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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alan Ladd (1913-64)

Alan Walbridge Ladd, Jr., was born September 3, 1913, at Hot Springs, Arkansas. His parents were Alan Walbridge Ladd, Sr., and Ina Raleigh. When he was four, his father died. His mother moved the family to Oklahoma City, where his mother married Jim Beavers, a housepainter. (Consequently, the Jr. part of his name was dropped.) The family moved again to the Los Angeles neighborhood of North Hollywood, known as NoHo by the locals..

A small man, only 5'5" (168 cm), he hated his nickname, "Tiny," and tried to do everything to prove that he was a big man. He was a champion swimmer and diver at North Hollywood High School. He got involved in school dramatics. And he opened his own hamburger stand, which he called "Tiny's Patio," to prove to those who knew him that he could take it. He also began working at Universal Studios as a carpenter, which was the same job his stepfather did. He was in dozens of movies in the 1930s in uncredited bit parts.

He married Marjorie Jane (Midge) Harrold in 1937. They had a son whom they named Alan Ladd, Jr., who was born in late 1937 (remember that Alan had dropped the Jr. from his name when his father died.) Alan and Midge divorced in 1941.

His dream was acting. From living where he did, he was able to get work as a radio actor. But he wanted to do movies. Universal said he was too short. But he didn't let that stop them. Working on radio was fine. He began working on the children's soap opera, Jerry at Fair Oaks, in 1937. He became part of the regular fill-in cast on the Lux Radio Theater. In 1940, he began getting parts with his name attached to them. But it is worth noting that his last bit part was that of a pipe smoking reporter in the final scenes of Citizen Kane (1942).

Alan's mother, who suffered terribly from clinical depression committed suicide. From what was said about her, he knew that he also had the same problem. He had a terrible drinking problem and there was also some drug abuse.

In 1942 he married Sue Carol (born Evelyn Lederer/1906-82), his manager, who was also an actress at one time. They would have a son and a daughter: David (born in 1947) and Alana (born in 1943). Although beset with problems of drugs, alcohol, and depression, the couple did the best to stay together. After all, she did help him to get the roles which would make his name a household word.

The first big movie he did as a star was This Gun for Hire (1942). It was an instant sensation. This was the first film in which he worked opposite Veronica Lake (1919-73), who would be considered his best co-star. Alan liked her because she was only 5'2" (157 cm) and he didn't have to stand on a box when they got close, even if she was wearing three inch high heels. The studios liked that, too.

In 1948, he started his own production company, Mayfair Productions. Mayfair created programs for radio, including Box 13 (in which Alan was the star) and the Damon Runyon Theater (which didn't have Alan in it at all). The company also created several movies, including a movie based on Box 13, which was never released and possibly never finished.

The most successful movie produced by Mayfair was Shane (1953). This western, which also starred Jean Arthur, was the story of how a gunslinger got involved in the disputes of homesteaders versus cattlemen.

In 1958, Alan and Sue Ladd moved to Palm Springs. When trying to fix their house as they moved in, they went to the only hardware store in town. He was happy with their selection but not so much with their service. When he asked the manager if they could deliver some supplies, the manager said, "No, and we're the only hardware store in town." Alan quipped, "Maybe today, but tomorrow there will be two." And he opened his own hardware store after that.

Ladd Hardware (later Ladd Hardware and Gifts) became so successful the other store went out of business. It became so successful that the motto of the store was, "Palm Springs wouldn't be Palm Springs without us!"

Alan had several episodes of depression. In 1962 he shot himself in the leg, which caused him to limp for the rest of his life. He had several ways of explaining how this happened. He remained busy but he also became depressed.

Death came to Alan at the age of 50. It was the result of a deadly combination of alcohol and sleeping pills. Some biographers think he was trying to commit suicide. Those who understand depression think it was another episode of a bad choice. Whatever happened, he died on January 23, 1964, at his home in Palm Springs, California. His body is entombed in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. His wife would join him 19 years later.

In 1969, Sue Ladd threw herself into the hardware store business. She made it into a store, not just for the locals to get paint and wallpaper, but also for tourists to get souvenirs. Sue stayed busy with it until the end. She died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on February 4, 1982.



1 comment:

Bob Higgins said...

The store in Palm Springs was originally Higgins-Ladd Hardware, my dad was good friends with Alan Ladd, who became my younger brother's Godfather, little tirvia for you!

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