Earl Holliman

Henry Earl Holliman (born September 11, 1928) is an American actor, animal rights activist and singer known for his many character roles in films, mostly westerns and dramas, in the 1950s and 1960s. He won a Golden Globe Award for the film The Rainmaker (1956) and portrayed Sergeant Bill Crowley on the television police drama Police Woman throughout its 19741978 run.

Earl Holliman
Holliman in a publicity portrait for The Rainmaker (1956)
Henry Earl Holliman[1]

(1928-09-11) September 11, 1928
OccupationActor, activist, singer
Years active1952–2000

Early life and education

Earl Holliman was born on September 11, 1928, in Delhi[1] in Richland Parish, located within northeastern Louisiana. Holliman's biological father, William A. Frost (born 1870), a farmer[2], died seven months prior to his birth, and his biological mother, Mary Frost Smith (1898-1973),[3] living in poverty with several other children,[4] gave him up for adoption at birth.[1] Earl was the seventh out of ten children all together, all of whom like himself were sent to various orphanages[2], and in later years he was able to reconnect and establish relationships with them.[5] He was adopted a week after his birth by Henry Holliman (1897-1941),[6] an oil-field worker, and his wife, Velma (1898-1985),[7] a waitress, who then gave him the name of Henry Earl Holliman.[1] Although the Holliman's living conditions and family history have strong ties to Louisiana during Earl's teenage years, he and his family lived in Kerrville, Texas for a period of time[8] as well as some parts of Arkansas[9] (a fact, in which he was once noted later on as being a "red-blooded Ark-La-Texan"[9]).

Holliman's early years were normal until his adoptive father died when he was 13.[10] Despite the fact that Henry and Velma were Earl's adoptive parents, he always referred to them as being his true parents and credited them for providing him with so much love and encouragement growing up as their only child[11] and helping him look within himself to discover his self-confidence in converting his dreams into realism[2]. In addition, when Earl began his career in films, Velma was so supportive of him she once even went to a theatre in their home state of Louisiana an hour before it opened just so she could be the first attendee present there to not only see her son in his first major role appearance but to also work with the theatre manager, show columnist, and a friend of the family who knew Earl from his schoolboy days, to go through a vast set of stills for that particular film so she could begin the composition of an album for him reflecting the start of his professional career as an actor.[12]

He saved money from his position ushering at The Strand Theatre, as well as from also being a newsboy for the Shreveport Times[13] and a magician's assistant,[14] and than left Louisiana hitchhiking to Hollywood. After an unsuccessful first attempt finding work in the film industry, he soon returned to Louisiana after being out in California for only one week.[15] Meanwhile, his adoptive mother had remarried, and Earl disliked his new stepfather, Guy Bellotte (1891-1957).[16] He lied about his age and enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II.[17] Assigned to a Navy communications school in Los Angeles, he spent his free time at the Hollywood Canteen, talking to stars who dropped by to support the servicemen and women. A year after his enlistment, the Navy discovered his real age and he was immediately discharged.

Holliman returned home, worked in the oil fields in his spare time,[10] was a dishwasher at various restaurants,[18] and, after some attendance at Louisiana Avenue, Fair Park, and Byrd High School in Shreveport,[18] completed his public education at Oil City High School in Oil City, Louisiana graduating with high honors[10] in 1946; while a student there he also played right tackle on the school football team[11] and served as Senior Class President.[13] After rejecting a scholarship to Louisiana State University,[10] he re-enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.[10] Interested in acting, he was cast as the lead in several Norfolk Navy Theatre productions.[17] When he left the Navy for good, Holliman studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse.[19] He also graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.[20] During the time he studied acting at both the Playhouse and UCLA, Holliman supplemented his income working as a file clerk for Blue Cross (later known as Blue Cross Blue Shield Association)[21] and at North American Aviation.[13]



Holliman first appeared, uncredited, in the 1952 Western Pony Soldier. After he gained popularity in his image following a change in haircutting,[18] he than followed with five films released in 1953. His credits include: The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Big Combo (1955), I Died a Thousand Times (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956), Giant (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), Anzio (1968) and Sharky's Machine (1981).

Holliman played a doomed helicopter crewman in the William Holden war drama The Bridges at Toko-Ri and a gangster's double-crossed thug in The Big Combo. He co-starred with Jack Palance in the crime drama I Died a Thousand Times (1955), a remake of High Sierra. He starred in The Rainmaker (1956), opposite Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, playing a rancher's timid son who finally must defy his father to gain self-respect, for which he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture;[22] he was cast in the role instead of Elvis Presley.[23] His role in Rainmaker brought him such praise that columnist Louella Parsons cited him being "as dedicated as though he were Marlon Brando and Anthony Perkins combined".[24]

He was the soft-spoken son-in-law of a rancher (Rock Hudson) in the epic western saga Giant. Holliman would play many roles set in the American west. He was Wyatt Earp's deputy in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, co-starring Lancaster and Douglas, and a sniveling coward guilty of murdering and raping the wife of a lawman (Kirk Douglas) in Last Train from Gun Hill. He played a drunken deputy sheriff whose brother Richard Widmark returns to town in a modern-day western, The Trap (1959), and the brother of John Wayne and Dean Martin, out to avenge their murdered father, in a traditional western, The Sons of Katie Elder. He portrayed a corrupt Atlanta politician in the crime drama, Sharky's Machine, directed by, and starring, Burt Reynolds.


Holliman became known to television audiences through his portrayal as Sundance in CBS's Hotel de Paree, with costar Jeanette Nolan, from 1959 to 1960, and in the title role of Mitch Guthrie with Andrew Prine in NBC's Wide Country, a drama about modern rodeo performers that aired for 28 episodes between 1962 and 1963. He also had the distinction of appearing in the debut episode of CBS's The Twilight Zone, titled "Where Is Everybody?" which aired on October 2, 1959, the same night as the premiere of Hotel de Paree.

In 1962, he and Claude Akins guest-starred as a pair of feuding brothers in "The Stubborn Stumbos" episode of Marilyn Maxwell's ABC drama series Bus Stop. In 1965, he guest starred on 12 O'Clock High as Lt. Steiger as a pilot who learns to appreciate life after being assigned a dangerous mission and winning the lottery.[25] In 1967, Holliman guest-starred on Wayne Maunder's short-lived ABC military–western series Custer. In 1970, Holliman starred in the TV movie Tribes as the antagonist Master Sergeant Frank DePayster, co-starring with Darren McGavin and Jan-Michael Vincent. In 1970 and 1971, Holliman made two appearances in the western comedy series Alias Smith and Jones starring Pete Duel (né Deuel) and Ben Murphy.

From 1974 to 1978, he portrayed Sergeant Bill Crowley opposite Angie Dickinson in the Police Woman series. He co-starred in all 91 episodes of the hit series (which he later remarked changed his life),[26] playing the police department superior of undercover officer Pepper Anderson. He later took part in The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast comedy roast of co-star Dickinson on August 2, 1977.

Holliman continued to appear in television guest roles throughout the 1970s and 1990s. He shared a starring role in the CBS movie Country Gold (a made for television remake of All About Eve), filmed on location in Nashville, Tennessee, which also featured Loni Anderson, Linda Hamilton and Cooper Huckabee. He was also a regular celebrity panelist on The Hollywood Squares, where he was recognized for his ability to trick the contestants with believable bluff answers. His most notable role during this period was in the hit miniseries The Thorn Birds with Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. He also took part in the Gunsmoke reunion movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge in 1987 as Jake Flagg, having guest-starred on the Gunsmoke TV series with James Arness three times between 1969 and 1973.

He was an occasional celebrity on the $25,000 and $100,000 Pyramid game shows between 1983 and 1991. In 1991 and 1994, Holliman had two guest-star roles on Murder, She Wrote, in the Season 7 episode "Who Killed JB Fletcher?" and the Season 10 episode, "Roadkill". From September 15, 1991 to January 4, 1992, he appeared in the lead role of Detective Matthew Durning on the CBS sitcom P.S. I Luv U (a role which he got due to his prominence in Police Woman two decades prior[27]) and after the series ended he was than featured as a special guest in the Season 6, Episode 8, edition of In the Heat of the Night entitled "Last Rights" portraying Dr. Lambert, a man who had been a prime suspect in a string of mercy killings. In 1996, he was the guest voice of the character Milton in the Season 6 Captain Planet and the Planeteers episode, "Never the Twain Shall Meet". Later in his career, Holliman had a recurring role as Fred Duffy, the father of the title character Caroline Duffy, on Caroline in the City, appearing in 3 episodes, and he additionally starred in the 1997–99 television series Night Man as Frank Dominus; a disgraced former police officer and the protagonist character's father.


From 1958 to 1963, Holliman found a brief, yet successful, career as a singer and had a record deal with such notable recording studios as Capitol Records, Prep, and HiFi. His songs included: "A Teenager Sings The Blues", "Nobody Knows How I Feel", "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", "Sittin' And A Gabbin'", "If I Could See The World Through The Eyes Of A Child", "La La La Lovable", "Wanna Kiss You To-Night", "I'm In The Mood For Love", "We Found Love", "Willingly", "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight", and "Road To Nowhere".[28] In May 1976, he guest starred on The John Davidson Show singing a vaudeville style version of "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" with Davidson, as well as performing his own solo version of The Carpenters track, "Rainy Days and Mondays".[29]


After Wide Country ended its run in April 1963, Holliman spent the next two months traveling the country in the acclaimed musical Oklahoma! appearing in the lead role of Curly McLain.[30] Later that same year, he appeared in the role of Mike Mitchell in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania summer tour of Sunday in New York[30] and at the Avondale Playhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana in The Country Girl in the role of Bernie Dodd opposite Lee Bowman and Julie Wilson.[31] Between September 4 and September 9, 1963, he starred in a production of The Tender Trap, opposite Anthony George, in the role of Charlie Y. Reader at the Westchester County Playhouse in Dobbs Ferry, New York.[32] In 1968, he starred in the Los Angeles Mark Taper Forum production of Tennessee Williams Camino Real in the role of Kilroy; his performance was well received by critics[33] and Williams himself not only came too see Earl's performance an approximate 11 times but he also sent him a correspondence praising his work in both Real and Streetcar as being "the best" interpretations of the characters "Kilroy" and "Mitch" he had even seen.[27]

From September 15 to October 14, 1981, he starred in a stage production of Mister Roberts at the Fiesta Dinner Playhouse in San Antonio, Texas,[34] of which he was owner. He occasionally performed at his theater when he was not working in Hollywood; other productions that he appeared in there included Arsenic and Old Lace as Mortimer Brewster from April 1 to May 4, 1980,[35] and Same Time, Next Year with Julie Sommars in 1983.[36] The facility closed after 1987. He also appeared in stage productions of the 1973 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire as Mitch[37] and the 1977 Santa Monica Civic production of A Chorus Line as Zach the Choreographer.[38][39]

Personal life

During the late 1970s, he served as the National Honorary Chairman for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.[40][41] In 1976, he was the grand marshal of the Annual Fourth of July Parade in Huntington Beach, California.[42]

He is also a vegetarian[43] and is against the exploitation of animals by using their furs for clothing.[44]

He is also one of many in the entertainment industry who have been cited in the short saying "There are Five Stages in the Life of an Actor" by Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly (e.g. "Who's Earl Holliman? Get me Earl Holliman. Get me an Earl Holliman Type. Get me a young Earl Holliman. Who's Earl Holliman?").

Holliman, a Republican, supported the re-election of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1956 presidential election.[45]

He is of the Baptist faith.[46]

Holliman is also known for his work as an animal-rights activist, including more than 25 years as president of Actors and Others for Animals.[47] He also was well known for nursing animals even on his own property, at one point feeding roughly 500 pigeons in a day as well as even healing a wounded dove and blind possum inside his own home[27].

For many years, during the Christmas season he was one of the many gracious elite of the film community to help organize various luncheons and dinners for the less fortunate at the Los Angeles Mission.[48]

He currently resides in Studio City, California. Holliman has never been married and has no children.[49]

Awards and nominations

In addition to his Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for The Rainmaker, he also earned a nomination for a Golden Globe Award for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Television Series" for his performance alongside Delta Burke in the short-lived 1992 sitcom Delta.[22]

For his contributions to the television industry, Holliman has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.[50]


Conflation with Anthony Earl Numkena

For several years, various sources erroneously reported that Earl Holliman's original name was Anthony Earl Numkena.[51][52][53] In fact, Numkena was a child actor, born in 1942, who appeared with Holliman in the films Pony Soldier (1952) and Destination Gobi (1954).


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  25. Title credits
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