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William Holden’s Double Life

Bill Holden is an impassioned man in a hurry. The richness of the human mind rouses his insatiable search for knowledge and it’s made him a familiar figure far and beyond the hue of Hollywood limitation.

During one of his treasured trips to the Orient, he was invited to have a leisurely lunch with a representative group of learned men. He found himself sharing words of wisdom with inventors, artists, scientists, politicians, business men and religious leaders. Typical of Bill, he was completely unaware he had made a deep and lasting impression, both as an exemplary individual and ambassador for Hollywood. Following the luncheon and Bill’s departure, those who remained took to discussing him.

“William Holden is like our mythical Phoenix bird (a favorite symbol of eastern culture),” observed a glowing philosopher. “The Phoenix bird is the only one of its kind—it burns itself out—rises from its own ashes and lives through another cycle of years. The Phoenix bird is an, emblem of immortality and having met and talked with William Holden, I feel that nothing can ever destroy his timeless potential.”

Those privileged few who know Bill—really know Bill Holden—have always known he has something extra-special to offer. Bill was born with wanderlust in his veins and an uncontrollable urge to court danger. This need, and it amounts to that, has driven him pendulum-like for 31 restless years and it was inevitable that Hollywood couldn’t hold him indefinitely. Today he is a world figure and yet he remains loyal to the town that instigated film fame and served to bridge the tremendous gap between a prosaic life and his current adventures.

“There comes a time in every man’s life when he should know what he wants,” Bill confessed to a friend who had challenged the motives that propel him to the four corners of the earth. “After 19 years of film-making, I now know what I want and it isn’t all Cadillacs, swimming pools and mansions. I am not afraid to fight for what I want and the time is long passed when I could be content to sit by and hope that things will come to me.”

Things? Would Bill care to elaborate on this category? Temptation creeps into his eyes for a fleeting moment, before he lapses back into his usual reluctance to expose his innermost feelings.

“In my spot I meet many players at the beginning of their careers,” reveals a studio executive who asks to remain anonymous, “so I’ve witnessed Bill Holden’s astounding growth—from his $50 a week stock actor days. His was a long, tough fight that hardened him on the exterior, but when he puts distance between himself and Hollywood—that’s when you realize the inner-man has remained idealistic and purposeful.

“We’ve had many heated arguments across a desk and then, by coincidence, I’ve traveled where and when Bill has traveled and been in a position to observe the way he conducts himself in foreign countries. In contrast, in contrast that must be seen to be appreciated, he sheds every trademark that identifies him with Hollywood. His gentle approach indicates he feels free to accept another way of life and he’s like a man reborn.

“In Hollywood, a careless informality does exist and it automatically loosens the reins. Our appearance ofttimes is casual to the point of being sloppy. Our interests become localized and tend toward complacency that isn’t particularly progressive for the individual. In foreign countries, Bill Holden epitomizes everything of what is not Hollywood. He always wears a tie, a dark business suit, white shirt and hat. He looks and acts more like a proper gentleman from an Eastern Seaboard college.

“When he travels, Bill gets up early, meets with brilliant, interesting people and has conscience about all people around him. He is an adventurer at heart and the sort of man who gets a big bang out of comparing points of view and reinstating his values. He speaks with authority that springs from his innate intelligence, he is interested in labor problems, new ventures and what is succeeding in whatever foreign country he happens to be in. His love and knowledge of painting and sculpture sends him scrounging around and, of course, makes him a great target in the Orient. He handles it all beautifully, including some of the strange foods that can give him indigestion for days. People are crazy about him everywhere he goes.

“No one remembers better than I, that there was a time when a sensitive, insecure Bill really needed Hollywood. But no one, his own studio included, cared much. He was taken for granted and, generally speaking, they visualized him haying a brief span as a utility actor, pleasant to have around. Of course, they figured without Bill and that driving force within him. He hung on and through his own endeavors—has outgrown his need for Hollywood. Currently speaking, when an independent producer pays a reported $750,000 to Bill for playing in ‘The Horse Soldiers’ (opposite John Wayne) it proves who needs whom!”

“If such a thing is possible,” volunteers the former Brenda Marshall, “I think Bill is too real to protect himself from some of the pressures that exist in Hollywood. One of the greatest, I believe, is his being confronted with the constant reminder he is a movie star. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing, impresses Bill less than stardom, as such.

As a small example, we have been married since July 13, 1941, and anyone can still get Bill on the phone. It could be a top studio executive calling, or the Fuller Brush Man. If he’s standing next to the instrument, Bill picks it up and sometimes he gets stuck for hours—usually when he’s been up and working like a slave since dawn.

“Because of this attitude toward his position in Hollywood, it leads him into accepting time-destroying obligations that play no part in his life, or have place in his heart. Being a good actor and playing any role he believes in, this is what arouses the best in Bill. I refer to his comparatively small part in ‘The Bridge On The River Kwai.’ He believed in the entire project and wanted to be associated with it. The ones who questioned his judgment and criticised him, merely proved they still don’t know what Bill is about.”

In earlier Hollywood days when he was given those “boy-next-door” parts that branded him with a “no sex appeal” label, they overlooked Bill Holden’s rich but dry humor. It sneaks up when you least expect it and it sneaked up on Bill last year when he was in Europe. A chance tongue-in-cheek remark set off a small bomb that backfired beyond expectation.

During an interview, Bill was being that casual, outgoing, delightful guy who had escaped the burdens of Hollywood. For fun, and like a small boy instigating a controversial reaction, he popped off about women. European women, he said in effect, were less dominating than Hollywood women and therefore were much more companionable. The gentlemen of the press are Bill’s friends, but by then, used to his viewpoints on more weighty subjects. This was too good a chance to miss and Bill Holden, who avidly avoids contrived publicity, landed in newspapers throughout two continents!

“No one stopped to remember,” grins Bill that I have been married to a wonderful American girl for 18 years. She has given me two fine sons and a daughter (by a first marriage) and I can’t even visualize a happier life than the one we’ve had together. I knew I’d get ribbed for comparing women, but I didn’t think anyone would take it so seriously. It must have startled those in Hollywood who have always accused me of being dull copy!”

In addition fo his thirst for greater knowledge, the spirit of adventure that drives Bill to strange ports of call has a practical side too.

“There are so few pictures being made Bill once said, “and the way it’s been working out, most of the good roles come along in pictures being made out of the country. No man likes to be away from home all but six weeks out of a year. It happened to me, but what can you do when you have a family to support? You have no choice, but believe me when you’re in far off primitive countries, working in steaming, infested jungles, you learn to appreciate what you’ve left behind.

“I have a knack for attracting. the worst possible location sites and we’re usually working there the wrong time of year. You can bet, if there are poisonous snakes, infectious tropical plants and contagious diseases—that’s where I’ll be! If I win my court case and am permitted to make ‘The Horse Soldiers,’ I wonder what that location will be like!”

Bill found out, of course, because he did emerge triumphant from the legal entanglement that threatened his appearing in a film other than a Paramount property. By the time he returned home from the location and although his wife joined him, their own wonderful home in North Hollywood looked like paradise.

“I hate lawsuits and studio suspensions,” says Bill. “All I ask is to make good pictures and I’m happy to work for any company if it comes up with a fine script. It was a great experience working with John Wayne and for director John Ford and this is one of my best roles. But of course, I ran into my usual luck when we went to the Louisiana swamps to shoot most of the scenes.

“The days were cold, damp and muddy. Sometimes the rain came down in black sheets. We got up every morning at 6:30 and drove 80 miles out from Shreveport to the wooded swamp. They had hip boots and snake bite kits for everyone and while we huddled there waiting for the mist to rise, champagne could never taste as good as our hot coffee. I don’t see how this picture can miss, so what we went through making it isn’t important.”

According to present plans, the Bill Holdens will remain in their current house until sons Scott and West go to college and daughter Virginia marries. Then they’ll probably sell and lease a intend to travel and with so many projects in mind, they’d like to own an apartment in Tokyo to live in when Bill’s working there in a film.

Although he doesn’t admit it, Bill’s friends feel his days as an actor are numbered—by his own choice. The truth is, Bill the actor, has always felt apologetic to himself. Despite his great success in acting, he rebels inwardly against being an actor for all the usual implications implied. On rare occasions when he takes score and sums up his life, Bill humorously observes:

“No one forced me to be an actor and I’m grateful for my luck. You know, back at the beginning, my dad always wanted me to come in with him and learn the fertilizer business. Sometimes when the going gets real rough, I wonder if I shouldn’t have listened to Dad and accepted his offer. Who knows!”