O'Fallon Progress

O'Fallon's 'Golden Boy,' William Holden, was born 100 years ago

Brian Keller is the O’Fallon Historical Society president.
Brian Keller is the O’Fallon Historical Society president. rkirsch@bnd.com

It was the biggest news scoop the O’Fallon Progress didn’t know it had. A century ago, at the top of page 5 of the April 18, 1918 edition of the Progress was this simple announcement, “A boy was born to Mr. and Mrs. William Beedle, yesterday.”

Named after his father, the baby arrived in the home of his grandpa, Walter Beedle, at 319 N. Cherry in O’Fallon.

“Will” Beedle was a 1910 graduate of O’Fallon High School and a basketball and track star at both the high school and McKendree College. It was at McKendree that Beedle met his future wife, Mary Ball of Litchfield, Illinois. They married in 1917 with boys Bill and Bob (1921) soon following.

But the harsh O’Fallon winters were hard on the father’s lungs, with doctors recommending a milder climate. So, in mid-1923, the family uprooted and moved to sunny California where a third son, Richard, was born (1924). The plan was for Bill to follow in his father’s footsteps as a chemist.

But acting was his destiny. He changed his name to the less bug-like William Holden and the rest, as they say, is history. He had a wide-ranging acting career that spanned from 1938 to 1981 with movies like "Golden Boy," "Our Town," "Sunset Boulevard," "Sabrina," "Picnic," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "The Wild Bunch" and so many others. Holden was the movie star Lucille Ball swooned over in the classic 1955 "I Love Lucy" episode where he played himself.

He earned three Academy Award nominations, including a 1954 win for Best Actor in "Stalag 17," plus a prime-time Emmy for "The Blue Knight" in 1974. The American Film Institute ranked him No. 25 on their list of Greatest American Male Screen Legends, and he has a star on both the Hollywood and St. Louis Walks of Fame.

And he didn't forget O'Fallon. He visited here at least several times as an adult. Holden died too young, in 1981, at the age of 63. His legacy, though, lives on in his movies and the William Holden Wildlife Foundation.

To William (Beedle) Holden, happy 100th birthday from your hometown!