Occasional leading man and but usually a supporting player of motion pictures and TV with a distinctive soft, high resonant voice which can lend itself to playing adventurous men, macho types, and often simple souls, Earl Holliman is best recalled for his work as the youngest son in "The Rainmaker" (1956) alongside Katharine Hepburn and as Lt. Bill Crowley opposite Angie Dickinson on "Police Woman" (NBC, 1974-78).
Holliman's natural father died before he was born, leaving his mother with seven children and in poverty. When he was a week old, Anthony Numkena (his birth name) was adopted by the Holliman family. From early childhood, Holliman dreamed of being an actor, but reality found him waiting tables for $7 per week at a Louisiana cafe when he was 13 years old. At age 15, he hitchhiked to Hollywood with dreams of breaking into the movies, but he returned home after a week. Instead, he lied about his age and joined the Navy, finding himself sent to radio school in Hollywood. For a year, he took classes by day and went to the Hollywood Canteen by night, meeting the stars who came by during wartime to life the morale "of the boys." Among those he met was Katharine Hepburn, with whom he would later work. When the Navy discovered Holliman's age deception, he was sent home, where he worked in an oil field. But, as soon as he finished with high school, he again enlisted in the Navy, and played leading roles in productions at the Norfolk (VA) Navy Theatre. Upon discharge, Holliman headed to Hollywood, where he studied drama at USC and the Pasadena Playhouse.
In 1953, he made his motion picture debut with one line in "Scared Stiff," a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis vehicle. He received supporting billing in 1954, playing the youngest ranch hand son of tough papa Spencer Tracy in "Broken Lance." In 1955, he gave support to William Holden in "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" and was one of Richard Conte's thugs in "The Big Combo." Holliman's break came with "The Rainmaker," as the son who snatches hope from con man Burt Lancaster. Holliman won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Also in 1956, he was able to work with Elizabeth Taylor, whom he had first met as a 15-year old at the Hollywood Canteen, in George Stevens' "Giant." He worked with Lancaster again in "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957) playing assistant to Wyatt Earp. Holliman was the lonely traveling salesman who spent the night with Geraldine Page in "Summer and Smoke" (1961) and Matt Elder, who dies in a gunfight early in the story in "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965).
By the late 50s, Holliman was locked into being a supporting player in feature films, so he turned to TV for leading roles. He broke into the medium on a 1957 episode of "Playhouse 90" entitled "The Dark Side of the Earth," written by Rod Serling and also starring Kim Hunter and Van Heflin. Serling remembered Holliman, and when he was doing the pilot of "Twilight Zone" in 1959, cast him in the one-man tour de force "Where Is Everybody?." By then, Holliman also had a recording contract with Capitol Records, a result of his singing on an episode of "Kraft Television Theatre" in 1958. On another 1958 episode of "Kraft Television Theatre," Holliman was memorable playing opposite Sessue Hayakawa in "The Sea Is Boiling Hot." In the live drama, Holliman spoke only English, Hayakawa only Japanese. Holliman made his regular series debut as the star of "Hotel De Paree" (CBS, 1959-60), as a man who served 17 years for killing another man, then returns to town to work for the relatives of the man he murdered. Holliman's second series, "The Wide Country" (NBC, 1962-63), found him again in the West, this time as a bronco buster. It was more than a decade before he returned to regular series, playing Angie Dickinson's boss on "Police Woman" (NBC, 1974-78). In the last decade, he co-starred in the short-lived "P.S. I Luv U" (CBS, 1991-92), and opposite Delta Burke on "Delta" (ABC, 1992-93).
Holliman has also frequently played in TV-movies, commencing with the Marine saga "Tribes" (ABC, 1970). In 1977, he played a gay social worker trying to help boys who are turning tricks on the streets of L.A. in "Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn" (ABC), and he had one of his favorite roles in "Solitary Man" (CBS, 1979), playing a blue collar worker who gets a long-awaited promotion on the same day his wife announces she wants a divorce. In 1983, Holliman co-starred in "The Thorn Birds" miniseries for ABC, and in 1987, was back in Western gear, this time with Marshall Dillon on "Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge" (CBS).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Adopted by Holliman family when one week old
At age 13, waited tables at Louisiana cafe for $7 per week
Hitchhiked to Hollywood; stayed one week and returned home; enlisted in Navy and sent to radio school
The Navy discovered his real age; sent home; worked in oil fields
Made film debut with one line in "Scared Stiff"
Won Golden Globe for his work in "The Rainmaker"
Made TV debut on "Playhouse 90"
Sang on "Kraft Theatre"; earned recording contract with Capitol Records
Starred in first TV series, "Hotel De Paree" (CBS)
Starred in pilot for "The Twilight Zone"
Made TV-movie debut in "Tribes" (ABC)
Had one of his favorite roles in "The Solitary Man" (CBS)
Co-starred on "The Thorn Birds" miniseries (ABC)