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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 Hollywood’s 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 blobs.

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 wouldn’t want to grow younger. The older you become, the more you know; your bank account of knowledge is much richer. In ‘Network’ I’m described as a craggy, middle-aged man, and I can’t deny the truth of that. It’s not an undue description."

Despite Mr. Holden’s belief that his role in "Network" is the most rewarding assignment he has had in years, he does not share Paddy Chayefsky’s wholesale condemnation of television’s 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."

There 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 don’t 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 Diana’s 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 couldn’t get a seal of approval because we used the words ‘virgin’ and ‘seduced.’"

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. "I’m a pretty fair interpreter of a certain kind of contemporary character," he said. "I’m 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. That’s not my bag.

"For me, acting is not an all-consuming thing, except for the moment when I’m actually doing it. There is a point beyond acting, a point where living becomes important. When you’re 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 didn’t 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, ‘Here’s 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."