William Holden Wednesday

Here are a couple of William Holden’s TV appearances from the 1950s.   First, Bill appears on the game show “What’s My Line?” and discusses his 1956 film Toward the Unknown, which I watched recently.  It’s an interesting movie about test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in the years just before the formation of NASA.

You can read a review of  Toward the Unknown here.  Although I agree with his points, I think I liked the movie a little more than the reviewer, I suppose because I’m a sucker for movies about pilots (Only Angels Have Wings, Test Pilot, The Right Stuff) and for William Holden.

He was so charming and dreamy!  Such a great smile.

Next up is Holden’s appearance on the “LA at Last” episode of I Love Lucy.  I’ve seen this more times than I can even count, but it never fails to crack me up.  The Hollywood episodes of I Love Lucy are my favorites, especially this one.  William Holden was a very good sport, taking that pie in the face.  His reactions to Lucy’s fake nose are hysterical!


William Holden Wednesday

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)


Today’s movie for William Holden Wednesday is one of the biggest commercial successes of Holden’s career, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  It’s a movie that’s problematic for modern audiences in many ways, most especially in the casting of Jennifer Jones in the role of a Eurasian woman.  The thought of casting anyone but an actor of Asian descent is bizarre to us now, and seeing Jones made up to be half Chinese is jarring.

Still, it’s a movie that had aspirations to open-mindedness, with its exploration of the cultural clashes between East and West and of the racial prejudices of the day.  Plus it’s a romantic and beautiful film, with its scenic vistas of Hong Kong and its gorgeous score by Alfred Newman.  The movie also features a memorable theme song which became a pop hit for various artists in the 1950s and ‘60s.  (Andy Williams’ version is my favorite.)


Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is the story of Han Suyin, a doctor working in a hospital in Hong Kong during the time of China’s communist revolution.  Though she has strong ties with the Chinese side of her heritage, she is also half English and is part of the European set in Hong Kong.

She meets American journalist Mark Elliott (Holden) at a cocktail party and they quickly make a connection.  In spite of her hesitation – she is a widow whose focus is now her work, he’s a married-but-separated man whose wife won’t give him a divorce – a passionate romance soon blossoms between the two.


Holden and Jones are at their most gorgeous in this movie, and in spite of the fact that they couldn’t stand each other in real life (about which more below) they have great chemistry.

That’s especially apparent during a scene on the beach, with the pair of them in bathing suits.  Holden lights Jones’s cigarette with his in the most blatant use of smoking as a substitute for onscreen consummation since Paul Henreid and Bette Davis blew smoke in each other’s faces in Now, Voyager.  See it below beginning at about 8:30.

It’s a little cheesy, sure, but also pretty steamy and suggestive.  With Picnic’’s release the same year, 1955 was a good year for Holden’s image as a sex symbol.  As I said a couple of weeks ago, one of the nicest things about Bill Holden is how often he was shirtless in his movies!



In the end pressure from both Suyin’s Chinese relatives and the prejudices of the European community in Hong Kong put a strain on the couple’s romance before the dangers of wartime tear them even further apart.  I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I will say that I can never get through this movie without having a good weep.

But back to the gossip!  From Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas:

The love scenes between Holden and Jennifer Jones evoked tears from millions of American women, but the film was a rare instance when he lacked affection for his leading lady.  Miss Jones complained about her makeup, her costumes, the dialogue; and when Holden failed to sympathize, she complained about him.  “I’m going to tell David about this,” she said repeatedly; and her husband, David O. Selznick, sent a stream of memos to Fox about her complaints.

The acrimony reached the point where the two stars were scarcely speaking to each other except during their love scenes. Holden decided to seek a truce, and he presented Miss Jones with a bouquet of white roses.  She threw them in his face.

Yikes!  I’ve read elsewhere that Jones was so disturbed by Holden’s reputation for romancing his leading ladies off-screen as well as on that she did things like chew garlic prior to scenes in which she and Holden had to kiss.  Can you believe it?  Given her obnoxious behavior, I’m not sure garlic breath was the most off-putting thing about Jennifer Jones.  She probably needn’t have worried about Bill throwing himself at her feet.  She was no Audrey Hepburn, let’s put it that way!


While Holden may not have fallen for his co-star in this movie, he did fall in love with Hong Kong and eventually owned an apartment there.  In 1960 he starred in another story of interracial romance also filmed in Hong Kong, The World of Suzie Wong, and that time he had an Asian co-star in the beautiful Nancy Kwan.

See you next Wednesday for more William Holden!

William Holden Wednesday: On the set of Sabrina

I might’ve known that as soon as I committed to doing a weekly series on the blog, life would throw a few personal and work emergencies at me!  Because of all that, this week’s offering is going to be low on content, but high in pretty pictures.

William Holden and Audrey Hepburn fell in love while filming 1954’s SabrinaIt didn’t work out in the end, of course.  He was married, albeit unhappily, and though he wanted to leave his wife for her Audrey broke off the relationship.

Sabrina 1

From Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden by Bob Thomas:

Ernie Lehman [Sabrina’s screenwriter] recognized what was happening when he dropped into Bill’s dressing room one day.  Lehman had been working so hard on rewrites of the Sabrina script that he had broken down in a weeping fit in a corner of the stage.  “Go home and get some rest; you deserve it,” [director Billy] Wilder said.  Before leaving, Lehman wanted to say goodbye to Bill Holden.

He walked into Holden’s dressing room unannounced.  He found Bill and Audrey standing a foot apart facing each other, their eyes meeting.  Lehman said his farewell and departed, realizing that something profound was happening between Bill Holden and Audrey Hepburn.

In these pictures from the set of Sabrina, it’s pretty clear to us, too.  They look so besotted with one another.








William Holden eventually divorced his wife and went on to have other relationships (including one with Stefanie Powers, a/k/a Jennifer Hart), but he called Audrey the love of his life.  He was so wrecked by working with her again on Paris When it Sizzles ten years after Sabrina that he pretty much spent the whole time intoxicated.

A sad end to their relationship, but the chemistry between Holden and Hepburn in Sabrina is delightful.  For me the most enjoyable parts of the movie are their scenes together, beginning when Sabrina returns home from Paris a sophisticated and elegant young lady.


We’re supposed to root for Sabrina to get together with Humphrey Bogart’s Linus Larrabee, but I’m afraid I’m always a little disappointed when she doesn’t get together with Holden’s David Larrabee.  Even though I know he’s a shallow playboy who would’ve probably broken Sabrina’s heart, I still find him much more appealing with Hepburn than the miscast and slightly ancient Bogart.

More from Golden Boy:

One scene called for [Holden] to vault over a fence as he approached Audrey.  He performed the leap with total ease on the first take.  “That was good, Bill,” said Wilder, “but a little too fast.  Could you do it a little slower, please.”  To the astonishment of the director and everyone else, Holden repeated the leap and seemed almost to pause in the air before landing.”

It’s a great moment, and one of my favorites in the movie.  Sabrina’s dream must truly seem to her to finally be coming true, with this handsome man she’s loved for years entranced by her and blithely leaping over a wall to take her in his arms.  You can see it below, at about 4:40.

Oh, that dress by Hubert de Givenchy!  It’s the most divine gown ever made for the movies.  Or maybe just the most divine gown ever made, period.

For a more detailed and insightful look at Sabrina, I recommend Jacqueline Lynch’s two-part discussion of the film at Another Old Movie Blog. She captures the mid-century dreaminess of the movie so well.  She says:

It is a time when dancing was a social accomplishment and seduction took time. We see it is a time of a single strand of pearls and strapless evening gowns with full skirts. Young people at this period did not want to be young, for to be young was to be gauche. Young people yearned for sophistication and experience, to emulate their elders, as Sabrina does when she spies the party from the branches of a tree on the estate.

Check it out, it’s a lovely read about a lovely film.  More Bill Holden next week, and something more substantial than pictures and quotes, I hope!

William Holden Wednesday

I thought it would be fun to try another monthly series, since I haven’t done that – or much of anything on this blog – in a long while.  So, during the month of February I’ll be writing a little something each Wednesday about a man who has long been one of my favorite actors in a low key kind of way, but who has lately become my #1 classic movie obsession – William Holden.

Here he is in New York during the filming of the first movie I ever saw him in, Sabrina. I love this picture!  Beautiful city, beautiful car, beautiful man.

In many ways Bill Holden was the quintessential All-American leading man for the 1950s, able to portray wealthy playboys, hardened soldiers, idealistic journalists, ambitious businessmen, and aimless wanderers with equal ease.  He acted in war movies and melodramas, as well as in light-as-air romantic comedies and dark film noirs.  With his muscular build, strong jaw, deep voice and sensitive yet knowing eyes, Holden embodied much of the post-war masculine ideal.  I’ve often thought that Jon Hamm’s Don Draper has more than a little William Holden in him.

Holden was a very versatile actor and one who, once he got away from the fluffy, Mr. Good Guy roles given to him by Columbia Studios in the 1940s, made some very interesting and risky choices.  He often played world-weary men with a bit of a cynical edge — or a lot of a cynical edge, as in Stalag 17.

(I’ll be honest, though, I like a lot of those fluffy, Mr. Good Guy roles, too!  Meet the Stewarts and Father is a Bachelor, for instance, are very pleasant and fun to watch, even if they aren’t great filmmaking.)

On a shallower note, Holden wasn’t exactly hard to look at!  He was incredibly handsome, especially in his movies from the 1950s.  He had the most gorgeous, dreamy smile.  You can see that swoon-causing grin in this video of him giving Audrey Hepburn her Oscar.  How adorable are those two?  Super adorable!  (More on the love affair between Hepburn and Holden later this month.)

Holden was quite the hunky sex symbol, often appearing on screen shirtless.  In Picnic, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Boulevard and many more, if Bill was on screen that shirt was coming off.  I can’t exactly complain about that aspect of his screen presence!

Annex - Holden, William (Picnic)_01

Holden didn’t seem to be stuffy, or to take himself too seriously.  The episode of I Love Lucy in which he guest stars is my favorite from the entire series, in large part because of how much fun he is in it.


He led a fascinating off-screen life and was an intelligent man with many varied interests.  The wildlife foundation which bears his name is testament to just one of those interests.  Of course his life had a dark side too – an unhappy marriage, multiple infidelities, and the alcoholism which would eventually lead to a tragic and senseless death at too young an age.

But it’s William Holden’s many wonderful movies and fine performances I want to focus on this month, because ultimately they’re why he should be remembered and celebrated.

For the first William Holden Wednesday of the month I want to talk briefly about two movies from his career, made 20 years apart.  Looking  at these two films together, you can’t help but marvel at just how much the world and the movie industry changed between the 1950s and the 1970s.

The Moon is Blue (1953)

The Moon is Blue stars William Holden along with Maggie McNamara (probably best remembered for her role in 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain) and David Niven.  It’s an innocent little romantic comedy when seen today, but when it came out in 1953 it was terribly scandalous.

the moon is blue

The characters use the words “virgin” and “pregnant.”  McNamara’s character bluntly asks Holden’s if he has a mistress, and hopes he won’t be too bored with her virginity since she’d enjoy a little affection, even if she doesn’t want to go all the way.

It’s implied that William Holden’s character has slept with his ex-girlfriend, who tries to lure him back by meeting him dressed in nothing but a mink coat. “She has a very pretty chin,” says McNamara, looking at the girl’s picture. “She’s very pretty all over,” says Holden appreciatively.

David Niven is the ex-girlfriend’s playboy father, who is much less distressed by his daughter’s shenanigans than he ought to be.  Niven has some great lines in this movie, and he delivers them with his usual polished wit.

moon is blue

The film’s director, Otto Preminger, refused to change the play on which the movie was based in order to clean up the story’s “immoral” words and attitudes, thus forgoing the approval of the almighty Hays office.  Watching the movie now it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about. It’s fairly tame and mildly cute, though Maggie McNamara is a little on the annoying side. For me it’s the presence of Holden at his most gorgeous and Niven at his most roguish that makes the movie worth checking out.

Plus, it’s an interesting bit of Hollywood history, since it was one of the first movies to take a crack at the Production Code that had been in effect since 1934. Here’s an excerpt. Don’t you feel faint when the word “virgin” is uttered? Shocking, my dears, just shocking!

Breezy (1973)

Fast-forward 20 years, and oh how things have changed!  Breezy, directed by Clint Eastwood, is far less innocent and tame than The Moon is Blue, and yet to my knowledge it caused no great scandal upon its release.  On the contrary,  Eastwood’s biographer Richard Schickel believed that the sexual content of the film’s love scenes was too tame, which probably led to the movie not being a success when it came out.  This in spite of nudity and some frank, if not explicit, sexuality.


Breezy is the story of a sweet-natured, free-spirited 19-year-old hippie (Kay Lenz in the title role) who meets and falls in love with a jaded middle-aged man played by William Holden.

Holden is bitterly divorced and has no interest in committing to another woman or in opening his heart to anyone again.  Lenz’s Breezy, on the other hand, is all open heart, full of love and hope in spite of the sadness in her past.   Against his will and better judgment, and in the face of ridicule from his friends, the fiftysomething man finds himself falling hard for the wise-beyond-her-years flower child.  Here’s the trailer.

Breezy is surprisingly sweet and oddly romantic in spite of the May/December (really more like February/December!) angle.  Although Holden’s looks weren’t what they used to be, years of alcoholism having taken their toll, he was still a wonderful actor.  It was a brave role for him to have taken on, I think, and his portrayal is touching in its vulnerability.  I wasn’t sure I’d like Breezy when I first started watching it, I suppose because I feared a love story about a very young woman and a much older man might be creepy or exploitative.  It didn’t strike me that way, however. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The Moon is Blue is available from the Warner Archive and also airs on TCM now and then.  Breezy is available on DVD and streams free for Amazon Prime members.  Both are well worth checking out.

See you next week for more William Holden!