Hand color tinted photo of Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur & Van Heflin from the 1953 movie, Shane
Alan Walbridge Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964) was an American film actor.
Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas to an American father (Alan Ladd, Sr.) and an English-American mother (Ina Raleigh Ladd). His father died when the boy was four, and his mother relocated to Oklahoma City, where she married Jim Beavers, a housepainter. The family moved again, to North Hollywood, California. There Ladd became a high-school swimming and diving champion. Burdened with a hated nickname (“Tiny”), the then-5′ 4″ (162 cm) student fell under the spell of high school dramatics and set his mind toward becoming an actor. He opened his own hamburger and malt shop, which he called Tiny’s Patio in defiance of the nickname’s negative aspect. He worked briefly as a studio carpenter (as did his stepfather) and for a short time was part of the Universal Pictures studio school for actors. But Universal decided he was too blond and too short and dropped him. Intent on acting, he found work in radio. His rich baritone voice got him increasingly more work.
Ladd began by appearing in dozens of films in bits and small roles, including Citizen Kane. These barely kept him and his household afloat. (He had married a high-school acquaintance, Midge Harrold, with whom he had a son, Alan Ladd, Jr.) His stepfather died suddenly. Then his mother, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by poison.
In 1942, Ladd married his agent/manager, former movie actress Sue Carol. It was at this point that Carol found a vehicle which made Ladd’s career, This Gun for Hire. His performance as a hitman with a conscience made him a sensation.
Ladd went on to become one of Paramount Pictures’ most popular stars. A brief timeout for military service with the United States Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit did not diminish his popularity. None of his subsequent films of the 1940s were as notable as This Gun for Hire, but he did appear to good effect in Dashiell Hammett’s story The Glass Key and the Raymond Chandler original mystery The Blue Dahlia, both alongside the similarly diminutive—4 feet 11½ inches (1.51 m) — Veronica Lake, with whom he had been paired in This Gun for Hire.
He formed his own production companies for film and radio and then starred in his own syndicated series Box 13, which ran from 1948-49. Ladd and Robert Preston starred in the 1948 western film, Whispering Smith, which in 1961 would become a short-lived NBC television series, starring Audie Murphy.
In 1949’s version of The Great Gatsby, Ladd had the featured role of Jay Gatsby.
Ladd became most famous for his title role as a reformed gunslinger in the classic 1953 western Shane. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was listed at No. 45 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 ranking of “100 Years … 100 Movies.”
Ladd made the Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll three times: in 1947, 1953 and 1954.
Age, alcoholism, and depression, from which Ladd’s mother had also suffered, began to affect both his appearance and his personal life. In November 1962, he was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood with a bullet wound near his heart, an unsuccessful suicide attempt. In 1963, nevertheless, Ladd co-starred in one of the biggest film productions of his career, The Carpetbaggers, not as a leading man but as a supporting actor. He would not live to see its release: on January 29, 1964 he was found dead in Palm Springs, California, of an acute overdose of alcohol and sedatives at the age of 50, a probable suicide. He was entombed in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Alan Ladd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street. His handprint appears in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, in Hollywood.
Thanks to wise business investments, Ladd became a wealthy man, with properties in Beverly Hills and, in Palm Springs, Alan Ladd Hardware. His son by his first wife Midge Harrold, (named Alan Ladd, Jr., although the correct appellation would be “Alan Ladd III,” since the son is actually the third in line with the name), is a motion picture executive and producer and founder of The Ladd Company. His daughter Alana is married to the veteran talk radio broadcaster Michael Jackson. Another son, actor David Ladd, who co-starred as a child with his father in The Proud Rebel, married Charlie’s Angels star Cheryl Ladd, 1973-1980. Actress Jordan Ladd is his granddaughter.
He was famous for his emotionless demeanor and small stature. Reports of his height vary from 5’5″ to 5’7″ (1.65 to 1.70 m), with 5’6″ (1.68 m) being the most generally accepted today.
Jean Arthur (October 17, 1900 – June 19, 1991) was an American actress and a major film star of the 1930s and 1940s. She remains arguably the epitome of the female screwball comedy actress. As James Harvey wrote in his recounting of the era, “No one was more closely identified with the screwball comedy than Jean Arthur. So much was she part of it, so much was her star personality defined by it, that the screwball style itself seems almost unimaginable without her.” Arthur has been called “the quintessential comedic leading lady.”
Arthur is best known for her feature roles in three Frank Capra films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), films that championed the everyday heroine. Her last performance was the memorable—and distinctly non–comedic—role as the rancher’s wife in George Stevens’ Shane (1953).
Arthur was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in The More the Merrier (1943).
To the public eye, Arthur was known as a reclusive woman. News magazine Life observed in a 1940 article: “Next to Garbo, Jean Arthur is Hollywood’s reigning mystery woman”. As well as recoiling from interviews, she avoided photographers and refused to become a part of any kind of publicity.
Arthur was born Gladys Georgianna Greene in Plattsburgh, New York to Protestant parents Johanna Augusta Nelson and Hubert Sidney Greene. She lived off and on in Westbrook, Maine from 1908 to 1915 while her father worked at Lamson Studios in Portland, Maine as a photographer. The product of a nomadic childhood, Arthur also lived at times in Jacksonville, Florida; Schenectady, New York; and, during a portion of her high school years, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan. She came from a family of three older brothers: Donald Hubert (1891), Robert B. (1892) and Albert Sidney (1894). Her maternal grandparents were immigrants from Norway who settled in the American West. She reputedly took her stage name from two of her greatest heroes, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) and King Arthur.
Presaging many of her later film roles, she worked as a stenographer on Bond Street in lower Manhattan during World War I.
Silent film career Discovered by Fox Film Studios while she was doing commercial modeling in New York City in the early 1920s, Arthur debuted in the silent film Cameo Kirby (1923), directed by John Ford, and made a few low-budget silent westerns and short comedies.
Transition to sound film
With the rise of the talkies in the late 1920s, Arthur was among the many silent screen actors of Paramount Pictures initially unwilling to adapt to sound films. Upon realizing that the crave for sound films was not a phase, she met with sound coach Roy Pomeroy. It was her distinctive, throaty voice – in addition to some stage training on Broadway in the early 1930s – that eventually helped make her a star in the talkies. However, it initially prevented directors from casting her in films. In her early talkies, this “throaty” voice is still missing, and it remains unclear whether it has not yet emerged or whether she hid it. Her all-talking film debut was The Canary Murder Case (1929), in which she co-starred opposite William Powell and Louise Brooks. Arthur only impressed a few with the film, and later claimed that at the time that she was a “very poor actress … awfully anxious to improve, but … inexperienced so far as genuine training was concerned.”
In the early years of talking pictures, Paramount was known for contracting Broadway actors with experienced vocals and impressive background references. Arthur was not among these actors, and struggled for recognition in the film industry. Her personal involvement with rising Paramount executive David O. Selznick – despite his relationship with Irene Mayer Selznick – proved substantial; she was put on the map and became selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1929. Following a silent B-western called Stairs of Sand (1929), she received some positive notices when she played the female lead in the lavish production of The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929). Arthur was given more publicity assignments, with which she went along, even though she immediately disliked posing for photographers and giving interviews.
Through Selznick, Arthur received her “best role to date” opposite famous sex symbol Clara Bow in the early sound film The Saturday Night Kid (1929). With two female leads, Arthur was thought to have “the better part”, and director Edward Sutherland claimed that “Arthur was so good that we had to cut and cut to keep her from stealing the picture” from Bow. While some argued that Bow resented Arthur for having the “better part”, Bow encouraged Arthur to make the most of the production. Arthur later praised her working experience with Bow: “Bow was so generous, no snootiness or anything. She was wonderful to me.” The film was a moderate success, and The New York Times wrote that the film would have been “merely commonplace, were it not for Jean Arthur, who plays the catty sister with a great deal of skill.”
Following a role in Halfway to Heaven (1929) opposite popular actor Charles Rogers, Selznick assigned her to play William Powell’s wife in Street of Chance (1930). She did not impress the film’s director John Cromwell, who advises the actress to move back to New York, because she would not make it in Hollywood. By 1930, her relationship with Selznick was broken off, causing her career at Paramount to slip off. Following a string of “lifeless ingenue roles” in mediocre films, she debuted on stage in December 1930 with a supporting role in Passadena Playhouse’s ten-day run production of Spring Song. Back in Hollywood, Arthur saw her career deteriorating, and she dyed her hair blonde in an attempt to boost her image and avoid comparison with more successful actress Mary Brian. Her effort was not paying off: when her three-year contract at Paramount expired in mid-1931, she was given her release with an announcement from Paramount that the decision was prompted due to financial setbacks caused by the Great Depression.
Broadway and Columbia Pictures
In late 1931, Arthur returned to New York City, where a Broadway agent cast Arthur in adaptation of Lysistrata, which opened at the Riviera Theater on January 24, 1932. A few months later, she made her Broadway debut in Foreign Affairs opposite Dorothy Gish and Osgood Perkins. Even though the play did not fare well and closed after twenty-three performances, critics were impressed by her work on stage. She next won the female lead in The Man Who Reclaimed His Head, which opened on September 8, 1932 at the Broadhurst Theatre to mostly mixed notices for Athur, and negative reviews for the play caused the production to be halted quickly. Arthur returned to California for the holidays, and appeared in the RKO film The Past of Mary Holmes (1933), her first film in two years.
Back on Broadway, Arthur continued to appear in small plays that received little attention. Critics, however, continued to praise her in their reviews. It was argued that in this period, Arthur developed confidence about her acting crafts for the first time. On the contrast between films in Hollywood, and plays in New York, Arthur commented:
I don’t think Hollywood is the place to be yourself. The individual ought to find herself before coming to Hollywood. On the stage I found myself to be in a different world. The individual counted. The director encouraged me and I learned how to be myself. I learned to face audiences and to forget them. To see the footlights and not to see them; to gauge the reactions of hundreds of people, and yet to throw myself so completely into a role that I was oblivious to their reaction.
The Curtain Rises, which ran from October to December 1933, was Arthur’s first Broadway play in which she was the center of attention. With an improved resume, she returned to Hollywood in late 1933, and turned down several contract offers until she was asked to meet with an executive from Columbia Pictures. Arthur agreed to star in a film, Whirlpool (1934), and during production she was offered a long-term contracted that promised her financial stability for both her and her parents. Even though hesitant to give up her stage career, Arthur signed the five-year contract on February 14, 1934.
In 1935, at age 34, Arthur starred opposite Edward G. Robinson in the gangster farce The Whole Town’s Talking, also directed by Ford, and her popularity began to rise. It was Arthur’s first time to portray a hard-boiled working girl with a heart of gold, the type of role she would be associated with for the rest of her career. She enjoyed the acting experience and working opposite Robinson, who admitted in his biography that it was a “delight to work with and know” Arthur. By the time of the film’s release, her hair, naturally brunette throughout the silent film portion of her career, was bleached blonde and would stay that way. She was famous for maneuvering to be photographed and filmed almost exclusively from the left; Arthur felt that her left was her best side, and worked hard to keep it in the fore. Frank Capra recounted that producer Harry Cohn described Jean Arthur’s imbalanced profile as “half of it’s angel, and the other half horse.”
The turning point in Arthur’s career came when she was chosen by director Frank Capra to star in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Capra had spotted her in a daily rush from the film Whirlpool in 1934 and convinced Cohn to have Columbia Studios sign her for his next film as a tough newspaperwoman who falls in love with a country bumpkin millionaire. Arthur co-starred in three celebrated 1930s Capra films: her role opposite Gary Cooper in 1936 in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town made her a star, while her fame was cemented with You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in 1939, both with James Stewart. She was re-teamed with Cooper, playing Calamity Jane in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1936), and appeared as a working girl, her typical role, in Mitchell Leisen’s 1937 screwball comedy Easy Living, opposite Ray Milland. So strong was her box office appeal by 1939 that she was one of four finalists that year for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind; the film’s producer, David O. Selznick, had briefly romanced Arthur in the late 1920s when they both were with Paramount Pictures.
Arthur continued to star in films such as Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings in 1939, with love interest Cary Grant, 1942’s The Talk of the Town, directed by George Stevens (also with Grant), and again for Stevens as a government clerk in 1943’s The More the Merrier, for which Arthur was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress (losing to Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette). As a result of being in the doghouse with studio boss Harry Cohn, her fee for The Talk of the Town (1942) was only $50,000, while her male co-stars Grant and Ronald Colman received upwards of $100,000 each. Arthur remained Columbia’s top star until the mid-1940s, when she left the studio, and Rita Hayworth took over as the studio’s reigning queen. Stevens famously called her “one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen”, while Capra credited her as “my favorite actress”.
Arthur “retired” when her contract with Columbia Pictures expired in 1944. She reportedly ran through the studio’s streets, shouting “I’m free, I’m free!” For the next several years, she turned down virtually all film offers, the two exceptions being Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948), in which she played a congresswoman and rival of Marlene Dietrich, and as a homesteader’s wife in the classic Western Shane (1953), which turned out to be the biggest box-office hit of her career. The latter was her final film, and the only color film she appeared in.
Arthur’s post-retirement work in theater was intermittent, somewhat curtailed by her longstanding shyness and discomfort about her chosen profession. Capra claimed she vomited in her dressing room between scenes, yet emerged each time to perform a flawless take. According to John Oller’s biography, Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew (1997), Arthur developed a kind of stage fright punctuated with bouts of psychosomatic illnesses. A prime example was in 1945, when she was cast in the lead of the Garson Kanin play, Born Yesterday. Her nerves and insecurity got the better of her and she left the production before it reached Broadway, opening the door for Judy Holliday to take the part.
Arthur did score a major triumph on Broadway in 1950, starring in an adaptation of Peter Pan playing the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up when she was almost 50. She tackled the role of her namesake, Joan of Arc, in a 1954 stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, but she left the play after a nervous breakdown and battles with director Harold Clurman.
In 1966, the extremely reclusive Arthur tentatively returned to show business, playing Patricia Marshall, an attorney, on her own television sitcom, The Jean Arthur Show, which was canceled mid-season by CBS after only 12 episodes. Ron Harper played her son, attorney Paul Marshall. In 1967, Arthur was coaxed back to Broadway to appear as a midwestern spinster who falls in with a group of hippies in the play The Freaking Out of Stephanie Blake. William Goldman, in his book The Season reconstructed the disastrous production, which eventually closed during previews when Arthur refused to go on.
Arthur next decided to teach drama, first at Vassar College and then the North Carolina School of the Arts. While teaching at Vassar, she stopped a rather stridently overacted scene performance and directed the students’ attention to a large tree growing outside the window of the performance space, advising the students on the art of naturalistic acting: “I wish people knew how to be people as well as that tree knows how to be a tree.” Her students at Vassar included the young Meryl Streep. Arthur recognized Streep’s talent and potential very early on and after watching her performance in a Vassar play, Arthur said it was “like watching a movie star.”
While living in North Carolina, Arthur made front page news by being arrested and jailed for trespassing on a neighbor’s property to console a dog she felt was being mistreated. An animal lover her entire life, Arthur said she trusted them more than people.
Arthur turned down the role of the lady missionary in Lost Horizon (1973), the unsuccessful musical remake of the 1937 Frank Capra film of the same name. Then, in 1975, the Broadway play First Monday in October, about the first female Supreme Court justice, was written especially with Arthur in mind, but once again she succumbed to extreme stage fright and quit the production shortly into its out-of-town run in Cleveland. The play went on with Jane Alexander playing the role intended for Arthur.
After the First Monday in October incident, Arthur then retired for good, retreating to her oceanside home in Carmel, California, steadfastly refusing interviews until her resistance was broken down by the author of a book about Capra. Arthur once famously said that she’d rather have her throat slit than do an interview.
Arthur’s first marriage, to photographer Julian Anker in 1928, was annulled after one day. She married producer Frank Ross, Jr., in 1932. They divorced in 1949. Arthur did not have any children.
Death and legacy
Arthur died from heart failure at the age of 90. Her ashes were scattered at sea near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. It is unknown if she had heard of the death of Joan Caulfield, who had married Frank Ross, Jr., after Arthur’s divorce from him. She had died the day before Arthur at the age of 69.
Upon her death film reviewer Charles Champlin wrote the following in the Los Angeles Times: To at least one teenager in a small town (though I’m sure we were a multitude), Jean Arthur suggested strongly that the ideal woman could be – ought to be – judged by her spirit as well as her beauty … The notion of the woman as a friend and confidante, as well as someone you courted and were nuts about, someone whose true beauty was internal rather than external, became a full-blown possibility as we watched Jean Arthur.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Jean Arthur has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6331 Hollywood Blvd. The Jean Arthur Atrium was her gift to the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
Alternative country artist Robbie Fulks included a song titled “Jean Arthur” on his 1999 compilation, The Very Best of Robbie Fulks. The track expounds on the actress’s unique personality and style.
Van Heflin (December 13, 1910 – July 23, 1971) was an American theater, radio, and film actor. He played mostly character parts over the course of his film career, but during the 1940s had a string of roles as a leading man. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Johnny Eager (1942).
Heflin was born Emmett Evan Heflin, Jr. in Walters, Oklahoma, the son of Fanny Bleecker (née Shippey) and Dr. Emmett Evan Heflin, a dentist. He was of Irish and French ancestry. Heflin’s sister was Daytime Emmy-nominated actress Frances Heflin (who married composer Sol Kaplan). Heflin attended Classen High School in Oklahoma City and the University of Oklahoma, where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Heflin began his acting career on Broadway in the early 1930s before being signed to a contract by RKO Radio Pictures. He made his film debut in A Woman Rebels (1936), opposite Katharine Hepburn. He was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was initially cast in supporting roles in films such as Santa Fe Trail (1940), and Johnny Eager (1942), winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the latter performance.
MGM began to groom him as a leading man in B movies, and provided him with supporting roles in more prestigious productions. Heflin continued to hone his acting skills throughout the early 1940s. He provided a compelling characterization of the embattled President Andrew Johnson in Tennessee Johnson (1942), playing opposite (and at odds with) Lionel Barrymore who, in the role of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, failed to have Johnson convicted in an impeachment trial by the slimmest of margins. Heflin served during World War II in the United States Army Air Corps as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe and with the First Motion Picture Unit.
Heflin also performed on stage throughout his acting career. His greatest roles on Broadway were playing Macaulay Connor opposite Katharine Hepburn, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Booth in The Philadelphia Story, which ran for 417 performances from 1939-1940, and the Arthur Miller plays A Memory of Two Mondays (as Larry) and A View From the Bridge (as Eddie).
His best-known film became the 1953 classic western Shane, in which he co-starred with Alan Ladd. Among his other notable film credits are Presenting Lily Mars (1943), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Possessed (1947), Green Dolphin Street (1947), Act of Violence (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948), Madame Bovary (1949), The Prowler (1951) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957).
The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was a radio detective drama that aired from June 17, 1947, through September 15, 1951, first heard on NBC in the summer of 1947 starring Van Heflin (June 12, 1947 – Sept 9, 1947). He also acted on The Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense, Cavalcade of America and many more radio programs.
His film “Cry of Battle” was playing at a Dallas movie theatre on November 22nd, 1963. His name and the movie title appear on the marquee. It was that theatre where Lee Harvey Oswald sought to hide in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination.
Heflin appeared in a short but dramatic role as an eyewitness of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from death in the 1965 Bible movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told. After seeing the miracle he ran from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem and proclaimed to the guards at the top of the wall that Jesus was the Messiah.
Heflin’s last major role was in Airport (1970). He played “D. O. Guerrero”, a failure who schemes to blow himself up on an airliner so that his wife (played by Maureen Stapleton) can collect on a life insurance policy. Heflin has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for his contributions to motion pictures at 6309 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 6125 Hollywood Boulevard.
After a six-month marriage to actress Eleanor Shaw (née Eleanor Scherr, died 2004), he married RKO contract player Frances Neal. They had two daughters, actresses Vana O’Brien and Cathleen (Kate) Heflin, and a son, Tracy. Heflin was the grandfather of actor Ben O’Brien and actress Eleanor O’Brien. Heflin was the uncle of Marta Heflin and Mady Kaplan, both actresses, and director Jonathan Kaplan.
During World War II, Heflin served as a combat cameraman in the Ninth Air Force in Europe.
On June 6, 1971, Heflin had a heart attack while swimming in a pool. Medics took him to a hospital, and though he lived for six weeks, he apparently never regained consciousness. Van Heflin died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on July 23, 1971, aged 60. He had left instructions forbidding a public funeral. Instead, his cremated remains were scattered in the ocean.
Shane is a 1953 American Technicolor Western film from Paramount, noted for its landscape cinematography, editing, performances, and contributions to the genre. The picture was produced and directed by George Stevens from a screenplay by A. B. Guthrie Jr., based on the 1949 novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer. Its Oscar-winning cinematography was by Loyal Griggs. Shane stars Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur (in the last feature, and only color, film of her career) and Van Heflin, and features Brandon deWilde, Jack Palance, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook Jr., and Ben Johnson.
Shane was listed No. 45 in the 2007 edition of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, and No. 3 on AFI’s 10 Top 10 in the ‘Western’ category.