Picks and Pans Review: Golden Boy: the Untold Story of William Holden

UPDATED 06/27/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/27/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Bob Thomas

If fan magazines have faded from favor, books about movie stars are flourishing. These three were published by St. Martin's Press. The outsize volume about Robert Redford ($11.95), with some 100 photographs, divides his career into four parts: "The Reluctant Actor," "Tell Them Sundance Is Here," "America the Beautiful" and "An Artist From Utah." The writing is effusive, even absurd: The Way We Were, Downhill Racer and All the President's Men are three of the 11 films that, the author says, "represent the cream of Redford's cinematic milk bottle, and any bottle of milk which is half full of cream represents a considerable achievement." Praise is lavish for Redford's directing job on Ordinary People, and the actor is quoted as saying that he'll give up acting entirely by the mid-1980s and direct. Most of the photographs are movie stills, but there are a few grab shots of Redford on the street, with his family and accepting awards. Passingham, author of the Connery biography ($9.95), is an English journalist, and he writes in chatty Brit style. Indeed, this book hasn't even been translated: The spelling is British and the money (much is made of Connery's financial deals) is often given in pounds. There is a lot about Connery's insistence on privacy, his weariness with his James Bond roles, his distrust of reporters, and the way he avoids publicity problems. Certainly this writer never gets close to the man either. The most interesting parts of the book come early and describe Connery's climb from poor Scottish lad to body-beautiful contestant to chorus boy to movie star and finally, in The Man Who Would Be King, to an actor of substance. The best—by far—of these three books is the biography of the late William Holden ($16.95), who always thought of himself as Bill Beedle. Thomas, a longtime Hollywood reporter for the Associated Press and author of 17 other film books, is an entertaining writer. The picture he gives of Holden is of a shy and rather naive man from O'Fallon, III. who drank early to get his courage up so he could go onto the set. The breaks came because he was handsome. His first film, 1939's Golden Boy, was hardly a huge hit, but gradually Holden became a cool, low-key movie actor and a popular star. Holden's early experiences with the despotic Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures are wonderfully told (Thomas wrote a bio on Cohn too) and his latter-day bouts with alcoholism are frankly discussed (Stefanie Powers refused to marry him until he cured himself). Says Holden's friend and director Billy Wilder, "He was about the shyest actor I ever worked with, with the exception of Gary Cooper." Thomas knows how to present a thorough portrait of a serious, elusive show business personality.

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