My thoughts on William Holden in NETWORK (1976)

This week’s guest blogger is Dominique Lessing from the blog, Miss Classic Film.

Holden_NetworkUBSIt’s very special to be able to relieve a moment where an artist and in this case an actor and a piece of written material fuse together at the perfect moment in time to create a monumental moment on screen. This is what magically happened to William Holden in the year of 1976. It seems fitting that as we celebrate his centennial this year, that we acknowledge the timing of his life and artistry during this period in his career.

When Holden received the script of NETWORK by Patty Chayefsky he was in the prime of his fifties. Only at that time in his life could he have played news division president, Max Schumacher who had been through all the ropes professionally and personally, and still was finding himself grappling with possessing real meaning in his life. With an illustrious career behind him Holden brought all his wisdom, truth, and compassion to the part which he never could have done if he had taken this role in his twenties or thirties.

As I watched this film for the twentieth time for his centennial what drew me in to his character was his loyalty and truth. Now, I know what you are thinking, this is a film about fabrications, deceit, phoniness, and ego, how could I see such admirable qualities in NETWORK but Holden gives it to us in all his complexities and rawness. Right from the beginning of the picture when he witnesses his friend news anchor, Howard Beal get slashed and made into a spectacle on live television, again and again, it’s Holden who stands up and lets him even stay at his apartment to avoid the media frenzy. We quickly see that he is the only one at the station or in what it seems all of New York City who remotely cares about what happens to Beal. I also know what you’re going to tell me next, he may have been a good friend to Beal but he certainly wasn’t a good husband, let’s not forget his stint of running off with Faye Dunaway for months while all the television studio chaos is going on… Yes, this is true but Holden speaks his truth. He does.

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Whether you want to call it a midlife crisis or an act of betrayal in his marriage, what is certain and what we see is a character who doesn’t let his desires cloud his need to live in an honest way. When he goes off to live with the Faye Dunaway he knows in his heart it is the truthful thing to do. Holden then in the end leaves Dunaway because he cannot keep living dishonestly to himself because he knows that she doesn’t know how to love him or want to. Yes, this is what in the end makes him such a great character in Network, and why it is one of Holden’s films. He gives a man who is grappling with how does one be authentic when everything surrounding him has become a freak show of fabrication to gain attention and wealth.

I believe more than ever that we all need William Holden today because as our media society becomes closer and closer to the world of NETWORK, seeing a man like him who makes us think about how we are behaving and with what values is immensely important. I am forever grateful for this film and for this man, William Holden for giving us such a character depicted on screen.

Many thanks to Dominique for taking part in Holden100. Follow her on Twitter here.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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WILLIAM HOLDEN STAR OF THE MONTH GUIDE: DAY 5

All good things must come to end and so it is, the final night of William Holden movies on TCM. The programming for his Star of the Month was a versatile mix that showcased why Holden was such a special performer. He brought honesty to each of his roles and it’s something you can feel in all of his movies. Tonight is a nice mix of not only Holden’s star power but how good he was as a supporting player in ensemble films.

My picks for tonight are the first three movies airing in primetime but I must point out that if you haven’t seen his final film, S.O.B. or The Earthling, you should definitely seek them out as they are not as well known. Both are great examples of the type of risks he was willing to take as an older man and how he used his older features to continue to breathe life to complex men.

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Born Yesterday (1950, Dir. George Cukor)

Although this film belongs to Judy Holliday (in her Oscar winning role), Holden is a delight as Paul Verrall, the intelligent gentleman hired to tutor Holliday’s Billie Dawn. A bespectacled Holden is charming as he teaches Dawn about American history, politics and philosophy. What makes his character so likeable is how he never looks down on Dawn and how he ends up learning more about himself along the way.

Born Yesterday airs at 8 p.m.

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Picnic (1956, Dir. Joshua Logan)

As a trouble drifter battling demons and questioning his place in the world, Holden thought he was much too old to play Hal Carter but he used that weariness and sex appeal to bring complexity to the role. This is peak ‘thirst trap’ era of Holden’s career as it followed Love is a Many-Splendored Thing meaning there are many scenes of Holden without a shirt. And as this studio still suggests, the shirt really didn’t want to stay on Holden’s chest anyway.

Picnic airs at 10 p.m.

Network ( 1976, Dir. Sidney Lumet)

In this loud and boisterous social satire, Holden has the quiet part of Max Shumacher, head of of the news division at the network, UBS. Holden is the soul of Network, a man who loses his way but eventually discovers the truth of who he is. Scenes where he talks about his fear of death now that he has aged and his confrontation with his wife after he has confessed his affair, you can’t help but feel that the character may have been a little too close to home for Holden in his real life. The pain in his eyes brings a truth to Max in a powerful way only Holden could deliver and he won his final Oscar nomination along the way.

Network airs at 12:00 a.m.

Although William Holden month may be over on TCM, Holden100 is a celebration for the entire year. The conversation will continue here on Flickin’ Out and on my social media channels by following #Holden100.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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WILLIAM HOLDEN STAR OF THE MONTH GUIDE: DAY 4

:Sigh: Tonight is the second to last night of William Holden movies on Turner Classic Movies. Where did April go? Tonight’s theme is westerns! Holden is not known for his westerns but he made 11 of them. Not all of them are winners but it’s another great example that Holden was comfortable in any role he played.

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The night kicks off with The Horse Soldiers. The film, from 1959 and directed by John Ford, costars John Wayne in a story set in the Civil War. Holden plays a doctor who joins a Union calvary led by Wayne on a raid to destroy enemy railroads. But Holden’s character is constantly at odds with Wayne causing friction. Although based on true events, many have criticized the film for historical inaccuracies (but then again, when has Hollywood gotten any historical film completely right?), but Holden and Wayne are so good at bringing passion and heroism into their roles making this one of Ford’s most underrated films.

The Horse Soldiers airs at 8 p.m. 

Arizona is Holden’s first western. It costars Jean Arthur, an actress I adore. In this film, wayne_holdenhorsesoldiersHolden is a young, arrogant cattle rancher with a lot of charm. Arthur is the lead character as a ‘Calamity Jane’-type of western hero creating a quasi-feminist western with some dialogue that may surprise you. Another surprise in this film is a singing William Holden! He was obviously dubbed because it doesn’t quite match up and it shows there’s a reason he was never cast in a full blown musical. Holden is so young and easy-going in the part. It’s a snapshot of a Holden we rarely see so it’s nice to see him in a laid-back role with heroics sprinkled in. Arizona is a great adventure western film that packs suspense in the end, especially the final sequence.

Arizona airs at 10:15 pm.

Wild Rovers 

Wild Rovers was originally intended to be a grand 3-hour epic by director Blake Edwards but unbeknownst to him, MGM heavily edited the film. Edwards was so upset, he disowned the film and took his anger out by making the film S.O.B, a satirical commentary at Hollywood. The film ends up being quite difficult to follow, however, the bond between Holden and Ryan O’Neil is worth the admission. I always love films that show the passing of the torch of one generation of Hollywood to another, and this is one of them.

Wild Rovers airs at 3:00 am 

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Escape from Fort Bravo 

Eleanor Parker is one of my favorite underrated actresses. She is just so beautiful and tough. She could also play any role yet is so rarely talked about. Frustrating! Go watch her work other than The Sound of Music. This is another Civil War western and here, Holden is the ruthless captain in charge of a Union prison camp. Parker comes into the fray as she tries to free the camp but turning on the charm and having Holden fall in love with her. The Technicolor in this film is gorgeous but there are moments that make you feel sour as with most westerns, however the action and romance got me and I really enjoyed this one. I love Holden performances where he gets to play characters you can’t quite figure out and this is another great example of that.

Escape from Fort Bravo airs at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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Happy Holden 100! William Holden’s birthplace honors its Golden Boy

holden_stillHappy William Holden 100, everyone! Today in 1918, William Holden was born in O’Fallon, Illinois. Before he was a big Hollywood actor, Holden was William Franklin Beedle Jr., son of William Franklin Beedle and Mary Blanche Ball. The Beedle family had deep roots in O’Fallon but Holden’s nuclear family didn’t stay for long. The family moved to Pasadena, California when he was just three years old.

That doesn’t stop O’Fallon from being proud to be the birthplace of such a legendary star. I spoke to Brian Keller, a historian in O’Fallon about Holden’s legacy. April 17 is a special day for the city. A proclamation was made declaring it William Holden Day. Below is a copy of the official proclamation I obtained from Keller and the O’Fallon City Council.

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Keller was so kind to speak to me over the phone about O’Fallon’s native son. The town will hosting a special birthday party for Holden complete with a cake. If you live in the area or nearby, you can visit the museum for an open house from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

 

Holden didn’t visit O’Fallon often as he left when he was so young but the town was very proud of his accomplishments. According to Keller, Holden never forgot his birthplace. Holden and his wife, Brenda Marshall, visited O’Fallon in the 1950s and although no photo exists, the trip was documented in the local newspaper.

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The newspaper article states the couple visited First National Bank and ate lunch at the bus station with the board’s president. The bank building is now the location of the O’Fallon Historical Society that has an area dedicated to Holden that includes rare photographs and even his baby bed. Keller says guests walking through it are walking in the same place Holden and Marshall once did.

 

When the town marked its own centennial, it was 1954 the same year Holden won the Oscar for Stalag 17.  Holden was invited to visit O’Fallon for its centennial celebration but wasn’t able to attend. He sent this telegram to the mayor:

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Listen to my full conversation with Keller below:

For more of Holden100, click here.

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WILLIAM HOLDEN STAR OF THE MONTH GUIDE: DAY 3

holden_50sI can’t believe we’re already halfway through William Holden’s Star of the Month! I have loved every minute of it so far. The films curated for his celebration are really diverse that give us a great deep dive into his body of work. The best part has been connecting with so many fans during livetweets of the films. Holden is so beloved and it’s nice to hear from fans and what they pick up while watching his films.

Tonight’s lineup is a blend that showcases Holden as a leading man and his strengths with his leading ladies. The block of films features romantic comedies and dramas.

The film leading primetime is The Moon is Blue, a saucy sex comedy costarring Maggie McNamara and David Niven. The film is notable as being the first post-Hayes Code feature to use the word…virgin. GASP! This was apparently so controversial it led to a lengthy battle with the censors, even the city of Boston, Massachusetts banned the film. The funny thing about the film is that it is very tame when you look at it today but that’s the case with so many classic films. Holden is charming as an architect named Don who tries to seduce McNamara’s character, Patty, but she plans to keep her virginity and the back and forth between the two is great fun. The standout of the film is David Niven who plays another aging playboy and is the father of a woman Holden just broke up with. Niven tries to seduce Patty as well and the battle for her affections between him and Holden is hilarious in its 50s way.

The Moon is Blue airs tonight at 8 PM on TCM.

After The Moon is Blue, TCM is airing a double feature of two films Holden made on location in Hong Kong: The World of Suzie Wong and Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. These two films are notable because it helped spark Holden’s interest in travel and making more films on location. “I find that I’m terribly curious about the world, and about the people in it. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to satisfy that curiosity by traveling both for the production of motion pictures and then after their finished, selling them,” he told Edward R. Murrow on the CBS program Person to Person in the 1950s.

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The World of Suzie Wong is Nancy Kwan’s film debut. Holden plays a struggling artist who finds a muse in Kwan, a sex worker in Hong Kong. The two fall in love but like any love story, it’s not smooth sailing. Kwan shines in this film with so much promise, it’s easy to see why she became one of China’s biggest mainstream stars in America. Holden gives a sincere performance in this film, never looking down at Suzie and her lifestyle but instead has empathy for her and her background. It’s a sweet film that’s not often shown so you definitely want to make it a point to catch it.

The World of Suzie Wong airs at 10 PM tonight on TCM.

After that film, is Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. This romantic drama costarring Jennifer Jones has received a lot of airplay on the network lately and no complaints from here. I love the scenery captured in this film and it’s one I wish I could see in Cinemascope. The sweeping views of Hong Kong blended with the title song make it an irresistible romance even if Jones is playing a half Chinese/half European doctor. I like this Holden performance because even though his character is a bit of a cad, he’s so romantic that it’s easy to see why audiences and women all over the world fell for him. It’s not a perfect film but it has lovely moments and if you’re not in some way moved at the end of it, they check your doctor because you may not have a heart.

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing airs at 12:15 AM on TCM.

The last film I recommend tonight is Apartment for Peggy. Unfortunately, this little drama is in the overnight timeslot at 2:15 AM. Holden was loaned out to 20th Century Fox for this film. Apartment for Peggy is a light hearted film that deals with the heavy post-WWII themes such as returning veterans struggling to find work and a home, parents recovering after losing their children to war, and suicide. The strength in this film is Jeanne Crain’s performance as a lovable and determined young woman trying her best to make a life for her husband (Holden) and their child who’s on the way. This is one of the first films Holden made when he returned from war that showed his strengths as a leading man and the Technicolor also showed his fully featured face.

Apartment for Peggy airs at 2:15 AM on TCM.

I’ll be livetweeting the films tonight on Twitter with the hashtag #Holden100. I hope you’ll join the conversation!

For more of Holden100, click here.

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The Golden Boy’s Golden Hour: William Holden in STALAG 17

This week’s guest blogger is Carley Michelle Hildrebrand of Married at the Movies and the new podcast, Hollywood Scrapbook.

holden_stalag17Oh, William Holden. The things I’ve done for you.

Confession time. I used to drive 20 miles, each way, to take college classes that could easily have been completed at any one of the countless campuses near my home … because this one happened to be the alma mater of William Holden.

The year was 2002 and I had recently seen the Sunset Blvd for the first time and … I was obsessed with William Holden. Now…”obsession” has some very specific symptoms when it comes to fandoms (because, yes, the classic film community is indeed a fandom) and one of them is, of course, an insatiable thirst to consume every existing piece of media even remotely associated with him/her/it. Over. And over. And over.

First on the list was Stalag 17. To this day, that film remains my favorite William Holden performance, and is absolutely one of my top 5 favorite Billy Wilder films. The script, for me, is a thing of wonder. And Holden’s ability to make a wholly unlikable character somehow likable really blew my mind then and, after re-watching it for Diana Bosch’s William Holden blogathon, it’s as potent as ever.

OK, enough about me. Let’s talk Bill.

As mentioned, Holden was raised in Pasadena, California, which was (and still remains to this day) a more cultured, refined option to neighboring Hollywood. Perhaps in a response to that affluent, blue-blooded atmosphere, young Bill (who was a Beedle then, “Holden” came with Hollywood) was something of a teenage rebel. His devil-may-care, reckless nature coupled with his startling good looks made him enormously popular at school, with both boys and girls. As described in one Holden biography, the girls were attracted to his charm and good looks, the boys were attracted to his bad boy image.

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Fourteen-year-old William Beedle in Pasadena, CA.

When Holden graduated from Pasadena City College (go Lancers!), he eventually fell into radio acting, then local theater, and then…Hollywood. (Which was in fact, his mother’s worst nightmare come true.) The road to Hollywood was actually quite easy for the young actor. The road to fame? Not so much.

Holden got his first big break in 1939. Just 21 years old, he starred opposite Barbara Stanwyck (who would become his lifelong friend) in the boxing drama Golden Boy. He seemed poised for stardom, but for the next decade Holden struggled. He served during World War II, and his transition back to Hollywood was…clunky. By the end of the 1940s, things didn’t look too bright for Holden’s career.

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Meanwhile, another soon-to-be lifelong friend, Billy Wilder, was having a bit of a crisis on his latest project. Wilder had just been told that the lead for his latest project with writing partner Charles Brackett, Sunset Blvd (1950).

It had been a long an tricky process for Wilder and Brackett to get their script past the censors given the adult nature of the story (Joe Gillis becomes a gigolo to an aging movie star) and just when production was finally ready to go, his lead actor, Montgomery Clift dropped out of his contract. Clift, who had loved the script, reasoned that he just didn’t didn’t feel comfortable with the character. (If I may add, it was also a possible act of divine intervention: not only was Clift not right for the role, which I think he knew too and is the real reason for backing out, but his studious dissection of scripts and habit of rewriting dialogue would have been a disaster; Wilder’s words were law. No exceptions.)

The point is: Wilder was up a creek.

Forced to pick from what was available at his home studio, Paramount, Wilder cast William Holden who was highly doubtful of his acting abilities in the face of such a complex role. The result was a critical success, an Academy award nomination for best actor, and suddenly Holden found himself in a position he’d never been in before: in demand.

Billy Wilder and Holden had really bonded during the filming of Sunset Blvd., and the two had become close friends. Very close friends. So close in fact, that when Holden asked his friend his opinion on a piece of art he wanted to by, Wilder replied “If I were you– and I am –”

Stalag 17 (1953) had an interesting journey to the big screen. The story is a wartime whodunnit set inside a POW camp. One of the barracks  (“stalag” being German for barrack) is having a big problem with leaked information. A stoolie is definitely on the loose, and the natural suspect is Sgt. J.J. Sefton: a deeply amoral, unlikable opportunist with a black market operation in effect with the Germans. Stalag started off as a Broadway play, which Paramount had optioned, but the studio readers had been unimpressed calling it “monotonous and lacking in action.” Someone else who was impressed by it was William Holden. He’d seen the play on Broadway and walked out after the first act, and he especially hated the lead role of Sgt. J.J. Sefton whom he thought a ‘garden variety conman.’  

When Wilder approached him for the role, after both Charleton Heston and Kirk Douglas declined, Holden told Wilder, “second choice again, huh?”

Wilder retorted with, “It didn’t work out so badly for you last time.”

But in the hands of Wilder, Stalag 17 took on a new  life all its own. Edwin Blum worked with Wilder on the adaptation  (an experience that he, like Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity, had hated) He added new characters, some outdoor action, and most importantly, transformed the the lead role of J.J. Sefton into something much more complex and interesting. It’s also a very balanced film; the moments of comic relief still serve to advance the plot. The outdoor scenes are still confined by barbed wire. The claustrophobia is oppressive, heightening the already considerable nerves of the inmates.

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Speaking of the inmates, Wilder cast a few of the actors from Broadway play which, to some extent, explains the chemistry on film. Their camaraderie was often boisterous and it did eventually get on Holden’s nerves. He reportedly snapped at them, one day, shouting “God dammit, can’t you guys shut up for a minute? Some of us are trying to get some work done!”

A very J.J. Sefton move.

Now, Wilder’s previous film, Ace in the Hole (1951) one of the most searing indictments against the media ever put to film, had gotten him into hot water with some conservative critics who felt Wilder’s take on America’s fascination with sensationalism to be insulting. Wilder’s selection of Stalag 17 as his next project was a very shrewd move, as the story is about as pro-American as it gets while still allowing Wilder plenty of room for his famous cynicism.

J.J. Sefton may be a hero technically, but he’s also the ultimate anti-hero. There’s nothing Sefton does that isn’t calculated for personal gain. Once Sefton is exonerated by his fellow prisoners of any collusion with the Nazis, he takes the opportunity to give what Andrew Sarris called “a properly cynical adieu”: “If I ever run into any of you bums on the street, let’s just pretend we’ve never met before.” And then, Sefton ducks back inside to give them all a charming smile and a farewell salute. Writer Philip French asks, “is this is an oblique profession of love, a tough guy incapable of expressing warm feelings, or a cynical refusal to accept his humanity?

These questions are exactly why Billy Wilder was right in saying no to Holden’s constant requests to make Sefton nicer, or more likable. The result is a powerhouse performance. It simply wouldn’t have worked any other way, and the Holden was roundly praised. Audiences loved it too, and the film became a hit–Wilder’s biggest grossing film for Paramount up to that point. When Awards seasons came along, it was no surprise to anyone the Holden was nominated for an Oscar. (Along with Billy Wilder for direction and Robert Strauss, aka “Animal,” for supporting actor.)

What was a surprise was that he actually won.

Enter Academy Award politics.

The favorite to sweep the 1954 Oscars was Fred Zinnemann From here to Eternity, with Montgomery Clift pretty much the shoe-in to win best actor. The problem was that Burt Lancaster was also nominated for best actor for the same film. For Academy voters, they canceled each other out. William Holden was awarded the honor, some critics saying it being one of the Academy’s notorious “make up” awards for Holden not having won for Sunset Blvd.

One person who believed this was Holden’s wife, Ardis, who flat out told him, basically, “you know, you really didn’t get that for Stalag 17.” It’s hard for me to think of a more unsympathetic, more hostile thing to say to anyone, let alone your own spouse, on the night of their biggest career achievement. Holden was, quite rightly, incensed by her remark. The night that should have been one of the most glorious in his life ended with Holden getting bitterly drunk at an Oscar party and tearing off the front fender of his car when he missed their front driveway. According to the book Some Like it Wilder, “he awoke the next morning, still wearing his tuxedo and sitting in his easy chair with his golden statuette in his lap.”

The role that he didn’t want from the play that he walked out on ended up securing Holden’s place as one the greatest leading men of his generation–and one of the most loved movie stars of all time.

Stalag 17 airs on TCM Monday, April 9th. It’s also available to rent or buy on Amazon Video and currently has a beautiful Blu-ray release from Warner Bros.

Post script: About my going to Holden’s Alma Mater? That was the tip of the iceberg. The first studio I ever lived in was next door to the Alto Nido apartments in Hollywood: Joe Gillis’ apartment building in Sunset Blvd. I told everyone it was because it was such a good deal. But we all know the real reason. 😉

Many thanks to Carley for taking part in Holden100. Follow her on Twitter here.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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WILLIAM HOLDEN STAR OF THE MONTH GUIDE: DAY 2

holden_sunsetTo say this Monday’s lineup of films on TCM for William Holden is perfection is honestly an understatement. It starts off with three essential films in Holden’s body of work. It’s his greatest hits that begins with his breakthrough Sunset Boulevard at 8 PM, followed by his Oscar winning performance in Stalag 17 at 10 PM and then The Bridge on the River Kwai at 12:15 AM, a picture Holden made when he was at the top of his game. But after these three well-known films, you have two lesser known gems that are significant.

Toward the Unknown was the first and only film Holden produced and then there’s Force of Arms, a special film directed by Michael Curtiz. These are two different and special films. In Toward the Unknown, Holden plays a test pilot during the Korean War who was captured, tortured and released from a prison camp. He attempts to clear his name and in this journey, Holden captures his desperation and  stress from it all. The flight sequences are also very impressive for the era. The film isn’t shown as often as it should be and doesn’t have a DVD release, so you’ll definitely want to have it on your radar. It will air at 3:15 AM on Tuesday, April 10.

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Force of Arms is the third pairing of Holden and Nancy Olson. Their first collaborationwas in Sunset Boulevard and in this film it’s nice to see them in a straight-up romantic drama. This movie is so beautiful. In this war movie, Holden is a GI on leave in Italy who meets and falls in love with WAC Olson. Their chemistry together had promise in Sunset Boulevard, and in this film it’s showcased. The film is ripe with emotional, romantic dialogue between the two but what could come off as corny in the hands of other actors is just fine for these two. You get invested in their love story because they’re so good at creating a build up and pay off. To balance the romance, this war film also features some very good action sequences that show what life is like in a war torn country. Force of Arms airs at 5:15 AM on Tuesday, April 10.

As a special feature for this week’s Holden100 guide, I spoke with New York Film Festival director and filmmaker Kent Jones about Holden’s legacy. You can listen to the interview below:

For more of Holden100, click here.

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William Holden is Young and Willing

youngandwilling_posterAs part of Holden100, bloggers are guest posting on Flickin’ Out to give their take on Holden’s career. Karen Burroughs Hannsberry of Shadows and Satin is this week’s guest blogger and she’s looking at an underseen gem of Holden’s early career, Young and Willing.

If you’re a William Holden fan (and, really, how can you NOT be?), you’ve likely enjoyed this handsome and talented actor in such first-rate features as Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953) and Picnic (1955), but you haven’t lived until you’ve seen him in a little-known gem called Young and Willing. Released in 1943, this low-budget comedy focuses on the lives of six struggling, would-be actors and actresses who live in the same New York apartment while hoping for their collective big break on the stage. The screenplay was written by Virginia Van Upp who, just a few years later, would be named Executive Producer of Columbia Pictures, becoming one of only three female producers at the time. But I digress.

Holden is top-billed as Norman Reese, the unspoken leader of the motley crew. The group also consists of Tony Dennison (James Brown) and Marge Benson (Barbara Britton), who are secretly married – an act that’s in direct violation of Norman’s house rule forbidding romantic entanglements; Marge’s sexy and worldly wise sister Kate (Susan Hayward); George Bodell (Eddie Bracken), who’s completely obsessed with Stanislavsky’s Method acting; and Dottie Coburn (Martha O’Driscoll), a lovable airhead with an unutterable crush on Norman and a wealthy dad whose monthly check pays the apartment’s rent.

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Young and Willing is a screwball comedy of the highest order, featuring a variety of wacky characters and zany situations. George, for instance, is usually fully immersed in one character or another, from Othello, to an apple ripening in a “tree,” to Napoleon Bonaparte, complete with an accent that sounds like Charles Boyer. “It certainly never gets tiresome with George around here,” Marge remarks. “You never know when you come home who he’s going to be.”

The basic plot involves the six thespians and their efforts to perform a play for Arthur Kenny (Robert Benchley), a famous Broadway producer (Robert Benchley) who keeps an apartment in the building and occasionally pops in for a visit. Their apartment is located directly above Kenny’s, and they’re known to spontaneously crowd around a hole in the floor to spy on his comings and goings.

holden_youngportraitHolden’s Norman enters about three minutes into the picture. He’s clad in a buttoned-up overcoat with a cravat – very classy, very English-upper-crusty. It’s not until later that we learn he’s only wearing an undershirt beneath the coat because the week’s laundry delivery hasn’t yet arrived. When we meet him, Norman is bemoaning the outcome of his recent audition, for a role that was given to a man who was plainly too old for it.

“You should have seen that ‘juvenile’ that got the part,” he complains. “Ye gods – they had to carry him up on the stage. He must have been 40 years old!”

Norman – who dropped out of dental school to pursue his acting career – is quick-thinking and crafty, with a take-charge personality and an unflappable demeanor. These characteristics come in handy when he’s trying to fend off the apartment’s ditzy landlady, Mrs. Garnett (played to the hilt by Mabel Paige), or keep Dottie’s father from learning about his daughter’s co-ed living situation. When Mrs. Garnett questions Norman about the late rent, he coolly conjures a tall tale, telling her that the money was used to bail Dottie’s father out of jail, where he’d been taken following a car accident he caused while rushing to the bedside of his dying brother. In another scene, when Norman answers the apartment telephone and learns that Dottie’s father is the caller, he adopts an Irish brogue, convincing Mr. Coburn that he’s the building’s janitor. (“It’s after fixin’ a little leak in the radiator that I came up about,” he improvises. “I imagine you’ll like to be speakin’ to your little chickadee. Well, Erin go Bragh, shamrock and shillelaghs.”)

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Throughout the film, Holden displays a natural acting style and a flawless sense of comedic timing, totally holding his own with the showier Eddie Bracken. With his flashing dimples and his hair frequently falling over his forehead, he’s also incredibly easy on the eyes. If you only know Holden from his better-known features, do yourself a favor and check him out in this one. It’s accessible on YouTube – in English and Spanish! – and can also be found for sale on sites like iOffer and Loving the Classics.

You won’t be sorry.

You can follow Karen on Twitter @TheDarkPages. Visit her blog here.

For more of Holden100, click here.

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William Holden Star of the Month Guide: Day 1

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Today kicks off TCM’s month long celebration of William Holden for his centennial. 34 films are scheduled to air Mondays in April. All of them are worth watching but none of us are super human and we’ll miss a few. What I love about the lineup of films is that it contains an array of his work. You get the well-known hits Sunset Boulevard, The Bridge on the River-Kwai, Network and Stalag 17 but there are some lesser known gems like The Fleet’s In, Dear Ruth, Boots Malone and Miss Grant Takes Richmond. William Holden in the 1940s is an era of his body of work that often gets overlooked. We know Holden famously referred to his characters during this time of his life as ‘Smiling Jims’ basically characters that didn’t encounter any real conflict but I think these films showcase an actor whose promise was on display yet no one could have predicted the roles that were to come.

Here are my picks for the first day of the celebration on Monday, April 2nd.

holden_goldenboyThe primetime lineup starts with his first starring role in Golden Boy. If you’ve never seen this film, now is the time. Holden is so young, he’s almost unrecognizable. Even his voice is different. As Joe Bonaparte, Holden brings a combination of cocky naivete and sensitivity to the role of an amateur boxer who dreams of making it big.

Dear Ruth is a sweet romantic comedy costarring Joan Caulfield. This one you have to try to catch because it’s not on DVD and difficult to find! In it, Holden plays a soldier who sets out to meet his pen pal he’s fallen in love with. Unbeknownst to him, Ruth isn’t who he’s been in contact with. It’s actually her kid sister that’s been writing him letters. Holden made more comedies in the early days of his career and his charm is on full display. Plus, he’s in uniform.

The Fleet’s In is notable as being Betty Hutton’s first film and first pairing with Eddie Bracken. Hutton steals the show but Holden is adorable as ever as a lovelorn sailor who is hoping to romance Dorothy Lamour.

Miss Grant Takes Richmond. Before their famous I Love Lucy episode together, L.A. at Last, Holden and Lucille Ball starred in the comedy Miss Grant Takes Richmond. Ball is hilarious as a ditzy secretary who lands a job at a real estate firm. Holden plays her boss but little does she know that the firm is just a front for a large betting operation. If you thought these two had great rapport from I Love Lucy, this is where that laid the groundwork. These two play off each other so well and make this a enjoyable comedy.

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Invisible Stripes. I recently saw this film as part of the Great Holden-Binge-a-thon and it stood out to me. Holden followed Golden Boy with this gritty gangster film opposite George Raft and Humphrey Bogart. As Raft’s younger brother, Holden more than holds his own in Raft’s ‘shadow.’ His character initially comes off as unfavorably but Holden showcases his character’s insecurity as he grapples with trying to be a provider for his fiance without having the means. Raft is an ex-con who is trying to go straight and the two have a great dynamic to pull off a believable bond as brothers.

I hope you get the chance to enjoy all the William Holden April has to offer! I will be livetweeting the films airing in primetime over on Twitter. Keep the conversation going using #Holden100.

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A visit to TCM that I’ll always remember

tcm_techwood.jpgIt was a dreary southern afternoon last month when I visited the home of Turner ClassicMovies. Driving along I-85, you can easily spot Turner’s Techwood Campus. There’s a giant building featuring the logos of their anchor networks including the beloved TCM logo in its classic retro font. I had been itching to visit TCM ever since I moved to Atlanta about a year ago. I was thrilled when I received an email from TCM Backlot informing me that I had won a visit to the set last month. I figured it would be the usual visit of chatting with Ben Manckeiwicz and staff who I have come to know after last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival but NOTHING could have prepared me for the surprise that awaited inside the studio.

The day before the set visit, Ben tweeted a photo of him and Stefanie Powers. She was in the studio recording intros and outros for William Holden’s Star of the Month celebration in April. As you know from this blog, this year is Holden’s centennial. My heart sank with disappointment! THE Stefanie Powers was in my town virtually a mile away from where I was at the time I saw Ben’s tweet. I was working and my office is very close to TCM. I was bummed but I realized if I had met Stefanie Powers, I probably would have been a blubbering mess and I doubt I would have kept it together because of how much I adore Mr. Holden. I made peace with the situation and remembered that the Backlot website will probably have extended footage of their conversation when April rolls around anyway.

When I arrived at the visitor’s lobby, I met with my fellow Backlot members, many of which were from out of town. I didn’t realize this. That’s the power of TCM. It is so beloved that fans are willing to fly out for a short time just to visit the studio for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone was so lovely and excited for what the day would bring. When Yacov from Backlot led us down to the studio, I asked him if he had met Stefanie Powers the day before and he told me that she was still there and we would be meeting her.

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WHOA.

I could not believe it! All of a sudden I got extremely jittery and my heart started beating rapidly. As a journalist, I’ve met many famous people from politicians to actors including some of my favorites and icons of my childhood. I’m usually pretty relaxed about this because over the years it’s become a part of my job. It’s a cool perk but it’s my job. THIS WAS DIFFERENT. First of all, I was in a setting where I could be a fan and that was a nice adjustment. Second, Holden has never been alive in my lifetime. He’s all but a memory and meeting people who actually knew him is extremely rare because they’re aging or have already passed.

When we arrived at the studio, she and Ben were still wrapping up the taping so we stood by waiting. In my mind, I kept reminding myself to stay calm and relaxed but I was freaking out. William Holden means a lot to me in a way that is much different from being “just a fan” but not in a way that’s obsessive. His story has always touched me because he suffered from such a terrible disease most of his life but was able to be a productive member of society despite all of that. Even though as a man, he was an enigma, he changed the way we think of actors and masculinity and he also was an influential force in wildlife conservation. Because of his programs, communities have been enriched and animals have been saved.

I’ve met Ben before at the TCM Classic Film Festival. At my last job, I did the digital campaign for a show that was to include him but due to scheduling conflicts it didn’t work out. Ben is a very nice and professional gentleman. When we went inside the studio, he remembered me and we chatted for a bit…until I saw Stefanie Powers. I don’t know what came over me but when she showed up behind him I just blurted out “Hi Stefanie” as if I knew her. Ben introduced her to all of us and I told her that William Holden is my favorite actor and tried very hard to not let nerves get the best of me. This exact moment was captured on camera and as you can see in this photo, I did a terrible job:

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Stefanie was as nice and gracious as I had hoped. She laughed and said “You have great taste,” in such a beautiful and classy way. You know how some people just radiate with charm and beauty? She has that kind of presence. She followed that up with, let’s talk at lunch. I thought “Oh, how nice that she’s being so nice but we’ll probably not see her later on during this trip.” Oh, how naive and wrong I was!

At lunch, the Backlot members and I sat with Yacov and Ben met us later. Because he had just wrapped up shooting the William Holden segments, I asked him about his research and what stood out to him during his binge watch. TCM will air 34 William Holden films during the month of April. Ben said he watched all the films that would be airing on primetime except for Network and The Moon is Blue. He chose not to watch Network because he has seen it countless times but he could not get a copy of The Moon is Blue in time. Of his rewatch, he walked away with a deeper appreciation for Sunset Boulevard commenting on how good the script is and he added that he was glad the film version of Our Town changed the ending so it wasn’t as sad as the play. What stood out to him as he watch these films was how much Holden’s face had changed due to his alcoholism point out that Holden was in his 50s when he made Network but looks like he’s 100. He said that while he was watching these films, sometimes his wife would walk into the room and not even realize it was a William Holden movie because she couldn’t recognize him. Ben added that even in those parts, Holden was as charming as ever.

As Ben went to throw away his lunch, I walked up to him and asked him if he could introduce me to Stefanie as I am such a big fan of William Holden and he said, “Of course” and asked if I wanted a picture and said he’s make it happen. He took my phone and told me to sit next to her and when I did he called out her name and introduced us. It was at this moment that something happen that I was not prepared for. For some reason my eyes welled up. I wasn’t flat out crying but my emotions did take hold of me as she said hello gave me a hug and posed for our picture. After it was taken, I used the moment to tell her just how much he means to me explaining just how moved I am by his story. She was so sweet and kind. I could tell she was visibly touched by this. I went on to comment about how much I loved her book and how I thought it painted a beautiful picture of their relationship despite its ending and also went told her about how her struggle in Hollywood and her relationship with her mother reminded me of my own also touched me. She asked me about my mom and other questions. I was so moved by this whole exchange. Not only did I get to tell her these deep thoughts and feelings, she took an interest in me. And that meant a great deal. When I asked her what favorite movie of Bill’s is her favorite, without a beat she said Picnic. Someone from TCM came up behind me and said they were getting ready to take the Backlot tour group back, Stefanie told him she’d take me down so she took me and her escort back to the studio and chatted with us on the way back. It was the most surreal thing. I honestly can’t believe it happened.

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Back at the studio, the Backlot producer asked me to film a segment with Ben to be used on social media. I tried to get back on track and be composed but I was a mess. When I sat with Ben as the crew was getting the set and lighting ready, I was visibly frazzled still on the high of speaking with Stefanie that I kept apologizing. It was the most bizarre thing. Ben told me to relax and was so gracious. He is a really nice man and understands what it means to be a TCM fan. He understands that this network means so much to many people because of the connection we have to these movies. It was hard for audiences to accept Ben when he first started as the second host to Robert Osborne but I hope that audiences appreciate him. Watching him film his intros also gave me a deeper appreciation for how hard it is. As an on-camera reporter, I can tell you first hand how difficult it is to be in front of a camera doing a live report but it’s much different to narrate and host. It’s a skill that you can learn but the best ones are the ones who make it look easy and have the “it” factor. Ben has it, and his predecessor Robert excelled in it. What struck me when watching the intros being filmed is the crew. Everyone from the women who brings water to the dolly camera operator is the utmost professional yet they still have fun. Many of them have worked there since the network started which is a testament to the type of community TCM has cultivated. It’s nice to see that a network of such talented people not only feels like a family but is one.

I’d like to thank Ben, Yacov, Turner Classic Movies and the TCM Backlot for such a delightful afternoon that I will never forget. You truly made another dream come true in my life and I’m so grateful.

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