Film Entertainment Magazine

 S T A R R L I G H T: Alan Ladd

By Steve Starr

On screen he was cold, indifferent, cruel, ruthless, calm, hard, bitter, and handsome, and he removed his shirt whenever he could.  In the words of critic Richard Schickel, he “...succeeded in reducing murder to an act as irrelevant as crossing the street."

The man was a rarity in his persona as a tough guy...he was only five-foot-six, and, a blonde.

Alan Ladd was born September 3, 1913, in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His father, an accountant,  died when Alan was three. To escape their genuine poverty, Alan's mother grabbed her son and found their way to Denver, Colorado.  There, she remarried and the family later moved to California where athletic swimmer Alan became the West Coast diving champion in 1932.

 Ladd worked at an enormous variety of jobs which included running a hot-dog stand named Tiny's, as a salesman for the National Cash Register Company, a lifeguard, and a gas station attendant.  Lured and fascinated by the movies, he took a job as a grip just to get close to the business, and balanced on the catwalks for two years as he rigged scaffolding and lights for the actors forty feet below, where he might have landed when he fell twice.

Ladd joined an acting school and landed a few minor parts which did nothing to launch his career. His first appearance on screen was as an extra in Once In A Lifetime (1932). Later, he was a sailor in Souls At Sea (1937), which starred Gary Cooper and George Raft, and played a waiter in Last Train From Madrid (1937), starring Dorothy LaMour and Anthony Quinn.  However, Alan was also doing radio, and at one point was part of nineteen shows a week that had a budget of $5 for nine people. Sometimes he received salary checks as low as 50 cents. 

After one season ended, Ladd got a job on a golf course.  Back on the radio, one show in particular had him playing the parts of both an old man and a son.  Sue Carol, an agent who was once an actress in silent films and early talking pictures, heard the show and was most impressed. She was more impressed when she met Alan and discovered that the good-looking man had performed both roles. She persuaded him to sign with her. Then, Carol worked hard to sell Ladd, who was one of her first clients and the man she was falling in love with who became her husband in 1942. Both Ladd and Carol had a child from a previous marriage. She a daughter, and he a son.  Years later, Alan Ladd Jr. became a Hollywood film producer.

Playing opposite several leading ladies, the diminutive Ladd had to stand on boxes to reach a visually desirable height, unless his co-star agreed to stand in a trench.  When he was hired to play the psychopathic, ruthless Raven opposite the petite and beautiful Veronica Lake, they made a perfect team, and height was no problem. Their first film together, This Gun For Hire (1942), catapulted the pair into instant stardom, and they quickly became the most popular couple of the early 1940's. Ladd's handsome, blonde, green-eyed, viscious, trenchcoated persona knocked the eyes out of audiences, and in some theatres the crowd hissed at the police on the screen as they moved in on him.  For this film performance Ladd was awarded a Gold Medal by the readers of the British magazine Picturegoer.  It was to be the only acting award he ever won.

The enormous success of the film brought Ladd and Lake together again for The Glass Key (1942). After several successful starring roles on his own, Ladd teamed with Lake for the third and final time in the popular Raymond Chandler thriller, The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Ladd's career diminished somewhat in the late 1940's and early 1950's, when he starred in Saigon (1947), The Great Gatsby (1949), Chicago Deadline (1949), Branded 1950), Appointment With Danger (1951), and The Iron Mistress (1952). Then, he starred in the film he is most associated with, Shane (1953), a beautiful western with Jean Arthur, Brandon De Wilde, and Jack Palance. The popular film became Alan Ladd's greatest monument. 

Ladd's final role, the last of his ninety-two Hollywood films, was a memorable one, though the star was looking much older than his years when he played Nevada Smith in The Carpetbaggers (1964).  Soon after, still married to Sue Carol, Alan Ladd died of a heart attack brought on from a lethal mixture of sedatives and alcohol January 29, 1964.  He was only 50 years old.

Deborah Kerr once stated of Alan, "He was awfully good in putting across what he had, in his looks and in his manner; he had something very attractive--a definite film personality which he had worked hard to perfect."  

Dilys Powell wrote in The Sunday Times, "He had the gift of creating a durable popular image. And the cinema can ill afford to lose its idols."

Great Lovers of the Movies by Jane Mercer
          The Great Movie Stars-The Golden Years by David Shipman
          The Stars by Richard Schickel
          Encyclopedia of Film Stars by Douglas Jarvis
          Hollywood Album from the pages of The New York Times
          The Movie Stars Story by Robyn Karney
          Gods and Goddesses of the Movies by John Kobsa
          Celebrity Register edited by Cleveland Amory 

Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect-Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications, 1991. A photographer designer, artist, writer and chronicler of movie stars, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in Art Deco photo frames and artifacts and celebrating its 39th anniversary in 2006.  Steve Starr's personal collection of over 950 gorgeous, original Art Deco frames is filled with photos of Hollywood's most elegant luminaries.

Starr's column, STARRLIGHT, about movie stars of the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's, appears in various publications, including Entertainment Magazine Online, the Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine, and the Windy City Times.

Visit where, in THE STARRLIGHT ROOM, you can view many of his framed personalities. At the Studio, read STARRLIGHT stories, and enjoy his collection of autographs, letters and photos he has received from some of his favorite stars. In person, you can visit the Steve Starr Satellite Studio at the beautiful Ravenswood Antique Mart, 4727 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60640.

        STARRGAZERS - Radiant Photography by Steve Starr is available privately and for events, and at particular locations in Chicago including the beautiful Rumba Restaurant and Night Club, The Seneca Hotel’s Chestnut Grill and Wine Bar, Cornelia’s Restaurant, Katerina’s Nightclub, the Cabaret Cocktail Boutique, the Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club, the Club “3160,” the Baton Show Lounge, and the Whitehall Hotel’s Fornetto Mei where Starr will photograph you and your friends, print, sign frame and deliver your photo to you on the premises. For information and current schedule phone 773-463-8017. You can email Steve at [email protected]

Photo of Steve Starr at the Whitehall Hotel, January 28, 2006, taken by NBC New Director Harold “Sandy” Whiteley
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