Alan Ladd (1913-1964)

Alan Ladd
Alan Ladd
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Alan Ladd was an American film actor who became a major Hollywood star during the 1940's and 1950's. He was in the top ten money earners list three times during this period, in 1947, 1953 and 1954 and he became well known for his "restrained" on screen masculinity, far more subtle than many of his peers.

Not a tall man, he was frequently paired with the similarly diminutive Veronica Lake in hit films noirs such as 'The Glass Key' in 1942 and 'The Blue Dahlia' in 1946.Though never nominated for an Academy Award, Ladd was named the Most Popular Male Star in the Photoplay Awards in 1953,and the following year, he won a Golden Globe award as World Film Favorite.

Although he was a great noir actor, the role for which he will always be remembered was as the title character in 'Shane' in 1953, considered to be one of the greatest of all Westerns.


He was born Alan Walbridge Ladd on September 3, 1913 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His father, who was an accountant, died from a heart attack when Alan was four and he was brought up by his mother, who was English, in a poverty stricken home. Undernourishment caused him to grow up small of stature and to a youth marred by being ridiculed by his peers for his lack of height.

His mother married again, to a painter and decorator called Jim Beavers, and in 1920 the family moved to California, settling first in a transient camp in Pasadena, then moving to Hollywood, where Beavers found short-time work painting movie sets. The family was abjectly poor and Ladd later recounted how the family subsisted on potato soup for long periods.

When Ladd was fourteen, he began a part-time job handling produce crates for a grocery store. He gradually built up his strength and became a keen athlete and swimmer. In 1930, aged 16, he began attending North Hollywood High School.where he first developed an interest in the stage and he became a keen member of the school dramatic society. He also developed into a top class swimmer and diver and was in serious training for the 1932 Olympic Games until injury prevented him from continuing.

On leaving school Ladd determined on an acting career and whilst trying to make his breakthrough, took a series of part time jobs, including lifeguard and opening his own hamburger stall, called Tiny's Patio, his family nickname.

Early Acting Career

Ladd briefly joined the acting school at Universal Pictures, financed by a family friend, and worked for a time at Warner Brothers as a carpenter and as a studio grip. He was relentless in his pursuit of acting opportunities but was initially refused movie roles due to his light coloring which was felt to photograph badly. He worked hard on improving his speaking voice and he gradually began to get work in small theaters, and then minor roles on radio, first on local productions and then on national broadcasts such as 'Lux Radio Theater'.

As he became better known, he started getting small walk-on roles in movies such as 'Tom Brown of Culver' and 'Island of Lost Souls' in 1932, 'Pigskin Parade' in 1936 and 'The Last Train from Madrid' in 1937. He joined the Sue Carol Agency in 1939 and began to get regular, better quality roles in movies such as 'Rulers of the Sea' in 1939, 'Blame It on Love', 'Those Were the Days!' and 'Meet the Missus' in 1940, and in 1941 he played a newspaper reporter, uncredited, in 'Citizen Kane'.

Sue Carol Agency

In 1942 Ladd appeared in his best role to date in RKO's 'Joan of Paris' starring Thomas Mitchell. He performed well in a small role. Two months after the film was released he married his agent, Sue Carol and it proved a pivotal move for his career. Sue Carol, an ex-actress herself, was an enthusiastic promoter of her clients and she obtained for Ladd a studio contract with Paramount. He immediately began to be offered more substantial roles, and he made the most of them.

The role which made him a star came almost immediately. In 'This Gun for Hire' in 1942 Ladd gave a stylish performance which gelled perfectly with his new co-star, Veronica Lake. The chemistry between the two blonde stars was immensely appealing to audiences and the two went on to make six further films together.

It was the start of a golden period for Ladd. During 1942 he was reunited with Veronica Lake in the classic noir 'The Glass Key' and also played his first role as leading man in the gangster movie 'Lucky Jordan'.

Ladd put his career on hold when America entered the Second World War and he spent most of 1943 in military service in the Army Air Force before being honorably discharged with recurring digestive problems.

Hollywood Stardom

For over a decade Ladd's career continued to go from strength to strength and he starred in many films for Paramount, quickly establishing himself as one of the top leading men in Hollywood. In 1946 alone he produced excellent performances starring in three hit movies: 'Two Years before the Mast', the spy thriller 'O.S.S' and another classic film noir opposite Veronica Lake, 'The Blue Dahlia'.

The entrepreneurial Ladd took advantage of his new-found fame and he formed his own production company, Mayfair Productions, and in 1947 started his own syndicated radio series, "Box 13" about the escapades of newspaperman-turned-mystery novelist, Dan Holliday, played of course, by Ladd.

His movies remained on the Top Ten box-office list in 1947, 1953, and 1954, as he played a succession of highly successful, adventure-packed, tough-guy roles in movies such as 'Whispering Smith' in 1948, 'The Great Gatsby' in 1949, and 'Botany Bay' and 'Desert Legion' in 1953.


Ladd's most famous role came in 1953 in 'Shane', playing the starring role of the mysterious gunman who uses his skills to help a family of settlers in their battle with a land baron. The last scene has become legendary with the young boy plaintively crying "Shane! Come back!" as the heroic Ladd rides into the sunset. The movie is considered a Western masterpiece and retains its powerful impact to this day.

'Shane' marked the highpoint of Ladd's career and his movies during the rest of his career did not live up to its high standards. Ladd parted company with Paramount due to financial disputes and he formed a new production company, Jaguar Productions, in 1953. His wife and agent, Sue Carol, negotiated a contract for three pictures with Albert R. Broccoli's recently formed Warwick Films on condition that Ladd's personal screenwriter Richard Maibaum co-write the films. The result was three films of good quality, made in England for tax reasons: 'Paratrooper' in 1953 (also known as The Red Beret') and 'Hell below Zero' and 'The Black Knight' in 1954.

The movies in the latter part of his career were generally mediocre such as 'The McConnell Story' in 1955 and 'The Proud Rebel' in 1958. An exception was 'Boy on a Dolphin' in 1957 in which he co-starred with Sophia Loren in her debut English language film. Also well received was the racially themed Korean War drama 'All the Young Men' in 1960, opposite Sidney Poitier.


Alan Ladd was a troubled man. Aged four, he had seen his father collapse and die from a heart attack . At age five, Ladd and a friend playing with matches, accidentally burned down the family's apartment. He had a poverty stricken childhood when he had to contribute to the family income by taking odd jobs such as delivering papers and fruit picking. His stepfather died shortly after Ladd's career had begun to take off and Ladd had to look after his mother who was an alcoholic. She committed suicide in 1938 and Ladd fought with depression for much of his adult life.

Ladd married twice, firstly in 1936 to Marjorie Jane Harrold, and the couple had one son. In 1942 he married his agent, Sue Carol, an ex actress 10 years his senior. The couple had a son and a daughter and the marriage lasted until his death. In 1955 Ladd had an affair with June Allyson, his co star in the McConnell Story'. The end of the affair accelerated and deepened Ladd's melancholia.

Throughout his life, Ladd suffered a series of illnesses and accidents. He also suffered badly from insomnia and found solace in sedatives and an ever increasing dependence on alcohol.

In November, 1962 he made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and was found unconscious after shooting himself. The incident was covered up as an accident by the studio and Ladd went on to appear in 'The Carpetbaggers' in 1964. It was his last screen role and was released after his death.

Alan Ladd died on January 29, 1964 in Palm Springs, California of an overdose of pills and alcohol, aged 50 years. His death, although suspected to be suicide was officially ruled to be accidental. He was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

Alan Ladd Academy Awards

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Alan Ladd Filmography

Tom Brown of Culver
Once in a Lifetime (uncredited)
Island of Lost Souls (uncredited)
Saturday's Millions (uncredited)
Pigskin Parade (uncredited)
The Last Train from Madrid (uncredited)
All Over Town (uncredited)
Hold 'Em Navy (uncredited)
Born to the West (credit only)
The Goldwyn Follies (uncredited)
Come On, Leathernecks! (uncredited)
Freshman Year (uncredited)
The Mysterious Miss X (uncredited)
Hitler - Beast of Berlin
Rulers of the Sea
American Portrait
Meat and Romance
Unfinished Rainbows
Blame It on Love
The Green Hornet (uncredited)
Brother Rat and a Baby (uncredited)
In Old Missouri
The Light of Western Stars
Gangs of Chicago (uncredited)
Cross-Country Romance (uncredited)
Those Were the Days!
Captain Caution
The Howards of Virginia (uncredited)
Ellery Queen, Master Detective (unconfirmed) (uncredited)
Meet the Missus
Victory (uncredited)
Her First Romance
I Look at You
Petticoat Politics
Citizen Kane (uncredited)
The Black Cat
Paper Bullets
The Reluctant Dragon
They Met in Bombay (uncredited) (unconfirmed)
Great Guns (uncredited)
Cadet Girl (uncredited)
Military Training (uncredited)
Joan of Paris
This Gun for Hire
The Glass Key
Lucky Jordan
Letter from a Friend
Skirmish on the Home Front
And Now Tomorrow
Salty O'Rourke
Two Years Before the Mast
The Blue Dahlia
My Favorite Brunette
Wild Harvest
Beyond Glory
Whispering Smith
Eyes of Hollywood
The Great Gatsby
Chicago Deadline