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Alan Ladd: The True Quiet Man (1999)

TV Movie  -   -  Documentary | Biography  -  4 March 1999 (USA)
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In the 1942 This Gun For Hire, he was only a supporting actor. But his portrayal of a cold, ruthless killer with a core of gentle sadness had an impact on audiences everywhere. Teamed with ... See full summary »

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Edward Dmytryk
Edith Fellows
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In the 1942 This Gun For Hire, he was only a supporting actor. But his portrayal of a cold, ruthless killer with a core of gentle sadness had an impact on audiences everywhere. Teamed with diminutive Veronica Lake, he became an immediately saleable commodity, and in the process helped launch the age of film noir. By 1954, Photoplay Magazine voted him the world's most popular male film star; his fellow award-winner was Marilyn Monroe. But Alan Ladd's fabulous success already contained within it the mechanism to self-destruct. A deprived childhood and a family tragedy that marked his young manhood, these would exact their toll. Dogged by a sense of inadequacy over his only average stature, Ladd suffered keenly from cruel jests about co-stars being compelled to stand in ditches. Despite the ardent support of his ever present agent/wife and the genuine affection of film crews and co-actors alike, these inner wounds remained. And though in the end his inner demons would destroy him, Alan ... Written by Zara Janson

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4 March 1999 (USA)  »

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$550,000 (estimated)
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Movie Star
9 February 2014 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

I was teaching a class in psychology and we'd reached a discussion of aggression. To illustrate a particular theory of how insults lead to violence, I gave a really GOOD imitation of Jack Palance talking to Alan Ladd. "What's that mean to you, Shane?" Puzzled silence. Nobody in the class had ever seen Alan Ladd's best movie, "Shane," or evidently even heard of it.

He was a handsome young man with a rich baritone voice and he filled certain roles competently. He was a movie star whose time came and then went. Most movie stars have careers that resemble those of models, airline pilots, and sports figures -- well paying, leading to celebrity, and, most of all, short.

Ladd's was no different. He was born in a small town in Arkansas to a mentally disturbed mother, later a suicide, who took the family from the desolate South of the Great Depression to California, one of the original "Okies." During the 30s, Ladd found odd jobs in small parts, janitorial work, running a restaurant he called "Tiny's" and for ten years his life stagnated. Then me met (and later married) the slightly older woman who was to be the manager not only of his career but his existence. She knew how to get around people.

Ladd's career took off with "This Gun For Hire", reached its peak with "Shane," and then petered out in the late 50s, by which time he was doing a lot of booze and barbiturates. The combination finally killed him.

He wasn't an adventurer like Errol Flynn or a sailor like Humphrey Bogart or a horseman and judge's son from the Wild West like Gary Cooper. There was nothing odd about him, nothing to excite the public. He didn't wear a garter belt under his trousers, didn't get drunk in public and eat steak off the floor like Montgomery Clift. He was always friendly, never daring, a self-contained man.

Yet he kept the studios busy trying to hide his early marriage and the children that resulted from it. They were growing up, making Ladd seem older. And then there was that early divorce, which could damage an actor's career as thoroughly as it damaged Nelson Rockefeller's. Finally, Ladd's height. He was five foot seven, perhaps, which by Hollywood standards made him a shrimp. When possible they teamed him with shorter women like Veronica Lake. When it was not possible, when he was losing his juice, he was cast with oversized sex bombs like Sophia Loren and had to stand on a box.

A good deal is left out, by necessity and by choice. Ladd never enlisted in the armed forces, although other actors were signing up. It interfered for a while with his close friendship with his sometime co-star, William Bendix.

One of the reasons this biography is so interesting is that it's so emblematic of Hollywood careers, then and now. Someone should really be responsible for taking a rising young celebrity aside and explaining to him what the slave kept whispering into the Roman general's ear during the triumphant return from a battle: "Remember, thou art mortal."


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