Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Golden Boy

This is Barbara Stan-week! All this week we'll celebrate the life and career of my favorite actress, Barbara Stanwyck, covering different eras of her long and distinguished journey through the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Golden Boy
seen online via YouTube

The story of the great friendship between Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden is one of the sweetest in all of Hollywood, and I was pleased to learn about it while preparing for this week, since Holden is another one of my favorite actors. The short version is that Golden Boy was one of Holden's very first movies, and his inexperience showed initially. Stanwyck saw something in him, though, and fought to keep him in the key role of the young boxer torn between prize-fighting and pursuing his dream of being a violinist. Her hunch paid off, and Holden would continue to get steady work in the movies - and then, of course, Sunset Boulevard made him a superstar. He never forgot the way Stanwyck stood up for him, though, and every year he'd send her flowers on the anniversary of Golden Boy's release, April 1. And when Stanwyck received an honorary Oscar in 1982, she remembered her old friend, who had died the year before.

The movie itself is quite powerful. It's based on a play by Clifford Odets, and the dialogue in places feels quite flowery and theatrical. Odets, a former actor, co-founded the theater company called the Group Theater, and as a result had ties with guys like Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner and Elia Kazan, whom I've talked about before. I wouldn't call Golden Boy a Method movie, though.

In Stanwyck's scenes with Holden, one can see pretty clearly the traces of the actor he would become, but at the same time he has a vulnerability that perhaps is the product of his youth (I didn't even recognize him at first). They have a good rapport with each other, which one can see even in the scenes where they quarrel. Stanwyck had been in the game for over a decade at this point, having already made movies with directors such as William Wellman, King Vidor and Frank Capra, and had gotten the first of what would be her four Best Actress Oscar nominations (for Stella Dallas), so for her to be able to see something in Holden seems reasonable to me.

It's also worth mentioning that Golden Boy came out in the extraordinary year of 1939, regarded by many as perhaps the greatest year in movie history: the year of Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and many more. What was it about that year? Who knows? Maybe the stars aligned just right for Hollywood.


Previously in Barbara Stan-week:
Night Nurse/Ladies They Talk About

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