William Holden was so grateful to Barbara Stanwyck for her insistence on casting him in Golden Boy (1939), his first big role, that he reportedly sent her flowers every year on the anniversary of the first day of the filming.
William Holden was considered not to be up to the role in the film by the studio; however, Barbara Stanwyck urged producers to keep him in the picture, and succeeded. In 1978, at the The 50th Annual Academy Awards (1978), before starting the presentation of the sound award, Holden publicly thanked Stanwyck, who was his co-presenter, for what she did."Oh Bill!" she sighed, choking up with tears.
To convincingly portray a boxer who was also a violinist, William Holden took boxing and violin lessons all day every day for a week before production began. He continued to prepare during the 11 weeks of filming by boxing two hours daily and practicing the violin for 1-1/2 hours each night so his fingering of the instrument would be convincing.
William Holden was knocked unconscious one day while boxing on the set with James 'Cannonball' Green. He thought the footage of the knockout would be spectacular but director Rouben Mamoulian said it couldn't be used because it didn't look real. Holden recalled that, real or not, his head ached for a week.
When Clifford Odets wrote his play, he had John Garfield in mind for the Joe Bonaparte part, but the Group Theatre company chose Luther Adler instead. Shortly afterward, Garfield left the Group Theater and was Hollywood bound.
Almost 5000 actors had been considered for the part of Joe Bonaparte--among them a 17-year-old Dale Robertson--and more than 80 had been given screen tests. The odds of getting the highly desirable part were against the unknown William Holden, but Barbara Stanwyck and director Rouben Mamoulian lobbied on his behalf.
Columbia boss Harry Cohn wanted John Garfield for the role of Joe Bonaparte, but Warner Brothers refused to lend him out. Jack Warner was angry with Cohn for giving the first Irving Thalberg award to former WB producer Darryl Zanuck. Zanuck had left WB in 1933 over a salary dispute with studio head Jack Warner.
Frank Capra wanted to direct Golden Boy, with Jean Arthur as Lorna Moon. Rouben Mamoulian was originally to direct what later became Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. After Capra heard this, he changed his mind and decided he liked the script for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which at first he had rejected, and decided to make that movie with Jean Arthur as the female lead.
Director Rouben Mamoulian wanted the play's author Clifford Odets to write the screenplay. Odets refused, because years earlier Mamoulian, when directing a play in New York, had refused to give Odets a part in the play.
When Barbara Stanwyck won her Honorary Academy Award in 1982, she acknowledged the passing of William Holden just four months earlier saying, "He always wished that I would get an Oscar and so, tonight, my Golden Boy, you got your wish!"