William Holden felt he didn't deserve the Academy Award for Best Actor for Stalag 17 (1953), and that the award should have gone to Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity (1953). His wife also felt that the honor was just a belated apology for snubbing his nomination for Sunset Blvd. (1950).
For me, acting is not an all-consuming thing, except for the moment when I am actually doing it.
William Holden (April 17, 1918 – November 12, 1981) was an American actor. Holden won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1954 and the Emmy Award for Best Actor in 1974. One of the most popular and well known movie stars of all time, Holden was one of the biggest box office draws of the 1950s, he was named one of the "Top 10 Stars of the Year" six times (1954–1958, 1961) and appeared on the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years…100 Stars list as number 25. He starred in some of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of all time, including such blockbusters as Sunset Boulevard, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild Bunch, The Towering Inferno, and Network.
Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. in O'Fallon, Illinois, the son of Mary Blanche (née Ball), a schoolteacher, and William Franklin Beedle, Sr., an industrial chemist. He had two younger brothers, Robert and Richard. Holden's paternal great-grandmother, Rebecca Westfield, was born in England in 1817, while some of his mother's ancestors settled in Virginia's Lancaster County after emigrating from England in the 17th century. Growing up, Holden was raised in the Methodist church, and while some sources cite him as a Congregationalist, Holden identified himself as a Methodist throughout his life. His family moved to South Pasadena when he was three.
After graduating from South Pasadena High School, Holden attended Pasadena Junior College, where he became involved in local radio plays. Contrary to legend and theatre publicity, he did not study at the Pasadena Playhouse, nor was he discovered in a play there. Rather, he was spotted by a talent scout from Paramount Pictures in 1937 while playing the part of an 80-year-old man, Marie Curie's father-in-law, in a play at the Playbox, a separate and private theatre owned by Pasadena Playhouse director Gilmor Brown. His first film role was in Prison Farm the following year.
Holden's first starring role was in Golden Boy (1939), in which he played a violinist turned boxer. That was followed by the role of George Gibbs in the film adaptation of Our Town.
After Columbia Pictures picked up half of his contract, he alternated between starring in several minor pictures for Paramount and Columbia before serving as a 2nd lieutenant in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, where he acted in training films. Beginning in 1950, his career took off when Billy Wilder tapped him to star as the down-at-the-heels screenwriter Joe Gillis, who is taken in by faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard, for which Holden earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Following this breakthrough film, his career quickly grew in stature as he played a series of roles that combined good looks with cynical detachment, including a prisoner-of-war entrepreneur in Stalag 17 (1953), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, a pressured young engineer/family man in Executive Suite (1954), an acerbic stage director in The Country Girl (1954), a conflicted jet pilot in the Korean War film The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), a carefree playboy in Sabrina (1954), a wandering college football star in Picnic (1955), a dashing war correspondent in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), his most widely recognized role as an ill-fated prisoner in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), a World War II tug boat captain in The Key (1958), and an American Civil War military surgeon in The Horse Soldiers (1959), which also starred John Wayne.
He also played a number of sunnier roles in light comedy, such as the handsome architect pursuing virginal Maggie McNamara in the controversial Production Code-breaking The Moon is Blue (1953), as Judy Holliday's tutor in Born Yesterday (1950), as a playwright captivated by Ginger Rogers' character in Forever Female (1953) and as Humphrey Bogart's younger brother, a playboy, in Sabrina (1954), which also starred Audrey Hepburn. In 1954, Holden was featured on the cover of Life.
With the pinnacle of his career in 1957 with The Bridge on the River Kwai, Holden starred in his share of forgettable films during the 1960s such as Paris When It Sizzles (1964), also co-starring Audrey Hepburn, which he was forced to do by studio contracts. By the mid-1960s, his roles were having less critical and commercial impact.
In 1969, Holden made a comeback when he starred in director Sam Peckinpah's graphically violent Western The Wild Bunch, winning much acclaim. Also in 1969, Holden starred in director Terence Young's family film L'Arbre de Noel, co-starring Italian actress Virna Lisi, based on the novel of the same name by Michel Bataille. This film was originally released in the United States as The Christmas Tree and on home video as When Wolves Cry.
Five years later, he starred with Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno, which became a box office smash and the highest grossing film of Holden's career. He was also praised for his Oscar-nominated leading performance in Sidney Lumet's classic Network (1976), a prescient examination of television written by Paddy Chayevsky, playing an older version of the character type he had become iconic for in the 1950s, only now more jaded and aware of his own mortality.
In 1974 Holden won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his portrayal of a cynical, tough veteran LAPD street cop in the television film The Blue Knight, based upon the best-selling Joseph Wambaugh novel of the same name.
In 1980, Holden appeared in The Earthling with popular 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.
During his last years, Holden also appeared in When Time Ran Out and Blake Edwards's S.O.B.. His second Irwin Allen film, When Time Ran Out was a critical and commercial failure and heavily disliked by Holden himself; his final film, S.O.B., directed by Blake Edwards, was more successful and a Golden Globe-nominated picture.
Holden was married to actress Ardis Ankerson (stage name Brenda Marshall) from 1941 until their divorce (after many long separations) in 1971. They had two sons, Peter Westfield (born November 17, 1943) and Scott Porter (born May 2, 1946; died January 21, 2005, San Diego, California). He also adopted his wife's daughter, Virginia, from her first marriage.
Holden was best man at the marriage of his friend Ronald Reagan to Nancy Davis in 1952; however, he never involved himself in politics.
In 1954, during the filming of Sabrina, Holden and Audrey Hepburn became romantically involved, and she hoped to marry him and have children. She broke off the relationship when Holden revealed that he had undergone a vasectomy.
Holden met French actress Capucine in the early 1960s. They starred in the films The Lion (1962) and The 7th Dawn (1964). They began a two-year affair; after it ended, she and Holden remained friends until Holden's death in 1981.
In 1964, Holden was again paired up with Hepburn in Paris When It Sizzles, but behind the scenes, the set was plagued with problems. Holden tried without success to rekindle a romance with the now-married Hepburn. That, combined with his alcoholism, made the situation a challenge for the production.
Holden maintained a home in Switzerland and also spent much of his time working for wildlife conservation as a managing partner in an animal preserve in Africa. His Mount Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki (founded 1959) became a mecca for the international jet set.
While in Italy, Holden killed another driver in a 1966 drunk driving incident. He received an eight-month suspended sentence for vehicular manslaughter.
In 1972, Holden began a nine-year relationship with actress Stefanie Powers which sparked her interest in animal welfare. After his death, Powers set up the William Holden Wildlife Foundation at Holden's Mount Kenya Game Ranch.
His younger brother, Robert W. "Bobbie" Beedle, was a Navy fighter pilot who was killed in action in World War II, on January 5, 1945. After The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955) was released, Beedle was remembered by his squadron-mates as having been very much like Holden's character, Lt. Harry Brubaker.
On November 12, 1981, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's autopsy report, Holden was alone and intoxicated in his apartment in Santa Monica, California, when he slipped on a throw rug, severely lacerated his forehead on a teak bedside table, and bled to death. Evidence suggests he was conscious for at least half an hour after the fall. It is probable that he may not have realized the severity of the injury and did not summon aid, or was unable to call for help. His body was found four days later.
Holden had dictated in his will that the Neptune Society cremate him and scatter his ashes in the Pacific Ocean. No funeral or memorial service was held, per his wishes.
Holden is the actor "who had died while he was drinking," mentioned by Suzanne Vega in the 1987 song, "Tom's Diner".
In 2007, his stepdaughter, Virginia Holden Gaines, wrote a book, Growing Up with William Holden: A Memoir, reliving her memories of life with her father.
Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#57). 
Was the best man at Ronald Reagan's and Nancy Davis' wedding in 1952.
He suffered a laceration to his forehead and bled to death, after he slipped on a throw rug and hit his head on a table. Claims that he was intoxicated at the time are disputed.
Adopted his stepdaughter, Virginia Holden (Virginia Gaines), from Ardis Ankerson's (Brenda Marshall's) first marriage. He and Marshall had two sons together, Peter Westfield "West" Holden, born November 17, 1943, and Scott Holden (Scott Porter Holden, born May 2, 1946.
Not to be confused with the character actor William Holden.
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 he and Brian 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.
Family: Mother: Mary Beedle (nee Ball). Father: William Franklin Beedle, born 1892. Brother: Robert Westfield Beedle, born 1921; died January 1, 1944. Brother: Richard P. Beedle, born 1925.
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 Dear Ruth (1947), 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.
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.
Considered himself to be a moderate Republican, although he was never involved in any political campaigns and never endorsed a candidate. In 1947 he joined the Committee for the First Amendment to oppose blacklisting in Hollywood, and was later very upset by the blacklisting of his close friends Dalton Trumbo and Larry Parks.
Was named #25 Actor on the 50 Greatest Screen Legends by the AFI
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.
Made two films with Audrey Hepburn: Sabrina (1954) and Paris When It Sizzles (1964).
His younger brother, Robert Beedle, was actually a Navy fighter pilot who was killed in action in World War II, and after The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) was released, he was remembered by his squadron-mates as having been very much like Holden's character of Lt. Harry Brubaker in that movie.
Was an avid art collector. His private collection at his exclusive hilltop home in Palm Springs featured antique Asian art. Upon his death, the priceless collection was donated to the Palm Springs Museum of Art, where it is proudly displayed today.
He was of entirely English heritage.
Was involved in a serious road accident in Italy in July 1966.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 391-397. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Turned down The Guns of Navarone (1961) because producer Carl Foreman wouldn't meet his fee of $750,000 + 20% of the gross.
Holden was cast as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch (1969) after the role had been turned down by Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Sterling Hayden, Richard Boone and Robert Mitchum. Marvin actually accepted the role but pulled out after he was offered a larger pay deal to star in Paint Your Wagon (1969).
He was so grateful to Barbara Stanwyck for her insistence on casting him in Golden Boy (1939), his first big role, that he reportedly sent her flowers every year on the anniversary of the first day of the filming.
Starred alongside Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. (1950) and Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday (1950). Both actresses were nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for their performances in these films. Holliday won.
Starred alongside Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954) and Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954). Both actresses were nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for their performances in these films. Kelly won.
He had a daughter, Arlene, in 1937 with actress Eva May Hoffman. Arlene was raised by her mother and her stepfather, composer Emil Newman.
Moved to Switzerland for tax reasons in 1959, and did not return to live in Hollywood until 1967.
He appeared among the top ten box office stars six times, as ranked by Quigley Publications' annual poll of movie exhibitors, The Top Ten Money-Making Stars, the definitive list of movie stars' pull at the box office. He actually topped the list in 1956, two years after entering it at #7 in 1954, the year he won the Best Actor Oscar with his performance in Stalag 17 (1953). In 1955, he was ranked #4, then hit #1 for the first and only time in 1956, and then dropped to #7 in 1957 before rebounding slightly to #6 in 1958. After five straight years in the Top 10, he dropped off the list in 1959 and 1960, but reappeared in the Top Ten in 1961, ranked in eighth place. His 1961 appearance among the Top Ten Box Office stars was his last.
Was the Top Box Office Star of 1956, as ranked by Quigley Publications' annual poll of movie exhibitors, The Top Ten Money-Making Stars, the definitive list of movie stars' pull at the box office.
Father of Scott Holden, Arlene Holden and Peter Holden.
For The Horse Soldiers (1959) both Holden and John Wayne received $775,000, plus twenty per cent of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time. The final contract, heralded as marking the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars, involved six companies and numbered twice the pages of the movie's script. The film, however, was a critical and commercial failure, with no profits to be shared in the end.
Turned down Marlon Brando's role in Sayonara (1957) in order to make The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
Died one day before his eldest son Peter's 38th birthday.
A Japanophile, someone preoccupied with Japanese culture, he befriended actor Toshirô Mifune on a visit to Japan in 1954. After seeing the film Mifune was working on at that time, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954/I), Holden offered to distribute the film in America. The producers agreed to let Holden record a narration to explain the film when it was released in America. This addition led American critics to wrongly think that Holden had recut the film for American distribution.
Held a press conference in late 1980 to deny newspaper reports that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Although married to Brenda Marshall for over 30 years, they were actually separated for most of their marriage. At the time of his death, he was the companion of Stefanie Powers.
In the last years of his life he increasingly suffered from emphysema.
Was originally cast for the lead in The Rainmaker (1956), role eventually played by Burt Lancaster.
Was considered for the role of "Maurice Novak" in Career (1959).
Toward the Unknown (1956) was the only movie made by his production company, "Toluca Productions".
Take any picture you can. One out of four will be good, one out of ten will be very good, and one out of 15 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.
I'm a whore, all actors are whores. We sell our bodies to the highest bidder.
[on Barbara Stanwyck] Thirty-nine years ago this month, we were working in a film together called Golden Boy (1939). It wasn't going so well and I was going to be replaced. But due to this lovely human being and her encouragement and above all her generosity, I'm here tonight.
[on working with Clint Eastwood on Breezy (1973)] He's even-tempered -- a personality trait not much in evidence among directors. The crew is totally behind him and that really helps things go smoothly.