Monday, September 03, 2018

Happy Birthday, Dear Alan

Happy birthday, my dear Alan Ladd.  You would have been 105 today.  I miss you.  Is that terribly weird, that I miss you even though we've never met?  Never could have met?  Even if you hadn't died sixteen years before I was born, we never would have met.  You lived in California, and I was born in Iowa.  You were a famous movie star, and my parents grew up on Iowa farms.  It wouldn't have happened.  Even if you were still alive today, a quiet centenarian living in retirement on your ranch, perhaps -- you wouldn't read this.  You wouldn't know how much your movies and radio work have impacted me and my writing.


And that's okay.  Because I know.  I know the hours of enjoyment I've passed watching your films and listening to Box 13.  I know that, since I became your fan in 2016, you've impacted every major thing I've written.  From "The Man on the Buckskin Horse" to Cloaked to Dancing and Doughnuts, you've been there, deepening my characters.  Adding emotional heft to scenes I struggled with.  Smiling encouragingly in my imagination.  Being a silent source of inspiration.


I didn't expect to fall "in love" with you.  I feel silly sometimes, calling this love.  I'm not in love with you the way I'm in love with my husband.  I don't love you the way I love God.  I don't love you the way I love my kids.  But you fascinate me, you bring me joy, and you inspire me.  So it's a kind of love.  Not fictional love, because I'm not pretending to feel this way about you.  Maybe "adoration" comes closer, since that can be a one-sided feeling.


But anyway, I didn't expect to fall for you.  I'd seen several of your movies over the years -- half of And Now Tomorrow as a teen, though I didn't know who you were in it.  The Proud Rebel, which I didn't care for as a teen.  Shane, which I liked okay, even though I was annoyed by parts of it.  This Gun for Hire, which I liked quite a lot when I saw it in my twenties.  But I mostly thought of you as just another Classic Hollywood actor that was popular once for some reason or other.


I guess I wasn't ready for you until 2016.  And then it was just... the right time.  I led a read-along of Shane by Jack Schaeffer because a friend suggested it.  I always host a giveaway at the end of my read-alongs, so what would be more natural than to offer a copy of the movie Shane (1953)?  Since it stars you and Van Heflin, and I knew you both made other westerns, I found a copy of Heflin's 3:10 to Yuma (1957) to give away too.  And a copy of Whispering Smith (1948), which I had never seen.  I rewatched Shane for the first time since I was in my twenties, and I was blown away by how beautifully it brought the book to life.  And how achingly good you are in it, Alan.  I don't like giving away movies I haven't seen, as a lot of times people ask me about the content of movies, so I then watched Whispering Smith so I could tell people if there was anything potentially objectionable in it.


And oh boy, watching two of your movies back-to-back like that?  You were irresistible.  And I didn't know it, but it was the perfect time to fall for you because a whole lot of your films were finally being made available on DVD for the first time.  Thanks to burn-on-demand technology that led to the Universal Vault Series and the Warner Archive Collection adding reams of classic films to their lists, for that first year or so that I loved you, it seemed like every time I searched Amazon for your films, there were new titles available!  I could feed my infatuation properly until you vaulted from being just another "spring fling" to an actual favorite.  Within six months, you reigned right under John Wayne at the very top of my Favorite Actors list. That's crazy talk -- it took me ten years to let Hugh Jackman take that #2 spot away from Harrison Ford.  You ascended in six months.  That's how special you are to me.


Would I have liked you in real life, had we somehow managed to meet?  I like to think so.  People say you were quiet, shy, mild-mannered, kind, considerate.  You loved horses.  I love horses.  You were a good dad.  I think we could have at least exchanged a few pleasant words.
As you aged, you worried about your waning popularity -- I know you suffered from self-doubt.  You drank too much.  You'd invested so much of your self-worth in being a famous actor that, when your career took a downward turn, your personal life did too.  I understand this.  You worked so hard on your body, your athletic abilities, and when age and alcohol took that from you, that had to have hurt.  I understand that too.


I wish sometimes that I could take a time-travel trip back to 1960 and reassure you, make you understand you had worth even without fame.  But the truth is, I probably couldn't have helped you.  You had a lifetime of trouble that would be too much for me to battle.  It's what made you so good at portraying lost and damaged characters, because you felt lost and damaged yourself.  I'm sad for you, for all the things that happened when you were young.  I get angry at the people who mocked you for being short, or who tried to convince you that you weren't much of an actor.  They were stupid and petty, and if I could, I would punch every one of them in the nose.  I'm an ISFJ, you see -- I want to defend and protect those I love.  Since I love you, I want to defend and protect you.  Buuuuut you might not have liked a thirty-something woman punching your detractors in the nose, so it's probably better that I stay here in my own world.


This is rambly.  That's okay.  Just know that you hold a special place in my heart and my imagination.  My life is richer because of you.  Happy birthday, dear Alan.

-Rachel Kovaciny

21 comments:

  1. I love this! There are a few actors that I share similar sentiments for. So much I wish I could tell them.


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    1. Skye, yeah, there are just a handful that I really wish I could actually reach out to and say, "You're important to me."

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  2. This post is so sweet! I like all the pictures, but especially the last one. <3

    I'm so proud I can share a birthday with him.

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    1. That last pic is just wonderful, isn't it? I might make it my FB profile pic...

      I love that I have a friend who shares his birthday!!! And a friend who appreciates him, which is even better.

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    2. You totally should make it your profile picture! It's such a happy, handsome photo of him. <3

      I still need to watch those three movies of his that you sent me. :) And then I'm sure my admiration and appreciation will grow even more.

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    3. Eva, I did.

      You should! And Now Tomorrow is straight-up drama and I love his sass in it. I haven't seen Salty O'Rourke yet, but I hear it's fun. And Two Years Before the Mast is a sort of grim fun too.

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  3. *coughs*

    . . . You know you made me tear up just a little bit, right? Just a teeny tiny bit?

    The part where you said you wanted to go back in time and reassure him he's special and important, Got Me. <3



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    1. I totally got emotional as well. :*)

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    2. Jessica (and Eva), that's only fair, cuz I teared up more than once when I wrote it this morning.

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  4. I tried to comment this morning, but it got eaten by blogger. Anyway, I loved this post. It's so very heartfelt, and I understand it so well. Happy Birthday, Alan!

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  5. He is one of those actors who has had an impact on my life as well. Changed certain things. Gave me higher standards for quality and craftsmanship (particularly in the film noir genre). He gave me an appreciation for things I may have otherwise never noticed.


    I'll never forget when I first was introduced to Alan Ladd in "Box 13." I think that was one of the best shows in the entire history of OTR. And certainly my personal favorite (and it has some stiff competition too, for there are many fine radio shows that produced unforgettable quality programs!). I heard it long before I ever saw him in a film, or knew what his face looked like, and was astonished at the quality of his acting. The inflection. The eloquent pauses. The unbelievable fine narration.

    Then there was the character he vocally created as Dan Holiday--a writer with strong toughness and strong kindness. And quiet, hidden depths of personality, integrity, compassion, and character coming through between the lines of dialogue that was seldom, if ever, surpassed by any of the other stars on the air. And somehow he could get that deepness in a simple line or mere "Uh, huh."

    His mastery of voice and elocution is inspiring, especially in our culture of "vocal fry." And of course I could go on and on. :)

    Thanks for the reminder of his birthday! What craftsmanship and joy he has brought into so many people's lives--he's one of those never-to-be-forgotten actors.

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    1. Annie, he really did have an amazing voice, and he obviously worked long and hard on learning to use it beautifully. You're so right -- he can put layer after layer of meaning into one smile word or phrase.

      My kids got to listen to probably 15 or 20 eps of Box 13 this summer because I listened to them via YouTube while working on a bunch of craft projects. They really enjoyed them, and I know we'll listen to more together in the future. We had some great discussions about story structure, character motivations, and so on -- it was wonderful!

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    2. *small, not smile. Though he could do all that with a smile too, or a flick of his eyes.

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  6. This is sweet. <3 I'm sure he would have been honored.

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  7. Hi Rachel. I love this tribute to Alan. He always comes across to me as having been a very deep and soulful man. He is an actor who I consider to be very underrated these days. Lovely photos.

    Hope all is good with you.

    Maddy

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    1. Thanks, Maddy! He really does come across as genuine and thoughtful, doesn't he? And MUCH TOO UNDERRATED. For my taste, anyway ;-)

      Things are good here! Gradually getting back into the swing of blogging and reading blogs after my busy summer. How're you doing?

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  8. This is great. :-) It is through you that I learned about him, and have gotten to like him! So, thank you for that, too.

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