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William Franklin Beedle (Holden), Jr.

Birthplace: O'Fallon, St. Clair County, Illinois, United States
Death: November 12, 1981 (63)
Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Franklin Beedle and Mary Blanche Beedle
Ex-husband of Eve Farrell; Jeanne Crain and Brenda Marshall
Partner of Stefanie Powers
Father of Peter Westfield Beedle and Scott Porter Beedle
Brother of Ensign Robert W. "Bobbie" Beedle (USN) and Richard Porter Beedle

Occupation: Actor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About William Holden

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 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 #25..

Early life and career

Holden, oldest of three sons (brothers were Robert and Richard), 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. 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. The family, which moved to South Pasadena, California when he was three, was of English descent; Holden's paternal great-grandmother, Rebecca Westfield, was born in England in 1817, while some of his mother's ancestors emigrated in the 17th century to Millenback, Lancaster County, Virginia in the U.S. from England.

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.

Hollywood's "Golden Boy"

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, 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 braggart in Picnic (1955), a dashing war correspondent in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), 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.

Holden starred in his share of forgettable films — which he was forced to do by studio contracts — such as Paris When It Sizzles (1964), also co-starring Audrey Hepburn. By the mid-1960s, his roles were having less critical and commercial impact.

In 1954, Holden was featured on the cover of Life.

Later career

In 1969, Holden 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. He was also praised for his Oscar-nominated leading performance in Sidney Lumet's Network (1976), playing an older version of the character type he had perfected 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 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, he 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.

Personal life

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 could no longer have children. In 1964, he 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.

He 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, Kenya (founded 1959) became a mecca for the international jet set.

In 1966, in Italy, he killed another driver in a drunk driving accident. He received an eight-month suspended sentence for vehicular manslaughter.

In 1972, he 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.

In 2011 it was revealed that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had an affair with Holden in retaliation for her husband's indiscretions.


According to the Los Angeles County Coroner's autopsy report, on November 12, 1981, 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.

Awards and nominations

Academy Award

Best Actor Nomination for Sunset Boulevard (1951)

Best Actor Award for Stalag 17 (1954)

Best Actor Nomination for Network (1977)


Best Foreign Actor Nomination for Picnic (1955)

Best Foreign Actor Nomination for Network (1976)

Emmy Award

Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie Award for The Blue Knight (1974)

view all

William Holden's Timeline

April 17, 1918
O'Fallon, St. Clair County, Illinois, United States
November 17, 1943
May 2, 1946
November 12, 1981
Age 63
Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, United States