William Holden is one of my very favourite actors, and during his lifetime, he was one of Hollywood’s favourites too. During the 1950s, he was a huge box-office draw, and the many films he made include such classics as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Blvd., Network and Stalag 17 (for which he won an Academy Award). Handsome, masculine and talented, William Holden nevertheless struggled with chronic alcohol addiction for much of his life. This book is a respectful biography of the great actor, and I enjoyed reading it very much, although it was hard not to feel sad at the damage that he was doing to his body and by extension, his career and his personal relationships.
The book is an easy read, and is never dull. However, in some aspects, it was more of an overview of events – for instance, Holden’s childhood and adolescence is covered in a couple of short chapters, although as Holden was a private man, he might have preferred it that way. Some of his film also didn’t even get a mention, although all of the high points in his career are covered. I loved reading about his career, and the various films he made, both successful and less so. He came across as I have always imagined him to be – a very gifted actor, with a strong sense of right and wrong (no, he wasn’t perfect, but why should we expect him to be?). There is no escaping the effect of his addiction however, and it would probably be impossible to tell his life story without it.
I did feel a sense of sadness while reading, probably because I knew how it would end – with Holden’s death at the age of 63, when he slipped on a rug in his home and hit his head. His body was not immediately discovered, and this is something that always saddens me when I watch his films or read about him. I am glad that the book dedicated time to his career and the fine work he did in films, rather than being exploitative.
As far as biographies go, this was a good read, which I would recommend to fans. As mentioned earlier, it is thin on detail in some parts, but overall, a well-rounded story of a fascinating life.