|Born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. on April
17, 1918, William Holden made his film debut it 1938's Prison Farm. He
had his first major role in Golden Boy (1939), where he played a boxer-violinist
opposite screen legend Barbara Stanwyck, who would prove to be a major
influence on him for the rest of his life. He was a contract player for
Paramount Pictures, and appeared in numerous productions in the boy-next-door
types of roles.
He joined the Air Force and fought in World War II. After the war, he began to attract the attention of moviegoers by taking on considerably more challenging roles. In 1950, he appeared in two critically-acclaimed features which were both nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards: Born Yesterday, opposite Judy Holliday (who won that year's Academy Award for Best Actress); and Sunset Boulevard, as Joe Gillis, the young writer who romances Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). For the latter role, he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
He reteamed with Billy Wilder, his Sunset Boulevard director for 1953's Stalag 17, where he played a sergeant suspected of being a Nazi spy. It was for this role that he won his only Academy Award.
From 1954-1958, he was a leading box-office star and was considered the top draw for 1956. Among the films he starred in during this time were 1954's Sabrina (opposite Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn), 1955's Picnic (with Kim Novak) and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1956), opposite Jennifer Jones. This last film is particularly memorable because by this time, Holden had quite a reputation of getting involved with his leading ladies, and Jones, as Hollywood legend would have it, couldn't stand him. She even went as far as throwing a bouquet of flowers given by Holden back in his face. Although they were hostile off-screen, their on-screen chemistry was magical, and the film has endured as a classical weepy melodrama.
He continued to illuminate the screen for the next three decades, with roles in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), The Towering Inferno (1974), considered by many as the mother of all disaster flicks, and 1976's Network, for which he received his final Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He also made his television debut in the miniseries The Blue Knight (1973), for which he won an Emmy Award.
His final film appearance, in 1981's S.O.B., was directed by Blake Edwards, and was, like Sunset Boulevard three decades earlier, also a biting characterization of the politics of Hollywood. Holden died that year, after hitting his head after an alcohol-induced fall at his apartment.