Alan Ladd Biography

Alan Ladd

Through the 40s and 50s, films like 'The Blue Dahlia' established him as a great noir actor and 'Shane' became an American classic. But what lay behind the tough guy mask?

Born to an English mother in Arkansas, icy-cool actor Alan Ladd's father died when he was only four. His mother remarried when he was eight-years-old and they moved to California. He had the nickname 'Tiny' during his childhood as he was malnourished and undersized.

Moving to California as a child, Ladd became a gifted sportsman, and also took to performing in school productions. He excelled in swimming and athletics, and in 1931, he decided to train for the 1932 Olympics. Training didn't last long, however, as an injury would prevent him from participating in the Olympic trials.

Struggling to enter the acting profession, Ladd supported himself in a number of odd jobs – including as a gas station attendant, a hot dog vendor and a lifeguard. He even opened his own hamburger stand called Tiny's Patio in 1930.

His first real foray into show business came in radio, where he played small parts, and he then moved into local theatre. It was as a grip and bit-player that Ladd began to enter the film-world in his late teens. He was appearing regularly in minor film parts by the mid 1930s.

In 1936, he married Marjorie Jane Harrold, a childhood sweetheart. A year later the couple gave birth to their first child, Alan Ladd, II. Ladd's alcoholic mother moved in with them before committing suicide with ant poison.

Ladd's early film work consisted of mostly minor parts, such as the role of a reporter in Orson Welles' 1941 classic, 'Citizen Kane'.

He met Hollywood agent and former screen actress, Sue Carol, around this time. She helped him get work and promoted him around town, landing him a major part as an assassin in the 1942 film, 'This Gun for Hire', opposite Veronica Lake. After divorcing his first wife, Ladd and Carol married in 1942. In January 1943, Ladd was drafted into the US Army as part of the Second World War and was discharged that November with an ulcer and double hernia.

The visual combination of Ladd and Lake proved so popular that they were paired for several other films, including 'The Blue Dahlia' (1946), 'Saigon' (1948) and 'The Glass Key'(1942).

Ladd's films remained on the Top Ten box-office list in 1947, 1953, and 1954, as he played a succession of action-packed, tough-guy roles. Notable performances from this period include 'Wild Harvest', 'The Great Gatsby', 'Desert Legion' and 'Red Beret'.

It was in the classic Western, 'Shane', in 1953, where Ladd truly excelled himself, in an uncharacteristically honest role, showcasing both his visual magnetism and subtle style.

Most of his films during the 1950s were seen by critics as cliched bare-chested bar room movies, and his star was falling by the early 1960s. In 1955, he made 'Tiger in the Sky' with June Allyson and it is thought that they had a love affair. It was the end of this affair that led to Ladd's later-life depression.

In November 1962, Ladd was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood with a bullet wound near his heart, an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Ladd continued to make films up until his early death, aged 51, in 1964. He was found dead in Palm Springs of an overdose of alcohol and three other drugs and his death was ruled accidental.

On 28 June 1964, an elaborate screening of 'Carpetbaggers', in which Ladd had filmed a supporting role, was held by producer Joseph E Levine in New York City.

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