Movie Stars: Ladd, Alan–Long Road to Lead Roles and Stardom

Alan Ladd’s career is  definitely not a case of overnight stardom. In fact, it took him a whole decade, during which he played bit parts and cameos in over 20 features, to become a bona fide star.

Ladd tested unsuccessfully for the lead role in Golden Boy (1939), which went to William Holden.

He played many small roles, such as the serial The Green Hornet (1940), Her First Romance (1940), The Black Cat (1941) and the Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon (1941).

Ladd had a small uncredited part in Citizen Kane, playing a newspaper reporter towards the end of the film.

Ladd’s career gained extra momentum when he was cast in a featured role in RKO’s wartime drama, Joan of Paris (1942). It was a small part that involved a touching death scene, which got attention.  RKO would offer Ladd a contract at $400 a week, but he soon received a better offer from Paramount.

The turning point of his career occurred in 1942, when he was cast in Frank Tuttle’s film noir, This Gun for Hire, based on Graham Greene’s 1936 novel.  Though he was billed fourth, after Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, the film’s critical success and fans reactions catapulted him to major stardom.

Paramount had owned the film rights to Graham Greene’s novel, A Gun for Sale since 1936, but waited until 1941 before making a movie out of it, changing the title to This Gun for Hire.

Director Frank Tuttle was struggling to find a new actor to play the role of “Raven,” a hitman with a conscience. Ladd auditioned successfully and Paramount signed him to a long-term contract in September 1941 for $300 a week.

Ladd was 31 when he achieved stardom.