Nationality: American. Born: Alan Walbridge Ladd in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 3 September 1913. Education: Hollywood High School. Family: Married 1) Marjorie Jane Harrold, 1936 (divorced 1941), son: the film executive Alan Ladd, Jr., 2) Sue Carol, 1942, daughter: the actress Alana, son: David. Career: During the early 1930s, "discovered" several times, but given only small parts, beginning in 1932 with Once in a Lifetime; worked as studio grip, attended Bard Dramatic School for one term, and eventually worked as a one-man variety show on radio station KFWB; 1942—Paramount contract; 1943–44—served in U.S. Army (medical discharge); 1948—formed his own radio production company; 1954–59—contract with Warner Brothers; 1954—formed Jaguar Productions; 1959—began TV production. Died: 29 January 1969.
Films as Actor:
Once in a Lifetime (Mack)
Saturday's Millions (Sedgwick)
Pigskin Parade (The Harmony Parade) (Butler)
The Last Train from Madrid (Hogan); All over Town (Horne); Hold 'em Navy (That Navy Spirit) (Neumann)
The Goldwyn Follies (Marshall); Come on Leathernecks (Cruze); Freshman Year (McDonald)
Rulers of the Sea (Lloyd); The Green Hornet (Beebe and Taylor—serial); Hitler, Beast of Berlin (Beasts of Berlin; Hell's Devils; Goose Step) (Scott)
Brother Rat and a Baby (Baby Be Good) (Enright); In Old Missouri (McDonald); The Light of Western Stars (Selander); Gangs of Chicago (Lubin); Those Were the Days (Good Old School Days) (Laird); Cross Country Romance (Woodruff); Wildcat Bus (Woodruff); Captain Caution (Wallace); The Howards of Virginia (The Tree of Liberty) (Lloyd); Meet the Missus (St. Clair); Her First Romance (Dmytryk); Blame It on Love (doc); Meat and Romance (doc)
Petticoat Politics (Kenton); The Reluctant Dragon (Werker); I Look at You (short); The Black Cat (Rogell); Citizen Kane (Welles) (as reporter); Paper Bullets (Gangs Inc.) (Rosen); Great Guns (Banks); Cadet Girl (McCarey); Unfinished Rainbows (doc)
Joan of Paris (Stevenson); This Gun for Hire (Tuttle) (as Raven); The Glass Key (Heisler) (as Ed Beaumont); Star Spangled Rhythm (Marshall) (as guest)
Lucky Jordan (Tuttle) (title role); China (Farrow) (as Mr. Jones); Letters from a Friend (Shourds—doc)
And Now Tomorrow (Pichel) (as Dr. Merek Vance); Skirmish on the Home Front (doc)
Salty O'Rourke (Walsh) (title role); Hollywood Victory Caravan (Russell—doc); Duffy's Tavern (Walker) (as guest)
The Blue Dahlia (Marshall) (as Johnny Morrison); O.S.S. (Pichel) (as John Martin); Two Years before the Mast (Farrow) (as Charles Stewart)
My Favorite Brunette (Nugent) (as guest); Calcutta (Farrow) (as Neale Gordon); Variety Girl (Marshall) (as guest); Wild Harvest (Garnett) (as Joe Madigan)
Saigon (Fenton) (as Maj. Larry Briggs); Beyond Glory (Farrow) (as Rocky Gilman); Whispering Smith (Fenton) (as Luke Smith)
The Great Gatsby (Nugent) (as Jay Gatsby); Chicago Deadline (Allen) (as Ed Adams); American Portrait (doc); Eyes of Hollywood (doc)
Captain Carey U.S.A. (After Midnight) (Leisen) (as Webster Carey)
Appointment with Danger (Allen) (as Al Goddard); Branded (Maté) (as Choya); The Road to Hope (doc)
Red Mountain (Dieterle) (as Brett); The Iron Mistress (Douglas) (as Jim Bowie); The Sporting Oasis (short)
Thunder in the East (Charles Vidor) (as Steve Gibbs); Shane (Stevens) (title role); The Desert Legion (Pevney) (as Paul Lartal); Botany Bay (Farrow) (as Hugh Tallant); Paratrooper (The Red Beret) (Young) (as Canada)
Saskatchewan (O'Rourke of the Royal Mounted) (Walsh) (as O'Rourke); Hell below Zero (Robson) (as Duncan Craig); The Black Knight (Garnett) (as John); Drum Beat (Daves) (as Johnny MacKay)
The McConnell Story (Tiger in the Sky) (Douglas) (as Mac McConnell)
Hell on Frisco Bay (Tuttle) (as Steve Rollins); Santiago (The Gun Runner) (Douglas) (as Cash Adams); A Cry in the Night (Tuttle) (as narrator)
The Big Land (Stampeded) (Douglas) (as Chad Morgan); Boy on a Dolphin (Negulesco) (as James Clader)
The Deep Six (Maté) (as Alec Austen); The Proud Rebel (Curtiz) (as John Chandler); The Badlanders (Daves) (as Peter Van Hook)
The Man in the Net (Curtiz) (as John Hamilton)
Guns of the Timberland (Webb) (as Jim Hadley); All the Young Men (Bartlett) (as Kincaid); One Foot in Hell (Clark) (as Mitch Barrett)
Orazi e Curiazi (Duel of Champions) (Baldi and Young) (as Horatio)
Thirteen West Street (Leacock) (as Walt Sherill)
The Carpetbaggers (Dmytryk) (as Nevada Smith)
On LADD: books—
Linet, Beverly, Ladd: The Life, The Legend: The Legacy of Alan Ladd: A Biography, New York, 1979.
Henry, Marilyn, and Ron DeSourdis, The Films of Alan Ladd, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1981.
On LADD: articles—
Roman, Robert C., "Alan Ladd," in Films in Review (New York), April 1964.
Fox, J., "The Good Bad Ladd: A Profile of the Gentle Gunman" and "Spirit of the West," in Films and Filming (London), June and July 1972.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 14 July 1983.
Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1985.
Fagen, H., "Hollywood's Forgotten Lad: The Lost Legacy of Alan Ladd," in Classic Images (Muscatine), October 1992.
Berg, A. Scott, "At Home with Alan Ladd: A Holmby Hills House Built by the Star of Shane," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1994.
Stars (Mariembourg), Spring 1994.
* * *
In the opening moments of This Gun for Hire, Alan Ladd checks his gun, feeds a kitten, slaps the maid, tosses a ball to a cute little girl, and cold-bloodedly shoots down two people whom he has been hired to rub out. With Veronica Lake's guidance, he eventually does the Right Thing, but it was his clear-eyed amorality that audiences responded to; This Gun for Hire made Ladd a star overnight.
He was already, by that time, a veteran of a decade in films, but had never made much of an impact: he was a college student in Pigskin Parade, a sailor in Hold 'em Navy, one of the reporters at the end of Citizen Kane, and a cheerful animator explaining a storyboard to Robert Benchley in The Reluctant Dragon. After This Gun for Hire Ladd became more prolific and quite popular, but his range never extended appreciably. Stalwart and manly, he could also be dour; he seldom smiled without irony. Never a personable figure on the screen, Ladd's appeal was that of an icon: serene face, athletic body, piercing eyes, and an overall tough-guy demeanor that was precisely appropriate for the dark side of the 1940s.
His enigmatic, slightly mocking persona was used to diverse effect by his more perceptive directors—John Farrow, Tay Garnett, Raoul Walsh—and his frequent teamings with insolent twin-soul Veronica Lake provided his stolid imperturbability with a dash and resonance that did not always surface without her. Ladd and Lake were an inspired team; they were so alike in both countenance and manner that they often seem incestuous siblings rather than the conventional lovers that the script means for them to be. Ladd's sullen calm could also take on a veneer of Old World charm which made him a natural and courtly swashbuckler in colorful, exciting entertainments: Desert Legion; The Iron Mistress (in which he played Jim Bowie), The Red Beret, Santiago, Saskatchewan.
Shane was Ladd's last great part; his character looks back on a life of gunfire and bloodshed with a complex mixture of nostalgia and regret. Shane's past was, in short, like Ladd's filmic history. When the gunfighter rides away, we feel the loss of this cool and violent man who so wanted to be a hero, but who just didn't have it in him.