Alan Ladd (1913-1964)
Alan Ladd was an American film actor whose magnetic onscreen charisma and blonde good looks, helped to make him a major star in the decades after World War II. He naturally conveyed an air of tension and vulnerablility in his acting which revealed part of his own troubled personality.
His most famous film was 'Shane' in 1964 in which he played the loner, entering peoples' lives and righting wrongs, then, still a loner, leaving them all behind. The movie was a classic and was ideally suited to Ladd's subtle, melancholy style. He was famous for his emotionless, deadpan demeanor and small (5' 6") stature. In many of his love scenes the actress had to stand in a trench or Ladd on a step to negate their height difference.
BiographyAlan Ladd was born Alan Walbridge Ladd, Jr. in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on September 3, 1913 to an American father and English mother. His father died unexpectedly when Ladd was four and when his mother married again, the family relocated to North Hollywood, California. Money was short and Ladd learned early to supplement the family income with jobs such as delivering papers and picking fruit.
Ladd was undersized even as a boy and his nickname was 'Tiny' but he was an outstanding athlete, particularly at swimming and diving. He was good enough to be considered a hopeful for the 1932 Olympics until an injury prevented further progress.
His first brush with acting was in the school dramatic society and he decided that would be his career. When he left school in the midst of the Great Depression he got any sort of work he could including lifeguard and gas pump attendant until, still intent on acting as a career, he joined the Universal Pictures studio school for actors. When Universal dropped him for being too short he persisted and started working in radio for which his rich voice was ideally suited.
In October, 1936 Ladd married Marjorie Jane Harrold and a year later they had their first child, Alan Ladd, II. He went through an emotionally disastrous period in 1937 when his stepfather died suddenly and his mother, who was depressive, committed suicide by taking poison. Ladd found work for Warner Brothers as a grip and then appeared in a succession of films large and small doing first just walk-on roles, then minor speaking roles such as the reporter who says "Or Rosebud" at the end of 'Citizen Kane' in 1941.
The agent who was finding him work at this time was the ex-actress Sue Carol and in 1942 Ladd divorced Marjorie and married her. They went on to have two children, Alana and David.
Almost immediately the actor got his big break with Paramount Picturesí 'This Gun for Hire', in which he played the paid killer, Raven. The combination of Ladd and his co-star Veronica Lake proved extremely popular. They matched each other in being short in stature, and giving off a cool vulnerability, and they were successfully teamed again that year in 'The Glass Key' and later in several other movies including the well-received 'The Blue Dahlia' in 1948.
Although Ladd was drafted in January 1943 he was discharged after less than a year after being diagnosed with an ulcer and a double hernia and he was able to concentrate on his rapidly improving movie career. As well as his films noir with Lake he made a number of adventure movies in Eastern settings, such as 'China' in 1943, 'Calcutta' in 1947 and 'Saigon' in 1948. He became one of Paramount's most popular stars and was included in Hollywood's Top Ten box-office attractions list in 1947, 1953, and 1954. Throughout the 1940's and into the 1950's he continued to play all action, tough-guy roles such as 1948's 'Whispering Smith' and 'Appointment with Danger' in 1951. In 1949 he played the featured role of Jay Gatsby in 'The Great Gatsby' but the reviews were disappointing.
In 1953, after a series of unmemorable films, Ladd was given the opportunity to excel in the Western movie which was to become an instant classic, 'Shane'. In it he portrays perfectly the classical American hero, a man of action, not of words, who arrives from nowhere, uses violence for a good cause, and then moves on, always alone, but leaving behind his legend. The film, which co-starred Jean Arthur, Van Heflin and Jack Pallance, was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was a mammoth box-office hit and is listed at No. 45 on the American Film Institute's list of Top 100 movies.
Ladd continued appearing in movies through the 1950's and early 1960's, mainly very average action thrillers or Westerns such as 'Drum Beat' in 1954, 'Hell on Frisco Bay' and 'The McConnell Story' in 1955, 'The Badlanders' in 1958 and 'Guns of the Timberland' in 1960. He never again reached the heights of 'Shane'. Towards the end of the 1950's he became depressive and developed an alcohol problem. His features became puffy and he lost his looks. He had a failed affair with June Allyson, his co-star in 'The McConnell Story' which contributed to his depressive state.
In November 1962, he made a failed suicide attempt and was found lying unconscious with a bullet wound near his heart.
The following year Ladd played in 'The Carpetbaggers', as a supporting actor but he did not live to see the movie released.
Alan Ladd died at the age of 50 on January 29, 1964 in Palm Springs, California, from an overdose of alcohol and sedatives. His death was almost certainly suicide but he could have been saved if he had seriously sought help either at a California inpatient alcohol addiction rehab or at any of the simple rehab facilities in the States. He was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Alan Ladd Academy AwardsNo Nominations:
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
Meat and Romance
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!
The Howards of Virginia (uncredited)
Ellery Queen, Master Detective (unconfirmed) (uncredited)
Meet the Missus
Her First Romance
I Look at You
Citizen Kane (uncredited)
The Black Cat
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
Letter from a Friend
Skirmish on the Home Front
And Now Tomorrow
Two Years Before the Mast
The Blue Dahlia
My Favorite Brunette
Eyes of Hollywood
The Great Gatsby
Captain Carey, U.S.A.
Appointment with Danger
The Iron Mistress
Thunder in the East
The Red Beret
Hell Below Zero
The Black Knight
The McConnell Story
Hell on Frisco Bay
A Cry in the Night (voice) (uncredited)
The Big Land
Boy on a Dolphin
The Deep Six
The Proud Rebel
The Man in the Net
Guns of the Timberland
All the Young Men
One Foot in Hell
Orazi e Curiazi
13 West Street