Alan Walbridge Ladd, Jr., the dashing actor who made waves in Hollywood for his portrayal as Raven in the 1942 smash hit This Gun For Hire, was born on September 3, 1913 in Hot Springs, Ark. to parents Ina Raleigh and Alan Ladd, Sr.
For Ladd, growing up as a young boy in Arkansas was difficult and his family faced a number of obstacles that could have easily sent the young and impressionable boy spiraling towards disaster.
His mother, an English immigrant who came to the United States at the age of 19, did her best to take care of him while his father traveled the country extensively, missing the majority of his son’s formative years. Sadly, tragedy struck the Ladd household for the first time when Ladd’s father unexpectedly passed away, leaving him and his mother financially strapped. Ladd was four years old at the time.
Shortly after his father’s death, Ladd and his mother began picking up the pieces, desperately trying to sort out their future. But tragedy would once again come knocking on the family’s door, when at the age of five, Ladd accidentally burned down his family’s apartment.
Dreaming of a better life, a malnourished and homeless Ladd and his mother moved to Oklahoma City. The family’s stay in the “Sooner” state didn’t last long, however, and soon after remarrying a local house painter, Ladd’s mother moved the family to California in search of more lucrative employment opportunities. Ladd’s family continued their journey west, and in California, Ladd was forced to find a job in order to help support his family. By the age of eight, he was picking fruit, delivering papers and sweeping floors simply to help his family make ends meet.
Fortunately, high school was a positive experience for Ladd who quickly got involved in sports and participated in theater. Despite his frail appearance, Ladd excelled in swimming and track and, in 1931, he decided to train for the 1932 Olympics. Training didn’t last long, however, as an injury would sideline him and keep him from participating in the Olympic trials.
Despite the stock market crash that affected the entire nation, the early to mid 1930s were looking up for Ladd. Still a long way from entering the world of Hollywood, he worked a number of odd jobs including work as gas station attendant, hot dog vendor, and a lifeguard.
When Ladd finally broke into the entertainment business, he played small bit parts in radio shows and local theatre productions, and found himself working as a grip on the Warner Bros. Studio lot. Ladd’s streak of good luck continued and, in October of 1936, he married Marjorie Jane Harrold. A year later, in 1937, the couple gave birth to their first child, Alan Ladd, II.
Ladd’s early film work consisted of mostly minor parts, such as the role of a reporter in Orson Welles’ 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. Despite the initial hardships of getting noticed in the Hollywood community, the persistence of his agent, former screen actress Sue Carol, helped the actor land more important roles.
After divorcing his first wife, Ladd and Carol soon became romantically involved and the couple married in 1942. That same year the actor got his big break with Paramount Pictures’ This Gun for Hire, in which he played the paid killer, Raven.
The response to the film was so favorable that Ladd instantly became a star. His co-star in the film, Veronica Lake, matched his look so well that the studio teamed them for several other productions that were extremely popular with moviegoers. Among them were The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia, and Saigon.
Through the mid 1950s, Ladd remained with Paramount, making a number of films where he played dynamic, action-packed roles. The 1953 western film, Shane, gave him the opportunity to play an honest character troubled by conflicting emotions. Ladd’s magnetism and his beautiful portrayal of the character made the movie an instant classic.
After the success of Shane, Ladd continued making films, but on January 29, 1964, he suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at the age of 51.
Throughout his career, Ladd’s blonde good looks, charisma, and stoic presence were apparent in his films and it is this magnetism that will forever keep him in the memory of the audiences and millions of adoring fans around the world who loved him.