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Doing What Comes Naturally—Alan Ladd

What is the secret of Alan Ladd’s universal appeal?

Why, today, after more than ten years at the top, does Alan find himself more in demand than ever? Riding the crest of the popularity wave following the smash success of “Shane,” with three fine pictures recently completed in Europe, rugged, tight-lipped and soft-spoken Alan is not only in the prime of life but at the height of his career.

The secret is that Alan is one of the best-liked people in films. Certainly, as Alan will be the first to admit, his remarkable success isn’t due to his being the greatest actor in the world. “I’m not the guy to play Hamlet,” Alan says. “I’m not out to dazzle the public. I try only to be as natural and sincere as possible, and I hope that’s what comes across. I’m not interested in making pictures with messages. I want to give audiences good, clean action stories which please and entertain them.”

During his recent year in Europe with Sue and the children, the Ladds were welcomed and warmly embraced wherever they went. Few Americans, on or off the screen, have ever had such an enthusiastic reception.

Take the Paris premiere of “Shane,” for example. The Ladds were in England at the time, where Alan was shooting “Hell Below Zero,” a whaling epic with Joan Tetzel as co-star. The Ladds crossed the Channel to join numerous film big-wigs in paying tribute to that grand old man of Hollywood, Adolph Zukor, who, celebrating his Golden Anniversary with Paramount, was special guest of honor at the gala event.

“Now, as many American stars can tell you,” related a close friend of the Ladds, “the French are not the people to stand up in excitement at the sight of a movie star. They’re much too reserved, much too blase, for that. As a matter of fact, that’s one reason why a lot of the Hollywood stars enjoy vacationing in this wonderful city of Paris. They feel they can be themselves, do as they please, go where they wish without feeling they’re going to tie up traffic and cause public disturbances. Well, Alan’s too modest to tell you about what happened to him at the ‘Shane’ premiere here, but I can—I was there. Alan was almost torn limb-from-limb by an over-eager and adoring French public. And they weren’t all women, plenty of men, too. Even the protection of several husky French gendarmes couldn’t diminish the ardor of the crowd clamoring for a peek at their screen idol. Nobody was more astonished at all this hullabaloo than Alan.”

The next time Alan returned to Paris for another visit after the completion of his third English film, “The Black Knight,” a colorful swash buckling Columbia release in which his leading lady is lovely, exotic Patricia Medina, I called him. We made a date to breakfast together in the Ladd suite at the famed Hotel George Cinq, so we could talk over some of the interesting events that occurred during the Ladd trek through Europe.

Our date came at a particularly happy time for Alan and Sue, because for the first time in several months, the entire Ladd clan was reunited. The two older children, lovely blonde Carole Lee, a student at UCLA, and “Laddie,” a strapping, handsome sixteen-year-old, had joined the two younger children, Alana and David, for a joyous holiday stay with their beaming parents. The temperature had dipped well below freezing in the gay French capital, but inside there was that warm, pleasant atmosphere of home one feels with the Ladds no matter where they are.

As we sipped our large cups of cafe au lait and munched on delicious croissants, those famous French breakfast rolls, Alan quite naturally began to talk about his family. “Family and home mean more to Susie and me than anything else. We’re lost when we’re not together. We feel like a part of us is missing when the family has to be split up for any reason. When I was first approached on the idea of making a couple of films abroad, Sue and I immediately said no dice. We couldn’t see taking the kids out of school at this crucial point of their lives, particularly Carole Lee and Laddie.

“But then we began to think more about it, and realized that this might be the chance of a lifetime to give the kids the rounded education we might otherwise never be able to afford with a family as large as ours—a chance to bring history and geography into their daily lives, a chance to see how other kids live, how they’re alike and how they’re different. We decided to say yes to the offers; we worked it out so that the older kids would spend as much time with us as they could, and the younger ones would stick with Sue and me all the time. And I would be working at the trade I know best, so that I could underwrite the entire excursion.

“It’s been a most heart-warming experience for all of us,” Alan continued, “in any number of ways. First of all, not only have the children made many wonderful friends everywhere, but so have we. Take the English, for example; they turned out to be the warmest and friendliest people you’d ever in your life want to meet. Working with them was a revelation. Such consideration, politeness and friendly cooperation are things I won’t forget for a long, long time.”

Just about this time we were joined by Susie, as Alan always lovingly calls his dark-haired and pretty wife, wearing a handsome wine-colored satin housecoat with a huge embroidered initial “L” on a front pocket. “It wasn’t like that at the beginning, was it, dear?” she remarked. Then turning to me, she continued, “When Alan first arrived at the studio to begin work on ‘Paratrooper,’ there was much resentment about his appearing in an all-British film. Alan was very unhappy about it. He’s the kind of person who can’t bear to have an enemy in the world, and it bothered him. But he continued to work quietly and conscientiously as he always does, pursuing the job he had been assigned to do in the most effective way possible.”

Alan proceeded to explain the reason for the strange British attitude. “You see, the story of ‘Paratrooper’ was a true one based on actual incidents that occurred in England during the last war. It seemed a blow to British pride to have an American playing the lead role in this tale of British heroism—an American hero in an all-British regiment. I told them frankly why I was glad to play the part, particularly that it gave me, personally, a chance to prove what I had always known:—that when people work together toward a common goal in which they believe, nationality isn’t important. Before long, we were getting along famously, and I’ll always be glad I did that film.”

Sue and Alan told me that the children had collected so many souvenirs and gifts during their travels, they had absolutely no idea how they were going to cart it all back to California! When I asked Alana what she considered her favorite gift, she breathlessly replied, her eyes wide with excitement, “My new black stallion, Key, that Daddy got me in Spain for Christmas. He’s so beautiful. I can’t wait to get back to our ranch where he’ll be waiting for me.” Alana reflects the Ladd enthusiasm for animals, especially horses and dogs.

Since Alan dislikes flying, their travels took place by car most of the time. And that was quite a job. In fact, the only solution was to use two cars to transport all the baggage, gifts and souvenirs, plus an entourage which most of the time included Alan, Sue, the four youngsters, Jean Martin of Omaha (their charming tutor) and their beautiful dachshund. In this manner, they covered England, Wales, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Spain, and Sue was trying to persuade Alan to cover Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

“Because I was working so much of the time, I didn’t get to see as much of Europe as I wanted to,” Alan commented. “Do you know that you are now looking at the only man who’s been to Oxford and never saw it, even once? I used to drive through Oxford twice a day on my way to location. When I left early in the morning the sun wasn’t yet up, and when I passed through again on my way home it was always night. And we worked seven days a week!

“However, Susie and I discovered a unique way to see some of the most wonderful places in Europe. Instead of doing our sightseeing during the day, we took quiet drives late at night, after midnight sometimes. You’d be surprised at the unforgettable impressions you get of a city like Paris or Rome when everyone is asleep and all is tranquil and serene. The monuments, churches and landmarks take on another significance. You ought to try it sometime,” Alan said, that warm smile appearing on his boyish countenance.

Europe will miss Alan and all the Ladds, but millions of American fans are glad to have them back.

There’s no doubt about the solid basis of Alan’s universal appeal. Alan is first and foremost a- simple, down-to-earth human being. He is a family man and a devoted husband, who just happens also to be a Hollywood movie star.





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