“Sunset Boulevard” airs on Turner Classic Movies

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard"Whether it was by design or luck, the fact is that William Holden certainly  appeared in more than his share of outstanding motion pictures. A prime example  is “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 classic, which airs Sunday, April 25th at 7 pm  on Turner Classic Movies. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, “Sunset  Boulevard” co-stars Nancy Olson, Eric Von Stroheim, and, of course, silent  screen legend Gloria Swanson, playing the role of silent screen legend Norma  Desmond. Although “Sunset Boulevard” is a fictional story involving the movie  business, the film utilizes several true life Hollywood figures playing  themselves, giving the picture a surreal quality. Among the cameos are Cecil B  DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner.

“Sunset Boulevard” begins with the sight of Joe Gillis(Holden) a young  screen writer, floating dead in a swimming pool. The movie then becomes a  flashback, as Joe, acting as narrator, explains the events that led to his  death. It seems that sometime before, a struggling Joe Gillis, while fleeing  from creditors, takes refuge in the garage of a Hollywood mansion belonging to  Norma Desmond, a one-time star from the silent era. Aside from her loyal German  butler Max (Von Stroheim), Norma is a virtual recluse, but learning that Joe is  a writer, she becomes intrigued with the idea of his writing a screenplay which  will propel her back into the limelight. Joe, having no other sources of income,  agrees, and soon finds himself living in Norma’s spacious home, but the  arrangement becomes even more complicated when Joe realizes that Norma’s designs  on him go well beyond producing scripts.

“Sunset Boulevard” was well received initially, garnering 11 Academy Award  Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Holden), Best Actress (Swanson)  and Best Director, and winning Oscars for Best Music Scoring, Best Screenplay,  and Best Set Decoration. During the 60 years since its release, the film’s  status as a classic has grown, as demonstrated by its number 12 ranking in the  American Film Institute’s list of the 100 top American films. “Sunset Boulevard” also helped establish William Holden, leading him to starring roles in “Stalag  17,” “Picnic,” “Born Yesterday,” “Sabrina,” and “The Bridge on the River  Kwai.”

As effective as Gloria Swanson and William Holden were in “Sunset  Boulevard,” they were not the first actors Billy Wilder considered for the film.  Mae West, Norma Shearer and Mary Pickford were on Wilder’s short list to play  Norma Desmond, while Marlon Brando, Fred MacMurray and Montgomery Clift were all  in the running to portray Joe.

Trivia: Among the notable cameos in “Sunset Boulevard” is the songwriting  team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who are probably best known for composing  the theme to “Bonanza.”