Birthday Bad Boy Holliman
Veteran actor, animal rights activist and gentleman raconteur Earl Holliman celebrates his 88th birthday this Sunday, and his astonishing 47-year movie and TV acting career remains a marvel. Sixty years ago he was in the starry ensembles of three of 1956’s most enduring films: Forbidden Planet, Giant and The Rainmaker, the last of which earned him a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor. Though in person he is an uncommonly cheerful and sweet-souled person who can spin tales of camaraderie and craft working alongside an amazing number of Hollywood giants, his wide-ranging resume is filled with characters of all stripes, including war heroes (The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Anzio), Western gunslingers (Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Sons of Katie Elder), comic sidekicks (Don’t Go Near the Water, Visit to a Small Planet), dramatic instigators (Hot Spell, Summer and Smoke), sinister politicos (Sharky’s Machine) and hard-charging law enforcers (perfectly partnering Angie Dickinson for four seasons on TV’s Police Woman). Two standout roles from his 1950s era of burgeoning stardom showcase his capacity for playing slimy Western reprobate sons of rapacious, indomitable patriarchs. In the rousing Cinemascope Western saga Broken Lance (1954), he plays one of four offspring of cattle baron Spencer Tracy, an unloving and controlling paterfamilias who won’t give an inch, locked in constant conflict with three of his sons (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brian and Holliman, fathered with his deceased first wife) while favoring his youngest (Robert Wagner, sired with second wife Katy Jurado). When Holliman and O’Brian (the future The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp star who died Monday at age 91) sneakily resort to rustling to get out from under Tracy’s oppressive yoke, the family is irreparably torn apart and a King Lear-inspired unraveling is set in motion. On the Audio Commentary of Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray presentation of the Edward Dmytryk-directed Broken Lance, Holliman perceptively talks about the valuable example of professionalism he drew from working with his fellow players, particularly Tracy and Widmark. Five years later, reteaming with Gunfight at the OK Corral colleagues Kirk Douglas and director John Sturges, Holliman went even darker for the VistaVision frontier thriller Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), in which he plays the only son of widower rancher and territorial big shot Anthony Quinn. When the Cherokee wife of Douglas, marshal of the town of Pawlee, is viciously attacked and killed by the venomous Holliman as she travels home from visiting her family on a nearby reservation, Douglas journeys to the neighboring town of Gun Hill to seek justice – even if it means a deadly confrontation with old friend Quinn and his trigger-happy minions in order to bring to trial the guilty Holliman, who gives one of the juicier bad-boy performances of his screen career. Los Angeles area fans can spend Holliman’s birthday catching a rare 35mm print of Last Train from Gun Hill Sunday evening as part of a UCLA Film and Television Archive Kirk Douglas Centennial Celebration double feature (with 1955’s The Indian Fighter) at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater. And watch ever-engaging Earl in TT’s Broken Lance anytime.