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My Boss, William Holden

Because I like the job of being Bill Holden’s secretary, I want to keep it. Therefore I can’t write the story I’d really like to write—unless I want to start collecting unemployment! I’m exaggerating—but I’d still like to make my point!

When Photoplay requested the whole truth and nothing but the truth about working for Bill, my decision, naturally, rested on his decision. As always, while digesting the facts and weighing the consequences, Bill listened attentively and paced the floor. Then he stopped at the doorway and with a typical apologetic grin, he gave me the go signal.

“I don’t mind, Elinor—if you don’t mind.” Then over his shoulder as he made his exit, he added: “But please do me a favor and don’t make the halo fit too tight!”

I knew exactly what he was trying to tell me. No girlish squeals (not that I’d be guilty!) or super-superlatives. You know what I mean. Bill won’t hold still for it. And, after twelve years in every phase of movie-studio employment, I believe I’m qualified to say such modesty as his is unparalleled.

Oops, there I go already! Quite seriously, though, boss or no boss, it isn’t possible to tell simple truths about Bill and picture him as anything but the exemplary person he is. And for the record, should anyone wonder why a secretary addresses her employer by his first name, Bill insists on it.

It was just two years ago that Paramount granted Bill’s request and converted his dressing room suite into an office. I’ve been his private secretary ever since and, with Photoplay’s indulgence, I’d like to correct a general misconception concerning a job like mine.

Each year, hundreds of letters pour in, all saying the same thing. The writers believe you (as a secretary) are having a ball working for a Hollywood star. They think you merely sit at a big desk and casually answer fan mail. And, more unfortunately still, they’re convinced you have to have “connections” to secure such a “plushy” position.

Now I won’t deny that it’s nice work if you can get it. But it’s hard work and glamour goes right out the window when you work for a man of Bill Holden’s insatiable interests and endless responsibilities.

Now about those so-called “connections.” I started out as a secretary at Paramount, holding a job any qualified person might obtain by filing an application with the studio personnel department. While I was working in the general office for all the players on the lot, I did some work for Bill. But I had no idea he needed a fulltime secretary until he asked if I might be available. It was as simple as that. Other than saying hello and typing a few letters for him, the man was a total stranger to me.

As I said, before working for Bill I had various bosses and most of them expected constant attention—like the one who’d call me in to pour a glass of water from the thermos at his elbow! Not so with Bill. From the very beginning I discovered it was the other way ’round and, if it’s humanly possible to take care of himself, Bill will never ask me or anyone else. At first I thought, such independence can’t last! However, as time marched on, Bill continued to display his incredible lack of self-importance.

Although he’s worked his way up to the pinnacle of his profession, Bill still seems to think he’s a newcomer who has to make good. I don’t mean this literally, of course. But he never seems to realize it’s a physical impossibility to grant every request that crosses his desk. There is such a thing as being too nice, especially when it effects one’s health. So when Bill suffers from a severe headache, from tension and nerves, I speak up and remind him that he doesn’t have to do this or that. Invariably, the result is just what I’ve learned to expect.

“I’m sure you’re right, Elinor,” he answers wearily, “but I’d still like to try.”

I remember one particularly hectic day when Bill was booked for an appointment every thirty minutes. At 6 p.m. he was at his wits’ end and finally exploded as only Bill can explode! Why was he killing himself? he asked. What was he trying to prove? This was it—the end. From now on he was going to look out for himself—do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. At that moment the phone rang and Bill happened to answer it. When he hung up there was a quizzical sort of expression on his face.

“That was the studio reception desk,” he said meekly. “They said two fellows from Pepperdine College have been sitting on the curb all day waiting to see me!”

Naturally I knew the details. Someone is always waiting to see Bill and these particular two wanted to become actors. Bill couldn’t possibly help them or the endless others who’ve made the same request. He listened to my argument with exhaustion oozing from every pore. I know he doesn’t like to hurt anyone, neither do I. But while it’s admirable that Bill wants to encourage people, sometimes I think it’s less painful to say no right at the beginning.

“Just have them come in for a few minutes.”

He said it sheepishly—because he knew I was right. Now what do you do with a man like that? And wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if there were more men like him!

When he isn’t acting, Bill still keeps regular office hours and sometimes, to avoid endless interruptions, we take the afternoon off. I mean, we go out to his house and work. Other actors are immune to this daily grind, so why does Bill drive himself? What’s so special about him? I hear this constantly, and only one who works with him and understands him can answer this question.

Sometimes my husband and I drop by and visit Bill’s parents who live near us in the San Fernando Valley. According to Mr. and Mrs. Beedle, moderation has never been part of their son’s make-up, and he has always possessed a deep-rooted sense of responsibility. Today, as a result, Bill enjoys overwhelming popularity because friends, family, his profession and his fellow man all come first. Fortunately for others, but not so fortunately for Bill’s well-being, when he gives his word, his time, or his heart, he never reneges. It’s a terrific strain on him and his loved ones. He’s well aware of this, but he couldn’t change even if he wanted to change!

During 1955, Bill worked every weekday and twenty-three Sundays. Although he’s busy several nights a week, this never upsets his understanding wife, Ardis (Brenda’s real name), who knows it’s an integral part of her husband’s particular pattern. Aside from making pictures, and last year he made four—Bill is on the Board of Governors for the Motion Picture Academy, he attends meetings at the Screen Actors’ Guild when they have special problems, he’s active in trying to arrange a local film festival—he’s a member of the Hollywood Coordinating Committee and the Foreign Language Film Committee.

Bill’s other interests include stock in Homel Pictures, oil stocks as well as stock in KIXL, a Dallas radio station. He was also instrumental in bringing the superb Japanese film, “Samurai,” to this country. Between times he manages to go to art galleries, collect books (right now he’s reading up on Far East philosophy) and every kind of recording from symphonies to Dixieland. Bill’s taste in cars has always been conservative, but recently he fell for a Thunderbird!

Between location jaunts and visiting our armed forces all over the world, Bill knows people from every walk of life. He corresponds with men who are still in service and takes time to visit returnees from such far-off places as Hong Kong, Tokyo and Korea. There have been days when a GI has dropped by the office, followed by a Japanese minister, an Italian ambassador and a prince from Siam. Every day is different and stimulating.

When I came to work for Bill there were no instructions. I can only remember him making one brief statement: “This is a business office, Elinor, and I hope you’ll like it and feel that you’re a necessary part of the organization.”

I must say that Bill went out of his way to make me feel this way. He has always introduced me to every visitor and the door is never closed between the two rooms—even when a serious conference is in session. Bill asks my opinion about decisions, he encourages criticism, and even when he sends me on an errand, I’m always instructed to “do anything you want to do for yourself, too.”

Although my traveling experience has been limited, since working for Bill it happens vicariously. I mean I’ve read up on the Far East he loves, because besides being a secretary, I’m also a guide in a small museum! The shelves and white brick-lined walls of our office feature souvenirs of Bill’s travels. They hold such treasures as Balinese puppets, a tomb-rubbing print taken from an emperor’s mausoleum (a lost art today), a golden god from Bangkok, a stone head taken off the east gate of Seoul, which Bill brought home in an empty suitcase (he gave all his clothes away to the poor).

Originally, a set decorator was called in to arrange all these items. But the basic idea has long-since disappeared, because Bill gets new ideas and keeps moving things. A hammer and nails are kept in his top drawer, ready for action. I know he loves order and, although he’s never asked me to do it, I keep the silver cigarette boxes and ash trays polished. Sometimes I catch Bill using a feather duster on his collections. Incidentally, whenever he takes a trip, he brings back an impersonal remembrance for me.

One thing Bill won’t do is judge contests. Although I won’t ask him why, I suspect it’s because he hates to see someone lose. In answer to all such requests I just write and say, “It isn’t Mr. Holden’s policy.”

Newcomers like Robert Wagner and Dewey Martin drop in unceremoniously when they’re on the lot and, to them, Bill represents the ultimate in personal and professional achievements. He enjoys these visits—I think such reverence secretly pleases him—but if these actors ask for advice, Bill hedges.

“Just be patient,” is all he’ll say, as he smiles understandingly.

Bill’s loyalty is insurmountable and he still has the same friends, agent, business manager and stand-in whom he met when he was making “Golden Boy.” Unlike some actors I’ve known, Bill has no time or tolerance for hangers-on. Although he works long hours, he calls home often and keeps in touch with his devoted family. He had high hopes for a big summer reunion when he took Ardis and the three children to the Virgin Islands, where Paramount shot “The Proud and Profane.”

But, alas, the islands were overrun with mosquitoes, bugs and tourists. The weather was hot and sticky and infectious tropical plants almost drove everyone insane. Bill worked every single day and came home at night a nervous wreck. Why do I go through this? he kept asking himself. Then he declared he was going to take six months off and do nothing but rest and relax. So he took off for Palm Springs—and with him went six scripts!

Just before he started “Toward the Unknown” (his first picture for his own Toluca Productions), Bill had to fly to New York for an important broadcast. As luck would have it, the date of departure coincided with the Fathers and Sons banquet at young West Holden’s school. Bill’s oldest son expected him to be there, and do you think Bill would let him down? All it meant was taking a later plane—which didn’t have berths. So the Holdens sat up all night.

Although he’s observant, Bill isn’t demonstrative in an obvious way. You know, if I came into the office with blue hair, I don’t think he’d comment! As a matter of fact, at the beginning I never knew what kind of impression I was making. Then others began saying that they heard nice things about me. That’s all I needed. I never doubted again.

Bill receives a tremendous amount of fan mail from every part of the world, but he’s especially popular in Japan and South America. I understand what people mean, but it always amuses me when they say to Bill: “You don’t talk or look like an actor, you’re more like a human being!” It’s true, he’s a very human human being, and I’m constantly reminded of this by the other secretaries on the lot.

I’ve never had a nickname before, but the day I became Bill Holden’s secretary, some of the other secretaries started calling me “Lucky.” If I hadn’t promised Bill to keep this story toned down, I’d say that I agree with them.




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