• 31 May 1888
  •  New York City, New York, USA

Jack Holt


Staunch, granite-jawed American leading man of silent and early talkie films, much associated with Westerns. A native of New York City, Holt often claimed to have been born in Winchester, Virginia, where he grew up. The son of an Episcopal minister, he attended Trinity School in Manhattan, then the Virginia Military Institute, from which he was expelled for bad behavior. Giving up his vague hopes of becoming a lawyer, he went on the road, engaging in numerous occupations. He mined gold in Alaska, worked as both a railroad and a civil engineer, delivered mail, rode herd on cattle, and played parts in traveling stage productions. While looking for work as a surveyor in San Francisco in 1914, he volunteered to ride a horse over a cliff in a stunt for a film crew shooting in San Rafael. In gratitude, the director gave him a part in the film. Holt followed the movie people to Hollywood and began getting bits and stunt jobs in the many Westerns and serials being made there. He impressed a number of co-workers at Universal Pictures, among them Francis Ford and his brother John Ford, and Grace Cunard. Holt soon became a frequent supporting player in their films, and then a star in serials. A move to Paramount studios in 1917 cemented his leading man status, and he became one of the studio's great stars, particularly in a very successful series of Westerns based on the novels of Zane Grey. Talkies proved no problem for Holt, and his career thrived, although mostly in run-of-the-mill adventure films. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Holt entered the U.S. Army at the age of 54, serving at the request of General George C. Marshall as a horse buyer for the cavalry. Upon his return to pictures following the war, he alternated between character roles in major films such as John Ford's They Were Expendable (1945) and leading roles in minor Westerns. He made a cameo appearance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) which starred his son Tim Holt. That same year father and son played father and son in a B-Western, The Arizona Ranger (1948). Less than three years later, on January 18, 1951, Holt died of a heart attack at the Los Angeles Veterans Hospital in Sawtelle, a couple of blocks west of the Los Angeles National Cemetery where he is now buried.