WILLIAM HOLDEN: THE JOURNEY
FROM GOLDEN BOY TO CRAGGY, MIDDLE-AGED MAN
My New York Times interview
with William Holden was published in 1976. Even though visibly hung
over, he was both gracious and candid. Five years later, Holden
bled to death as a result of a fall he'd taken in his Hollywood
home. --Guy Flatley
"I would rather have one minute at
this age than a month at 21," said William Holden, who was
Hollywoods earnestly grinning boy-next-door, the sensitive
lad who fell under Barbara Stanwyck's spell in "Golden Boy"
(pictured at left) until he weathered into the tough cynic of "Sunset
Boulevard," "Stalag 17" and "Bridge on the River
Kwai." Beginning Sunday, at the Sutton Theater, he can be seen
as the decidedly mature, slightly dissipated husband and father
who philanders with Faye Dunaway in "Network." The film,
written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, is a tragicomic
grenade aimed at the television industry, a sweeping indictment
of behind-the-scene manipulators whom the film holds responsible
for the creation of an entire generation of apathetic, brainwashed
At breakfast a few days ago, Mr. Holden nibbled on a piece of toast,
chain-smoked, reflected on television and movies and on how it feels
to be going on 59. "Aging is an inevitable process," he
said, his blue eyes alert in a thickly fleshed, still handsome face.
"I surely wouldnt want to grow younger. The older you
become, the more you know; your bank account of knowledge is much
richer. In Network Im described as a craggy, middle-aged
man, and I cant deny the truth of that. Its not an undue
Despite Mr. Holdens belief that his role in "Network"
is the most rewarding assignment he has had in years, he does not
share Paddy Chayefskys wholesale condemnation of televisions
news coverage. "I can remember nights when the networks came
through with footage showing the tragedy of Danang, with the blood
of civilians flowing in the streets, and they did it right now.
But you have to take a lot of pap, too; a naked woman riding a bike
in Central Park is considered red-hot news on television."
are only snippets of nudity in "Network." Yet the scene
in which the single-minded Miss Dunaway, as a young, predatory executive,
makes love to Mr. Holden while prattling passionately of ratings
and sitcoms would have stunned audiences back in 1939, when the
wholesomely shy actor became an overnight star in "Golden Boy."
"In general, I dont care for scenes of copulation,"
he said, lighting another cigarette. "Certain functions of
the human body are bloody private. But that particular scene was
a confirmation of the weirdness of Dianas character, and it
was sad, funny-sad. It was a valid scene and I think it is important
that creative storytellers have the freedom to express themselves.
When we made The Moon is Blue, we couldnt get
a seal of approval because we used the words virgin
Mr. Holden is an urbane businessman with residences in Palm Springs,
Geneva and Kenya. He is also the divorced father of three grown
sons and, like Max Schumacher in "Network," he projects
the image of a decent but weary man of the modern world. "Im
a pretty fair interpreter of a certain kind of contemporary character,"
he said. "Im not a classic actor, dealing in tragedy.
Most actors have a specific corridor, and within the limits of that
corridor they travel the course of their career. I would not put
on the beard Charlton Heston wears, or the wigs or the toga. Thats
not my bag.
"For me, acting is not an all-consuming thing, except for the
moment when Im actually doing it. There is a point beyond
acting, a point where living becomes important. When youre
making a movie, you get up in the morning and you put on a cloak;
you create emotions within yourself, send gastric juices rushing
up against the lining of your stomach. It has to be manufactured."
Turning on the gastric juices was never more of a strain than in
"The Towering Inferno." "I was just somebody pointing
out there were fire extinguishers on the wall. Faye Dunaway and
I were talking about that movie not long ago, recalling how we sat
across the table from each other, our eyes glazing over as we mouthed
a lot of expository dialogue. Then, when they edited the film, they
decided they didnt need all that talk, that it was just slowing
down what people had come to see--the big disaster.
"I like to get into a situation that is real, where I can say,
Heres a chance to react as a human being, not some wound-up
doll or robot that goes round and round a track, or a cardboard
cut-out like the character I played in 'The Towering Inferno.
Everyone knows the star of that movie was a burning building."