If the story of the Ladds — Alan Jr., his brother David, their sisters Alana and Carol Lee and many of their progeny — were a sitcom, we could call it “All in the Family.” For the Ladds, perhaps more than any other family in Hollywood, are a true dynasty.
Oh, sure, there are Douglases, Kasdans, Howards and such, but these are small clans compared with the Ladds, who have wielded power quietly.
It all started with Alan Ladd Sr., an actor whose performances in pics such as “This Gun for Hire” (1942) and “Shane” (1953) are models of steely sangfroid and calm grit. He died in 1964, yet his legacy remains strong.
Though Alan Jr., or “Laddie” as he’s almost universally known, says that his father neither encouraged nor discouraged his entry into the industry — first as an agent, then a studio exec and finally an independent producer — he does credit his dad with instilling in him virtues that have well served him throughout his career.
“He’d say, ‘Be very nice to everybody, and you’ll be rewarded for it,'” recalls the son. “He was known for being nice. So I made a point of that, and it helped. It was good advice.”
Brother David started in front of the cameras before following a path into producing. “The old man got me started,” says David, referring to his first role, opposite his father in a 1957 oater called “The Big Land.” His breakout perf came the following year in “The Proud Rebel,” another of Alan Sr.’s Westerns.
David suggests that his father “got a lot of people started,” including one of his sons-in-law, John Veitch, who married Carol Lee and later became a production prexy at Columbia. “It’s like living in Detroit and working in the auto business,” David says, noting that even sister Alana indulged a short acting career. “What are you going to do? The business has been kind to all of us.”
Indeed it has. Of Laddie’s four daughters — Kelliann, Tracy, Amanda and Chelsea — three are involved in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. And David’s two daughters are similarly driven, with Jordan an actress and Shane in film school.
But Hollywood didn’t always come first. “My dad was very adamant that I go to college,” David remembers. He credits his schooling with preparing him for a career behind the camera, something that allowed him to work alongside his brother, first at Pathe and then at MGM in the 1980s and ’90s.
“It was delightful working with him,” David says. “His talent as a studio head was that you became his family, which I already was, but it was true for everybody. There was no hierarchy.”
David claims that his brother “excelled at everything,” whether being an agent, running a studio or heading his own production company. “The more he could shuffle in that brain of his, the more productive he was,” David says, still awed by his sibling.
As for what distinguishes Laddie’s pics, David insists that the only stamp is quality: “Laddie always believed that good scripts would attract a good director and that a good director would attract good actors.”
Now, there’s a sentiment the whole family can embrace.