Alan Ladd is one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Today he is remembered for his role as the gunslinger in Shane’, but in a career of almost one hundred films, he appeared in a films ranging from westerns, to gangster, to war films. He had his own acting style that would see him playing emotionless characters with aplomb.
Alan Walbridge Ladd was born on the 3rd September 1913 in Hot Spring, Arkansas. Ladd’s parents were Alan Ladd, Sr., a travelling accountant and Ina Raleigh, an English immigrant. Ladd’s childhood was not especially a pleasant one, and at the age of four he was left fatherless, as his father passed away.
In effort to survive, Ina and Alan moved to Oklahoma City. In Oklahoma Ina married again, this time to a housepainter, Jim Beavers. Dreaming of a better life, the family moved to North Hollywood, California. The hard life though was taking its toll on Ladd; he was malnourished and undersized for his age.
Initially California appeared to be no better than the states the family had left behind. To bring extra income into family, Ladd took up odd jobs, including picking fruit, delivering newspapers and sweeping floors. Ladd’s childhood looked up when he finally got to attend High School.
Academically speaking Ladd was not noteworthy, in sports though he excelled. Within a few years he became the high school’s swimming and diving champion. At the same time he picked up the nickname, Tiny’, which followed him around for a number of years. A possible Olympic candidate Ladd’s hope for the 1932 Olympics was dashed by injury. High School also gave Ladd an insight into acting, and saw him take part in theatre and dramatic activities.
Leaving school, Ladd found that the 1930s America was not the land of opportunity, and without a vocation. Ladd was forced once again into undertaking any jobs that came along, in order to make a living. Ladd worked as a lifeguard and also opened up a hamburger stand, calling it Tiny’s Patio’ in homage to his nickname.
Living in North Hollywood brought him into the acting world, and briefly he obtained a position as studio carpenter alongside his step-father. Whilst working around the film studios, Ladd attended the Universal Pictures studio school for budding actors. His time at the school though was short-lived, as Universal decided that Ladd was too short and too blonde to become an actor.
Unperturbed Ladd found his way into radio work, where his stature was not noticed whilst his baritone voice soon got him noticed. More and more radio work flooded Ladd’s way, so much work in fact that he took on an agent, Sue Carol, in 1939. Ladd soon put Carol to work as he had her search for acting roles that he could undertake.
Whilst Ladd’s radio work was on the up, Ladd’s personal life was causing problems. In 1936 Ladd had married Marjorie Midge’ Jane Harrold, lack of funds though had meant they had initially lived apart. In the same year Ladd’s step-father had died suddenly, so Ladd, his mother and Midge all moved into an apartment together.
Ladd and Midge had a son together, Alan Jr. Whilst the couple were happy, Ladd’s mother had turned to alcohol, and in a depressed state she committed suicide through the ingestion of ant poison. This act was witnessed by Ladd, and was to have an impact on his confidence already dented by his lack of self-esteem caused by his shortness.
Marriage to Midge ended in 1941, when a divorce was finalised. Soon Ladd was married again, this time to Sue Carol, his agent.
Ladd’s acting career was still struggling, and even minor parts were only achieved through the hard work and persistence of Sue. One of these minor roles though did come in the 1941 classic Citizen Kane’ as directed by Orson Welles, where Ladd played a reporter.
The following year Ladd finally had his big break. Ladd took the lead in the Paramount Picture film This Gun for Hire’. Whilst he had already appeared in forty films, this was one of the first where Ladd took billing rights. His portrayal as Philip Raven, the hitman with ethics made him a sensation. Paramount Pictures signed him up and he soon became one of their most popular stars.
His new acting career was briefly interrupted by the draft in January 1943. Assigned to the US Army Air Corps’ First Motion Picture Unit, he was scheduled to make films for the war effort. Despite being a non-combative role, Ladd was soon discharged unfit, due to an ulcer and double hernia.
The discharge did not stop his Hollywood career where he was fit enough to work. Ladd was soon teamed up with Veronica Lake in the 1942 film The Glass Lake’. The stature of the two actors played well together, and the pair were to be teamed up in several more films, including the 1946 Blue Dahlia’ and 1948 Saigon’.
A steady stream of lead roles followed The Glass Lake’, and Ladd became a big draw playing a string of tough-guy roles. As well as being a star for Paramount, Ladd also set up his own production company. Designed to produce for radio and film, and despite limited success, the company did manage to syndicate Box 13′ for radio between 1948 and 1949. In 52 episodes, Ladd starred as an ex-newspaper reporter, turned novelist, Dan Holiday. Holiday obtained ideas for his novels through an ad for adventure he placed in the classified section of his old paper, The Star-Times.
Into the 1950’s Paramount provided him with action-packed roles. A list of films culminated with his masterpiece Shane’ (1953). His role as the gunfighter with conflicting emotions became a classic and an instant hit at the same time. He found though that although he continued to receive offers for films afterwards they never reached the same depths as Shane’ had. It should be noted though that in 1953, Ladd also starred in The Red Beret’, the film about paratroopers in the Second World War is my personal favourite Ladd film.
Whilst he was well-paid he was far from happy. Ladd like his mother before him, turned to alcohol. There was an unexplained bullet injury, in November 1962 when he was discovered with a bullet wound near his heart. On the 29th January 1964 he was discovered dead in Palm Springs. Just fifty years of age, Ladd was said to have been a victim of an accidental mixture of sedatives and alcohol.
Ladd was laid to rest in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, near to other Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Jean Harlow. Ladd was survived by his wife, Sue, and two sons, Alan Ladd Jr. and David Ladd. Ladd was recognised for his film career with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ladd left behind him a long string of film credits, as well as any number of fans.