Jack Holt (actor)

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Jack Holt
Silent film actor Jack Holt (SAYRE 3417).jpg
Holt in 1925
Charles John Holt, Jr.

(1888-05-31)May 31, 1888
DiedJanuary 18, 1951(1951-01-18) (aged 62)
Years active1914–1951
SpouseMargaret Woods
Children3; including Tim Holt and Jennifer Holt

Charles John Holt, Jr. [1] (May 31, 1888 – January 18, 1951) was an American motion picture actor who was prominent in both silent and sound movies, particularly Westerns.


Early life

Holt was born in 1888 in the Fordham section of The Bronx, New York, the son of an Episcopal priest at St. James Church. [2] When in Manhattan, he attended Trinity School. He was accepted into the Virginia Military Institute in 1909, [3] but expelled for misbehavior in his second semester there. [2]

Following Holt's father's death, the family moved to New York City, where Jack, his mother, and brother Marshall lived with his married sister, Frances. [2]

Holt worked at various jobs including construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad's tunnel under the Hudson River and being a "surveyor, laborer, prospector, trapper, and stagecoach driver, among many other jobs" during an almost six-year stay in Alaska. [2]

Military service

Holt was prevented from serving in World War I because of "chronic foot problems" that resulted from frostbite that he suffered during his time in Alaska. [2] On January 28, 1943, Holt reported for duty with the rank of captain in the Army Quartermaster Corps. He began training at Fort Francis E. Warren. [4]

Film career

Noah Beery, Raymond Hatton, Lois Wilson, and Jack Holt in The Thundering Herd (1925) Cast of The Thundering Herd in character.jpg
Noah Beery, Raymond Hatton, Lois Wilson, and Jack Holt in The Thundering Herd (1925)

Holt began in Hollywood with stunt work and bit parts in serials and at Universal Pictures worked as a supporting player for Francis Ford and his brother John Ford, and Grace Cunard.

In his 1914 film debut, Holt rode a horse down a steep embankment into the Russian River in a scene for Salomy Jane. The stunt cracked some of Holt's ribs and injured the horse so badly that it had to be destroyed. The film, which was considered lost for years, was included in the DVD released 2011 anthology Treasures 5 The West 1898—1938 by the National Film Preservation Foundation after a print was discovered in Australia. [2]

Jack Holt, with his dapper mustache, prominent jaw, and quick-with-his-fists manner, personified rugged masculinity. Holt became Columbia Pictures' most reliable leading man, and scored personal successes in three Frank Capra action dramas: Submarine (1928), Flight (1929) and Dirigible (1931). Holt's no-nonsense characterizations were eclipsed by younger, tough-talking actors like James Cagney and Chester Morris, although he was still entrusted with tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold leads. Two mid-1930s features, Whirlpool and The Defense Rests , starred Holt opposite up-and-coming ingenue Jean Arthur.

Exhibitors had come to associate Jack Holt with rough-and-tumble action, and so Holt continued to work in low-budget crime dramas (mostly for Columbia) through 1940. The series came to an end when he argued with studio chief Harry Cohn. Cohn thought the actor so arrogant that he assigned Holt the leading role in a lowbrow 15-chapter serial, Holt of the Secret Service (1941). Holt — the star of longest standing with the studio — was insulted by Cohn's demotion and, although he turned in a professional performance in the serial, he walked out on both Cohn and Columbia.

Holt and Seena Owen in Victory (1919) Jack Holt-Seena Owen in Victory.jpg
Holt and Seena Owen in Victory (1919)

Holt began freelancing at other studios, frequently appearing in outdoor and western fare. He would become an enduring member of the cowboy fraternity through Trail of Robin Hood (1950), a Roy Rogers western with guest appearances by Holt, Allan Lane, Tom Keene, Tom Tyler, Kermit Maynard, and Rex Allen.

Jack Holt's children established their own film careers. Tim Holt succeeded George O'Brien as the star of RKO Radio Pictures' "B" westerns, and co-starred with his father in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), with Jack as a grubby vagrant. Jennifer Holt played ingenues in low-budget features, mostly for Universal Pictures. The Holt family performed together on the "Drifty" episode of "All Star Western Theater" (KNX-CBS Pacific Network, 1946/47) as a father/son/daughter trio featuring a dramatic sketch and additional entertainment by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage. [5]

Personal life

Holt married divorcee Margaret Wood in 1918. She obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1932, but on January 9, 1940, a judge in Los Angeles ruled that the divorce was invalid. [6] Her father, tycoon Henry Morton Stanley-Wood, disowned her because she married an actor; they later made up after he had lost most of his money in the Great Depression. She already had a daughter when they married, and together they had a son, Charles John Holt III, and a daughter, Elizabeth Marshall Holt. Better known as Tim and Jennifer respectively, both of them became actors in western films. [2] Holt was a lifetime member of the Society of Colonial Wars, admitted to the California Society on July 13, 1928. [7] [8]


Original caption: "Howard C. Hickman, husband and director of Bessie Barriscale, shows leading man Jack Holt how to make love to Mrs. Hickman." This appears to be a production still from Kitty Kelly, M.D. (1919). If so, the cameraman behind the Bell & Howell model 2709 is Eugene Gaudio. Bessie Barriscale Howard Hickman Jack Holt 1919.jpg
Original caption: "Howard C. Hickman, husband and director of Bessie Barriscale, shows leading man Jack Holt how to make love to Mrs. Hickman." This appears to be a production still from Kitty Kelly, M.D. (1919). If so, the cameraman behind the Bell & Howell model 2709 is Eugene Gaudio.

Holt died in 1951 of a heart attack, at age 62. [9]


Holt has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6313-½ Hollywood Blvd for his contribution to the motion picture industry. [10]

Margaret Mitchell, although having no say in the casting for Gone With the Wind (1939), expressed her preference of Jack Holt as Rhett Butler, because her personal favorite, Charles Boyer, had a French accent. [11]


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  1. Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Bronx, New York, New York; Roll: 1127; Page: 17A; line 15; Enumeration District: 1041; FHL microfilm: 1241127.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Glenn, Justin (2016). The Washingtons. Volume 7, Part 1: Generation Eleven of the Presidential Branch. Savas Publishing. pp. 210–211. ISBN   9781940669328 . Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  3. "Historical Rosters Database". Virginia Military Institute. Archived from the original on January 19, 2014. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  4. "Jack Holt Becomes Army Captain". The New York Times. Associated Press. January 29, 1943. p. 7. ProQuest   106543909 . Retrieved February 12, 2021 via ProQuest.
  5. "All-Star Western Theatre". Radio Archives. Archived from the original on May 29, 2016. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  6. "Jack Holt Divorce Invalid". The New York Times. Associated Press. January 10, 1940. p. 25. ProQuest   105208967 . Retrieved February 12, 2021 via ProQuest.
  7. General Society of Colonial Wars Index and Ancestors and Members (2011).
  8. Register of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California (2008) pg. 106.
  9. "Jack Holt".
  10. "Jack Holt | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved June 25, 2016.
  11. Anne Edwards, Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell (New Haven and New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1983)