Alan Walbridge Ladd (September 3, 1913 - January 29, 1964) was an American film actor and one of the great celebrities of the 1940s and early 1950s. After this, his fame diminished, though he continued to appear in popular films until his premature death.
Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He was the only child of Ina Raleigh Ladd and Alan Ladd, Sr. He was of English ancestry. His father died when he was four, and his mother relocated to Oklahoma City where she married Jim Beavers, a housepainter. The family then moved again to North Hollywood, California where Ladd became a high school swimming and diving champion and participated in high school dramatics at North Hollywood High School, graduating on February 1, 1934. He opened his own hamburger and malt shop, which he called Tiny's Patio. He worked briefly as a studio carpenter (as did his stepfather) and for a short time was part of the Universal Pictures studio school for actors. But Universal decided he was too blond and too short and dropped him.
Intent on acting, he found work in small theatres. He had short term stints at MGM and RKO, and eventually started getting steady work on radio.
Ladd was heard on radio by the agent Sue Carol who signed him to her books and enthusiastically promoted her new client, starting with Rulers of the Sea, in which he played a character named "Colin Farrell." Ladd began by appearing in dozens of films in small roles, including Citizen Kane, in which he played a newspaper reporter towards the end of the film. He first gained some wide recognition with a featured role in the wartime thriller Joan of Paris, 1942.
For his next role Sue Carol found a vehicle which made Ladd's career, Graham Greene's This Gun for Hire in which he played "Raven," a hitman with a conscience. "Once Ladd had acquired an unsmiling hardness, he was transformed from an extra to a phenomenon. Ladd's calm slender ferocity make it clear that he was the first American actor to show the killer as a cold angel." - David Thomson (A Biographical Dictionary of Film, 1975)
Both the film and Ladd's performance played an important role in the development of the "gangster" genre: "That the old fashioned motion picture gangster with his ugly face, gaudy cars, and flashy clothes was replaced by a smoother, better looking, and better dressed bad man was largely the work of Mr. Ladd." - New York Times obituary (January 30, 1964). Ladd was teamed with actress Veronica Lake in this film, and despite the fact that it was Robert Preston who played the romantic lead, the Ladd-Lake pairing captured the public's imagination, and would continue in another three films. (They appeared in a total of seven films together, but three were only guest shots in all-star musical revues.)
Ladd and Lake became a particularly popular pairing because, at 5'1", she was one of the few Hollywood actresses shorter than he. In his memoirs, actor/producer John Houseman wrote of Ladd: "Since he himself was extremely short, he had only one standard by which he judged his fellow players: their height". To compensate for Ladd's height, during the filming of Boy on a Dolphin, co-starring the much taller Sophia Loren, the cinematographer used special low stands to light Ladd and the crew built a ramp system of heavy planks to enable the two actors to stand at equal eye level. In outdoor scenes, trenches were dug for Loren to stand in. For the film Saskatchewan, director Raoul Walsh had a six-inch hole dug for co-star Hugh O'Brian to stand in, while using the excavated dirt to build a mound for Ladd to stand on, thereby overcoming the one-foot disparity in height.
Ladd went on to star in many Paramount Pictures' films, with a brief timeout for military service in the United States Army Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit.
He appeared in Dashiell Hammett's story The Glass Key, his second pairing with Lake, and Lucky Jordan with Helen Walker. His cool, unsmiling persona proved popular with wartime audiences, and he was quickly established as one of the top box office stars of the decade.
In 1946, he starred in a trio of silver screen classics: the big screen adaptation of Richard Henry Dana's maritime classic, Two Years Before the Mast (for which he also received critical acclaim), the Raymond Chandler original mystery The Blue Dahlia (his third pairing with Lake), and the World War II espionage thriller O.S.S..
He formed his own production companies for film and radio and then starred in his own syndicated series Box 13, which ran from 1948-49. Ladd and Robert Preston starred in the 1948 western film, Whispering Smith, which in 1961 would become a short-lived NBC television series, starring Audie Murphy.
In the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby, Ladd had the featured role of Jay Gatsby.
Ladd played the title role in the 1953 western Shane. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was listed at No. 45 on the American Film Institute's 2007 ranking of "100 Years ... 100 Movies."
Ladd made the Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll three times: in 1947, 1953, and 1954. In 1954 exhibitors voted him the most popular star among British filmgoers.
In 1950 the Hollywood Women's Press Club voted him the easiest male star to deal with in Hollywood.
When former agent Albert R. Broccoli formed Warwick Films with his partner Irving Allen, they heard Ladd was unhappy with Paramount and was leaving the studio. With his wife and agent Sue Carol, they negotiated for Ladd to appear in the first three of their films made in England and released through Columbia Pictures: The Red Beret (1953); Hell Below Zero (1954), based on the Hammond Innes book The White South; and The Black Knight also (1954). All three were co-written by Ladd's regular screenwriter Richard Maibaum, the last with additional dialogue by Bryan Forbes. In 1954 Ladd formed a new production company, Jaguar Productions, originally releasing his films through Warner Bros. and then with All the Young Men through Columbia.
Ladd's pictures became less distinguished as the decade went on. He turned down the chance to appear in the role of Jett Rink in Giant (1956) which was subsequently played by James Dean and became one of the biggest hits of the decade.
In November 1962, he was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood with a bullet wound near his heart, in what might have been an unsuccessful suicide attempt. In 1963 Ladd's career looked set to make a comeback when he filmed a supporting role in The Carpetbaggers, which became one of the most popular films of 1964. He would not live to see its release. On January 29, 1964 he was found dead in Palm Springs, California, of an acute overdose of "alcohol and three other drugs", at the age of 50; his death was ruled accidental. Ladd suffered from chronic insomnia and regularly used sleeping pills and alcohol. It was determined that he had not taken a lethal amount of either, but that the combination can produce a synergistic reaction in which "one plus one equals ten or even fifty." He was entombed in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Not until June 28, 1964 did Carpetbaggers producer Joseph E. Levine hold an elaborate premiere screening in New York City with an afterparty staged by his wife at The Four Seasons Restaurant.
Ladd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street. His handprint appears in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater, in Hollywood. In 1995, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Ladd married a high-school acquaintance, Midge Harrold. Their only child, a son named Alan Ladd, Jr., was born in 1937. In 1942, Ladd married his agent and manager, former film actress Sue Carol, with whom he had two children, Alana Ladd and David Ladd.
Alan Ladd, Jr., is a film executive and producer and founder of The Ladd Company. Actress Alana Ladd, who co-starred with her father in Guns of the Timberland and Duel of Champions, is married to the veteran talk radio broadcaster Michael Jackson.
Actor David Ladd, who co-starred with his father as a child in The Proud Rebel, was married to Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd (née Stoppelmoor), 1973-80. Their daughter is actress Jordan Ladd.
Few biographical sources refrain from speculation on Ladd's height, which legend contends was slight. Reports of his height vary from 5 ft 5 in to 5 ft 9 in (1.65 m - 1.75 m), with 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) being the most generally accepted today. His U.S. Army enlistment record, however, indicates a height of 5 ft 7 in.
Ladd owned properties in Beverly Hills and Alan Ladd Hardware in Palm Springs.
Tom Brown of Culver
Once in a Lifetime
Last Train from Madrid !The Last Train from Madrid
Souls at Sea
All Over Town
Hold 'Em Navy
Goldwyn Follies !The Goldwyn Follies
First Auditioning Singer
Come On, Leathernecks!
Mysterious Miss X !The Mysterious Miss X
Hitler, Beast of Berlin
Rulers of the Sea
Green Hornet !The Green Hornet
Gilpin, Student Pilot
Brother Rat and a Baby
Cadet in trouble
Light of Western Stars !The Light of Western Stars
Danny, Stillwell Ranch Hand
In Old Missouri
Gangs of Chicago
Mr. Williams, First Mate
Those Were the Days!
Newton, Mutinous Sailor
Howards of Virginia !The Howards of Virginia
Meet the Missus
Heyst as an 18-year-old
Her First Romance
Higgins Daughter's Boyfriend
Reporter smoking pipe at end
Black Cat !The Black Cat
Jimmy Kelly aka Bill Dugan
Reluctant Dragon !The Reluctant Dragon
Al, Baby Weems storyboard artist
They Met in Bombay
Soldier in Photo Shop
Joan of Paris
This Gun for Hire
Glass Key !The Glass Key
Star Spangled Rhythm
Alan Ladd, Scarface Skit
And Now Tomorrow
Doctor Merek Vance
Two Years Before the Mast
Blue Dahlia !The Blue Dahlia
Johnny Morrison, Lt.Cmdr., ret.
Philip Masson / John Martin
My Favorite Brunette
Maj. Larry Briggs
Capt. Rockwell "Rocky" Gilman
Great Gatsby !The Great Gatsby
Captain Carey, U.S.A.
Captain Webster Carey
Appointment with Danger
Capt. Brett Sherwood
Iron Mistress !The Iron Mistress
Thunder in the East
Red Beret !The Red Beret
Steve "Canada" McKendrick
Hell Below Zero
Black Knight !The Black Knight
McConnell Story !The McConnell Story
Capt. Joseph C. "Mac" McConnell, Jr.
Hell on Frisco Bay
Caleb "Cash" Adams
A Cry in the Night
Big Land !The Big Land
Boy on a Dolphin
Dr. James Calder
Deep Six !The Deep Six
Alexander "Alec" Austen
Proud Rebel !The Proud Rebel
Badlanders !The Badlanders
Peter Van Hoek ("The Dutchman")
Man in the Net !The Man in the Net
Guns of the Timberland
All the Young Men
One Foot in Hell
Duel of Champions
13 West Street
Carpetbaggers !The Carpetbaggers
Unfinished Rainbows (1940),
Meat and Romance (1940),
Blame It on Love (1940),
American Portrait (1940),
I Look at You (1941),
Training Film No. A-3: Military Training (1941),
Letter from a Friend (1943),
Screen Snapshots: Hollywood in Uniform (1943),
Skirmish on the Home Front (1944),
Hollywood Victory Caravan (1945),
Screen Snapshots: The Skolsky Party (1946),
Eyes of Hollywood (1949),
Grantland Rice Sportlight No. R11-10: A Sporting Oasis (1952),
Box office ranking:
For a number of years, film exhibitors voted him amongst the top stars at the box office.
Decoy (1942): war film with Fred MacMurray,
Storm (1942) with Brian Donlevy,
Rurales (1943) Western set in Mexico with Aruturo de Cordovo,
Oh Promised Land (1955): based on a novel by James Street,
Rap Sheet: based on autobiography of James H Audett,
The Chislers (1957): detective film,
Select radio credits:
Box 13: 52 episodes (22 August 1948 - 14 August 1949),
Lux Radio Theatre: "The Return of Peter Grimm" (13 Feb 1939), "Only Angels Have Wings" (29 May 1939), "China" (25 Jan 1943), "Casablanca" (24 Jan 1944), "Destroyer" (3 April 1944), "Coney Island" (17 April 1944), "Disputed Passage" (5 March 1945), "And Now Tomorrow" (21 May 1945), "Whistle Stop" (15 April 1946), "OSS" (18 Nov 1946), "Two Years Before the Mast" (22 Sept 1947), "Shane" (22 Feb 1955),
Suspense: "One Way Ride to Nowhere" (6 Jan 1944), "The Defense Rests" (9 March 1944), "Motive For Murder" (16 March 1950), "A Killing in Abilene" (14 Dec 1950),
The Burns and Allen Show (15 Jan 1945),
Command Performance (14 June 1945),
Screen Director Theater: "Saigon" (29 July 1949), "Chicago Deadline" (24 March 1950), "Take a Letter, Darling" (1 Feb 1951), "Lucky Jordan" (8 Feb 1951),
Screen Guild Theater: "The Blue Dahlia" (21 April 1949)
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license