Metro-East Living

O'Fallon will throw a 100th birthday party for its famous actor son

Matron of honor Brenda Marshall (left) and best man William Holden were sole guests at Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s wedding in 1952.
Matron of honor Brenda Marshall (left) and best man William Holden were sole guests at Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s wedding in 1952. American Pictures

Probably no one got that excited 100 years ago when William Franklin Beedle Jr., was born to a family in O'Fallon.

Well, not beyond the usual excitement a first baby brings with it. Of course, there was no way anyone could have known the boy would grow to become William Holden, famous movie star and winner of an Oscar in “Stalag 17.”

Actually Bill Beedle, as he was known, moved to California with his family when he was 3 because his father’s health couldn’t take the Midwestern winters. But though Bill’s stay in O’Fallon was short-lived, that’s no reason that the town can’t claim him as a native son and throw him a 100th birthday party.

Heck, even St. Louis put him on its Walk of Fame as an area native.

First, though, the O’Fallon Public Library will host its own matinee and birthday party from 2-4 p.m. Sunday at the library at 120 Civic Plaza.

Then on Tuesday, the O’Fallon Historical Society Museum at 101 W. State St. will have an open house from 5-9 p.m. featuring a new, expanded exhibit of movie memorabilia and other family items about Holden and the Beedle family.

Holden baby bed.jpg
William Holden's crib is on display at the O'Fallon History Museum. Provided

Holden became interested in acting in high school and while working at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, attracted the attention of movie talent scouts. He made a couple of uncredited appearances in films before being cast as the lead in “Golden Boy,” opposite Barbara Stanwyck, who became a big supporter of the young actor.

Now named William Holden because Bill Beedle didn’t sound like leading man material, he would star in “Sunset Boulevard,” with Gloria Swanson and receive an Academy Award nomination. He also would appear in a number of classic films, such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Born Yesterday,” “Sabria,” and “The Wild Bunch.” He received another Oscar nomination for his role in the hit movie “Network,” and a television Emmy for his work in “The Blue Knight.”

He also was Ronald Reagan’s best man when the actor, who would become president, remarried in 1952. Reagan's first marriage, to actress Jane Wyman, ended in 1949.

Holden became interested in wild animal welfare in Africa and owned a ranch in Kenya that became a popular destination for various jetsetters.

He battled alcoholism for many years and died in 1981 at age 63 after a fall in his home in California.

Kathryn Danielson, chairman of the William Holden Centennial Celebration, said Holden was back to visit his hometown a couple of times, most memorably when he visited the bank building that now is the museum and had lunch at the bus station across the street which now is a pizza restaurant.

She said the ceremony on Tuesday will feature an open house with a welcome ceremony and a video about his life from his companion, actress Stefanie Powers. Powers established the foundation in Holden’s name that supports wildlife conservation in Africa.

The exhibit also has information on Holden’s father, William Sr., who was a track star at O’Fallon Township High School and also at McKendree College, which is now known as McKendree University. His mother, Mary, also attended McKendree and was a teacher.

“Even though he was small when he left, we’re able to say a famous actor once lived here,” Danielson said.