Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Alan Ladd

There is something ambiguous and mysterious about Alan Ladd -- maybe it is his slight blankness, the fact that you could project onto him -- that made him natural casting for Jay Gatsby, even if the movie didn't turn out so great.

It also helps explain why he is far and away the most iconic male noir star among gay men. I believe this was always the case; recall the photo of Ladd taped inside Sal Mineo's locker in Rebel without a Cause. (Mineo would later say that he played Plato as film's first "gay teenager" at Nicholas Ray's express instruction.)

Ladd aged rapidly after 35, which was fairly common in those days, but his aging did not give him the physical authority it bestows on some actors; he went from being boyish to looking like an oldish boy.

(Aging can be especially hard on shorter actors in Hollywood, I think; Audie Murphy's career also started to fizzle after 35, and even the great James Cagney had to make major adjustments and develop as a character actor.)

Ultimately Ladd's story, with his attempted gun suicide at 49 and his eventual fatal overdose at 50, is one of Hollywood's saddest. His alcoholic mother had committed suicide years before; probably he was always at risk, and not well-equipped emotionally to deal with the downslope of a movie career. An interviewer asked him in 1961, "What would you change about yourself if you could?", and he replied, "Everything."

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