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Alan Ladd Jr. and the Seventy Years Legacy by Stephen Jared


If a movie has a foreign destination as title, I see it. I don't need to know anything else. Perhaps it was growing up in Midwest America, where far away exotic lands, mixed with Hollywood effects, cast an addictive spell. Star Wars and Indiana Jones offered a one-two punch of glorious devastation to everything I was used to seeing. I also saw Casablanca when I was still fairly young. Immediately, I wanted to go there. Maybe not the real Casablanca - I didn't know anything about that. I just knew the black and white Casablanca looked amazing. Thankfully, there were a whole bunch of similarly titled movies - Morocco, Algiers, Macao, Singapore, Malaya, Calcutta, China, Saigon ...

Watching these films, I began to appreciate the terrific skill of Alan Ladd. He's most famous for Shane and a couple of the noir films he made with Veronica Lake, but I became familiar with him through some of these foreign-set adventures. Contracted to Paramount for most of his career, he anchored melodramatic films with his hardened demeanor and sincere conviction. The storylines were all similar but there's nothing at all like them today, so they get better as they get older.


In the early 1960s Alan Ladd Jr., his son, became an agent. Ladd Jr. represented some of the best young stars of the era like Robert Redford and Warren Beatty. He then became a producer, working with Ava Gardner and Marlon Brando among others.

A decade later, Ladd Jr. became an executive at the long-standing but financially struggling film studio, Twentieth Century Fox. Soon serving as studio president, he became a lone champion of George Lucas and his strange space fantasy called Star Wars.

I talked to Alan Ladd Jr. briefly recently and asked him about some of this ...


Stephen Jared: Were you on the Paramount lot much as a kid?Alan Ladd Jr.: I used to stay with my father on the weekends - they used to work on Saturdays in those days - and so on Saturdays I would go and spend the whole day at Paramount.

What were those sets like? It felt as though you were walking into the atmosphere you were dealing with. As a kid, I didn't spend much time on the sets themselves. I would be more likely wandering around the studio. I would go to various streets -- New York street and Chicago street and stuff like that.

Did your father talk about acting? No. Never to me. Never mentioned whether he did like it or didn't like it. My feeling would be that he wasn't thrilled about it because he was a very shy man so I don't think he liked to be any part of publicity or anything like that. I'm just guessing.


A lot of people think a great actor is someone who is different in every film, but if that were true then every star from Humphrey Bogart to Spencer Tracy to your father and even more modern stars like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood would not be considered great actors. What do you think makes a great actor? It's difficult to say but during my father's time he basically did the same movies over and over again - as did Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who were also contracted to Paramount at that time.

The impression from history books is that they all grumbled about that. I always imagined that some actors were unhappy with the scripts but a lot of them were probably happy to have a place to work everyday. Do you recall how most stars felt? I think most stars were very happy with their contracts. As far as I could tell, my dad was very happy being at Paramount. He could work with the same grips, electricians and everything else with each picture. Those people were under contracts as well as actors. It was kind of nice. You could go to work and know all the people you were working with.

What made you want to work in films? When I grew up I spent all my time watching movie after movie after movie.


Does any one stand out as being a major influence? No. Not one - but many of them were.

How has the cinema of your youth informed your career? I made a lot of women's films. Not that as a kid I was seeing women's films but I knew that they were very popular - Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - they were very popular. And I think that played a part in why I did so many women's films.

Do you watch the films you've made? Not the ones I was involved in. If there are things I don't like, there's nothing I can do about it.

Was it your knowledge of old Hollywood that helped you identify the value of Star Wars when others couldn't see it? I just believed that George Lucas had talent.


You've opened the door for so many of the best films of the last 40 years as either head of a company, president of a studio or as primary producer. I've no doubt your father is looking down from Heaven with great pride in what you've accomplished, but would he like what he sees of modern Hollywood? I don't know. Modern Hollywood is so different from the Hollywood he grew up in. Like I said, he went to work with people he knew every day at Paramount. Of course he worked for Universal, Warner Brothers and Columbia too but most of his life was at Paramount.


Do you ever find yourself saying, "Boy, I wish it was like old Hollywood?" In today's market I wish it was like old Hollywood. But not when I was working before. Now it's just - I don't what it is now - it's just remaking pictures over and over and over again.

Can you identify a point where it changed dramatically and why? I think it changed dramatically because creative people aren't involved anymore with the process of making movies. It's more lawyers and marketing people.


You've got a couple films in development. Is it still a thrill? When they work out - sure.

It's fashionable these days to be negative about Hollywood people, but I think it's hard to balance fantasy and reality, and in Hollywood your job is fantasy and you have to work so hard at it in order to be successful. Can you comment on the difficulties of this? Cary Grant once said, "I've spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each." I knew Cary Grant and he always seemed to be having a good time. I think he enjoyed being Cary Grant.


Remove Alan Ladd and his son from Hollywood history and the bridge connecting the classic era to present day crumbles. From the small role of a reporter Ladd played in Citizen Kane to the numerous talents owing pivotal career moments to Ladd Jr., such as George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, Lawrence Kasden, Mel Gibson, and recently Ben Affleck, they've created an extraordinary legacy not unlike the Barrymores and Hustons but unfortunately not typically mentioned with the same well-deserved fanfare.

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