Jack Luden's story is one of the saddest in Hollywood. He was born as Jacob Benson Luden in Reading, Pennsylvania, with a silver spoon in his mouth; his uncle was the millionaire founder of Luden's Cough Drops and he attended the finest schools on the east coast. But he was restless, possessing an impulsive rebellious streak and opted for an acting career. Against enormous odds, he won a contest to attend the Paramount Pictures' School of Acting on Long Island, New York in 1925 where he stood in good stead with classmates Thelma Todd and future all-American star, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers. Paramount ordered him to Hollywood the following year and he acted in various films both there and on loan to FBO during the sound transition period. His personal heyday lasted for about 3 years; his studio had faith and patience in him, and he earned enough money to indulge his passion for sailing, and bought a boat. Possessing good looks, passable voice and a degree of acting talent, he should have been on the fast track toward stardom but his studio faced hard times after 1930 and somehow Luden was lost in the shuffle. More seriously, he acquired a heroin habit (possibly as early as 1929) and found it impossible to keep it hidden. Released from his Paramount contract --- some accounts claim he simply walked out --- having never achieved stardom, Luden found himself adrift and was known to commit wholesale shoplifting to support his drug habit. His life between 1930-36 is largely a mystery. He apparently gave up any pretext of hiding his drug addiction. His father died in the mid-1930s and his immediate family, by what accounts there are, expressed dismay over his lifestyle. He was reputedly arrested several times during this period for petty theft, but details are lacking and there's no indication that anyone ever associated his crimes to his faded Hollywood career. Luden somehow managed to re-enter the film business and came to the attention of veteran low-budget Gower Gulch producer, Larry Darmour who rode on the coattails of Columbia's ascent out of the ranks of Poverty Row studios. Columbia boss Harry Cohn was loathe to ignore the profits to be mined in Saturday afternoon matinées and gave Darmour a unit. His features were budgeted at $100,000 or less and, typical for the era, he sought to brand his western stars, making them more easily marketable to kids. This was Luden's second and last big break. He was cast as "Breezy" through four productions in 1938. Relatively speaking, Columbia's western efforts were top notch entertainment compared to the cinematic gruel spewing from the likes of its neighbors along Gower (an arguable exception would be Republic, despite its far lower budgets). Whether Darmour or Cohn were initially aware of the extent of his drug addiction is open to speculation, but it's probable that his relative obscurity in Hollywood was initially considered an asset since his police record didn't prevent him from this last stab at stardom. In any event, Luden once again failed to click with the targeted audience and he was cut from Columbia. He ended his film career in the early 1940s making minor, uncredited walk-ons. He made a half-hearted attempt at forming a film production company in the late 1940s that went nowhere (given his reputation, it was likely a scam). Married three times, he turned to drug dealing to support his increasingly expensive heroin habit. It's easy to speculate how failing in Hollywood affected him, but the undeniable fact was that Luden was completely comfortable being a low-life; his favorite saying was "a crooked buck is sweeter than an honest dollar." Not exactly the desired credo of an actor who once aimed, albeit half-heartedly, to be a cowboy star and idol of children. He was arrested for possession and writing bad checks and was sent to San Quentin State Pennitentiary. Luden, ultimately his own worst enemy, died there 9 months into his sentence from a heart attack at age 49 in 1951.
- Breezy Larkin
- Richard Demming, Assistant DistrictAttorney
- Ed Drake
Contribute to this page
Suggest an edit or add missing content
More to explore
How much have you seen?
Keep track of how much of Jack Luden’s work you have seen. Go to your list.