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,
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
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
I talked to Alan Ladd Jr. recently
and asked him about some of
Were you on the Paramount lot much as a kid?
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.
(1953) with Alan Ladd in the title role.
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
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
Ladd Jr. is also famous for giving
George Lucas the go-ahead to make
this life changing film.
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
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
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.
Ladd Jr. received an Oscar for producing
best film Braveheart
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.