Jack Holt (May 31, 1888 – January 18, 1951) was an American motion picture actor. He was a leading man of silent and sound movies, and was known for his many roles in Westerns.
Holt was born Charles John Holt in New York City. He grew up in Winchester, Virginia, and he often said he was born there. Back in Manhattan, Holt attended Trinity School. He then enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute, but his misbehavior got him expelled. He stopped trying to become a lawyer and went on the road, taking odd jobs. North of San Francisco during 1914, he volunteered to tumble down a very steep embankment into the Russian River in a stunt for a film crew shooting a scene for Salomy Jane. In gratitude, the director gave him a bit part in the film, which was released on DVD during 2011 in an anthology titled Treasures 5 The West 1898—1938 by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Holt went to Hollywood and obtained some stunt and bit part assignments in serials. At Universal Pictures, Holt's on-screen performances caught the attention of Francis Ford and his brother John Ford, and Grace Cunard. Holt worked as a supporting player for them at Universal Pictures, and starred in serials.
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 those of younger, tough-talking actors like James Cagney and Chester Morris, but Holt continued to work in low-budget action features, almost always for Columbia, through 1940. Holt's long tenure at Columbia came to an end when he had an argument with studio chief Harry Cohn. Cohn, anxious to teach the actor a lesson in humility, gave him a low-prestige assignment: the starring role in a 15-chapter serial. Holt made the serial—Holt of the Secret Service (1941)—and it turned out well enough for Columbia to promote it vigorously, introducing this veteran action star to serial audiences. But that was the last straw for the proud Holt, who left Columbia for other studios.
In later years Holt became an elder statesman among action actors, as in Trail of Robin Hood (1950), where he is the senior member of a cowboy fraternity including Roy Rogers,Allan Lane, Tom Keene, Tom Tyler, Kermit Maynard, and Rex Allen. His son, Tim Holt, had established himself as a star in his own right, and Jack Holt played against type (as a grubby vagrant) in Tim's famous movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Jack Holt's daughter, Jennifer Holt, also enjoyed a successful movie career, mostly in Universal Pictures westerns. The only time Jack, Tim and Jennifer worked together was during 1946 when the three Holts played together on a CBS radio program entitled "All Star Western Theater", a country-type show featuring Western music by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage with a dramatic sketch. The Holts played father, son and daughter.
Jack Holt died in 1951 from a heart attack in Los Angeles, California and is buried there in the Los Angeles National Cemetery. He was 62 years old.