adored animals and nature and had an undeniable charm that led the likes of Brenda Marshall, Audrey Hepburn, and Stefanie Powers into his arms. I’ve continued to watch his acting talent grow and develop in his later films like Paris When it Sizzles (1964), another one of my favorites, The Towering Inferno (1974), a disaster epic with a cast of ten or more titanic names that to me William Holden shines in above all the rest, and Network (1976), one of the true classics of its time that earned him his final Academy Award nomination. I’ve also had the pleasure of stretching all the way back in his filmography to watch Golden Boy (1939), the picture that started it all. As a result of seeing thirteen of his films in total, I feel that I know his work more than enough to build the deep appreciation for him that I currently posess, but I’m also aware that I have a long way to go and luckily many more movies of his to enjoy. So Bill, here’s to you: to your brilliant and captivating work both onscreen and off, and to your effervescent charisma that draws me in every time, and always will.