O'Fallon Progress

O'Fallon to celebrate 100th birthday of its most famous son

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

In celebration of the Oscar-winning actor’s 100th birthday, O’Fallon is planning to roll out the red carpet to honor its most famous native son, William Holden.

The O’Fallon Historical Society will host an open house from 5 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, at the museum, 101 W. State St., to mark the occasion.

“There will be refreshments, plus birthday cake, and we'll have quite a bit of memorabilia on display,” said Brian Keller, president of the O’Fallon Historical Society, who along with Tom Schwarztrauber, accepted a proclamation from Mayor Herb Roach at the April 2 City Council that declared April 17 as William Holden Day in O'Fallon.

“Who was the most important person to come from O'Fallon is debatable — really depends on point of view. But William Holden was certainly the most famous and widely known, with plenty of talent to back it up,” Keller said.

William Franklin Beedle Jr. was born on April 17, 1918, in O’Fallon, in the 319 N. Cheery St. home owned by his grandfather, Walter Beedle, a direct descendent of Capt. Joseph Ogle, the first settler in the O’Fallon area.

He was the oldest of three sons born to William Franklin Beedle, an industrial chemist, and Mary Ball, a school teacher. His father, a fertilizer and chemical analyst, became head of the George W. Gooch Laboratories when he moved the family to Pasadena, California, in 1921.

The O’Fallon Historical Society has memorabilia about Holden in its museum, including his baby bed.

“We say rubbing it will bring you good luck, like Abraham Lincoln’s nose in Springfield,” Keller said. “His brother, Robert, would probably have used the baby bed, too, since he also was born in O'Fallon. (His) third brother, Richard, was born out in California.”

(Robert Westfield Beedle was born in 1921. He died during World War II as a naval pilot in 1944. Richard Porter Beedle was born in 1925.)

“He never forgot where he came from,” Keller said. “He came back with his wife, Brenda Marshall, and they were seen walking around town.”

Keller noted that when O’Fallon celebrated its centennial in 1954, that was the year that Holden won the Academy Award for “Stalag 17.” He thought that was a nice coincidence.

Keller and Roach mentioned that President Reagan also figured into the O’Fallon memories, for Holden was the best man at Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s wedding in 1952. Reagan’s aunt owned a confectionery in town, and he would visit her during the summer. Roach’s dad played checkers and went fishing with the future president. Reagan lived in Dixon, Illinois, from age 9 to 21.

“It's a shame no photos exist, that I know of, of William Holden and Brenda Marshall walking in downtown O'Fallon — or Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman doing the same thing. Those were interesting times,” Keller said.

Holden became a popular movie star who enjoyed a 40-year Hollywood career, first as a nice guy. Then roles came along with a harder edge, establishing him as a durable leading man. He was in nine films nominated for Best Picture, and during the 1950s, he was among the Top 10 Box Office Stars six times, hitting No. 1 in 1956.

While studying chemistry at Pasadena Junior College, the handsome and athletic Holden was signed by a Paramount talent scout, who saw him in a local play.

In 1938, he made his film debut in “The Golden Boy,” was Oscar-nominated three times for “Sunset Boulevard,” “Network,” and won for his role as a cynical prisoner of war in “Stalag 17.”

Other memorable roles include “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” “Born Yesterday,” “Picnic,” “Sabrina,” “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” “The Wild Bunch” and “The Towering Inferno.”

In his personal life, he had a daughter, Arlene, with Eva May Hoffman in 1937. He married actress Brenda Marshall in 1941, and they were married for 30 years, until divorcing in 1971. Besides her daughter from a previous marriage, Virginia Holden, they had two sons, Peter Westfield “West” Holden, born in 1943, and Scott Porter Holden, born in 1946.

From 1975 until his death in 1981, he was in a relationship with actress Stefanie Powers. He had moved his family to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1959, and spent much time in Africa. Wildlife conservation became a passion. He moved back to the U. S. in 1967.

He amassed an impressive art collection at his hilltop home in Palm Springs, California, and those paintings now are part of the Palm Springs Museum of Art.

He served in World War II, and is among the veterans honored at the O’Fallon Veterans Memorial.

In addition to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the golden Holden received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in University City’s Delmar Loop in 2012. The American Film Institute listed him at No. 25 on the list of 50 Greatest Screen Legends.

“To come from a small town like ours is really remarkable,” Keller said.

Holden passed away on Nov. 12, 1981, at age 63.

From 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, the O'Fallon Public Library will show a half-hour biography of Holden's life, share a birthday cake and trivia and then conclude by watching an episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy encounters William Holden at the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood. The event will be held in the library's Community Room.