Alan Walbridge Ladd was an American film actor.
Ladd was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas to an American father and an English-American mother. His father died when he was four, and his mother relocated to Oklahoma City where she married Jim Beavers, a housepainter. The family then moved again to North Hollywood, California where Ladd became a high-school swimming and diving champion and participated in high school dramatics. He opened his own hamburger and malt shop, which he called Tiny’s Patio. He worked briefly as a studio carpenter and for a short time was part of the Universal Pictures studio school for actors. But Universal decided he was too blond and too short and dropped him. Intent on acting, he found work in radio.
Ladd began by appearing in dozens of films in small roles, including Citizen Kane in which he played one of the “faceless” reporters who are always shown in silhouette. He first gained some recognition with a featured role in the wartime thriller Joan of Paris, 1942. For his next role, his manager, Sue Carol, found a vehicle which made Ladd’s career, Graham Greene’s This Gun for Hire in which he played “Raven,” a hitman with a conscience. “Once Ladd had acquired an unsmiling hardness, he was transformed from an extra to a phenomenon. Ladd’s calm slender ferocity make it clear that he was the first American actor to show the killer as a cold angel.” – David Thomson Both the film and Ladd’s performance played an important role in the development of the “gangster” genre: “That the old fashioned motion picture gangster with his ugly face, gaudy cars, and flashy clothes was replaced by a smoother, better looking, and better dressed bad man was largely the work of Mr. Ladd.” – New York Times obituary. Ladd was teamed with actress Veronica Lake in this film, and despite the fact that it was Robert Preston who played the romantic lead, the Ladd-Lake pairing captured the public’s imagination, and would continue in another three films. Ladd went on to star in several Paramount Pictures’ films with a brief timeout for military service with the United States Army Air Force’s First Motion Picture Unit. He appeared in Dashiell Hammett’s story The Glass Key, his second pairing with Lake, and Lucky Jordan, with Helen Walker. His cool, unsmiling persona proved popular with wartime audiences, and he was quickly established as one of the top box office stars of the decade.