Wednesday, February 15

Susan Hayward

Ah, redheads...! Flame-haired women have always held a special fascination for me. Hollywood has long been populated with them. For some reason, most of them have been pretty accomplished actresses and whether by design or not, there is often a fiery temperament under that pretty mop.   My favorite of them all was unquestionably Susan Hayward.

Before Hayward arrived on the scene, there was Clara Bow, Ann Sheridan, Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball.   Some of her beautiful contemporaries were Joan Leslie, Rita Hayworth, Maureen O'Hara, Rhonda Fleming, Arlene Dahl, Jeanne Crain and Piper Laurie.  And later on Shirley MacLaine, Ann-Margret, Susan Sarandon, Molly Ringwald and Julia Roberts came aboard.  Let's not forget Julianne Moore, Amy Adams and Nicole Kidman. 
 I do know my redheads.  Hayward was so famous in her day for her long red locks that it was written into her contracts that her hair was not to be cut or otherwise tampered with without her approval.  She threw that hair around her Cinemascope productions with the fury of a wild red mare.  She had always loved her hair and had often been complimented on it in her childhood.
And you already know, of course, how smitten I am with those tough dames, those-slap-you-across-the-face, six-inch stiletto heels in the hero’s chest, no-nonsense ass-kickers.  Hayward wrote the book on all that stuff both in the movies and out of them.

She came out of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.  Her parents were dog-tired poor and to say they didn't much like one another is putting it mildly.  Young Edythe Marrener was years away from hearing herself called the more exotic Susan Hayward.  All she did hear was a lot of fighting, much of which she was engaged in trying to be as noticed and feel as loved as her older sister and brother.  In years to come she would grow to loathe and mistrust them.  She always felt inferior in her family, always scrambling for a seat on her mother's lap or the soft touch of her mother's hand against her cheek.

Nothing ever came easily for her.  She was born a fighter and she died one as well.  All the stuff in between is Hollywood legend... the temperamental red-haired movie queen whose life offscreen was every bit as dramatic as her movie roles.  (For a smattering of her more famous quotes, see and glean a little something into her thoughts and temperament.)
Hayward occasionally lip-synched singing roles and did a rare comedy here and there but her forte was heavy drama.  She cried, she spat, she kicked, she yelled, she slapped, sometimes she boozed and if the censors of her day would have permitted it, she'd have let go with some four-letter words that would have made a muscled, heavily-tattooed trucker's face turn as red as her hair.  Whoa, could the lady get an attitude.
 Many of her earliest films were just pleasant little diversions, a great deal of it done under the Paramount banner.  It wasn't long before she was annoying the hair and makeup departments.  It would still be a little while before that spread to her costars, directors and some of the top brass.  Whoever she was, she had something to prove and she needed to prove it yesterday.  She was often compared to Barbara Stanwyck, another Brooklyn fugitive, who had an attitude and a way of getting her point across.
Like Stanwyck, Hayward would not be believed as the damsel in distress.  The damsel causing distress, sure, but once her personna became so strong and she became world-famous, no one would have bought her doing anything other than the strong, capable, impassioned woman.  In the safe, fuzzy, Frigidaired 50s, part of Hayward's immense popularity with women was her strength, her innate ability to rise like a phoenix, her mouth mangled with rage, and give the room the finger as she flounced out.
That fiery demeanor, at the time more off the screen than on, was what got her in the long line to play Scarlett O'Hara.  Not that I think anyone could have bested Vivien Leigh in this iconic role, but Susan Hayward would have brought it much the same justice.  She would, in time, play variations of the firebrand Miss Scarlett in at least three films, Tap Roots (1948) as a plantation owner (duh, see what I mean?), Tulsa (1949) as a homesteader in the Oklahoma oil fields and Untamed (1955) as an Irish homesteader relocated to Africa.

She was a perfect type of an actress to be in a western.  She could have walked behind the covered wagon, shot at the bad guys, cussed at the ones who got close enough and held a baby on her hip.  While making Canyon Passage (1946), she met her future husband, actor Jess Barker.  Her prior life would be good training ground for what was to come.

Hayward received the first of five Oscar nominations for her intense performance as an alcoholic wife in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947).  She occasionally showed a softer side as a sweet wife or girlfriend, arguably never better than in the very popular My Foolish Heart (1949), pregnant and about to wed her boyfriend when he is killed in the war.  A captivating title tune (played throughout the film and made popular by every singer of the day) and a handkerchief  to accumulate the tears cemented the deal.  She would go on to make a number of weepies.  She certainly did know how to suffer.  Another Oscar nomination.
Even before her marriage many lights and bells were going off for Hayward.  At first fighting with Barker was an abstraction but it soon became a way of life.  Then the worst of all possible things happened (and remember, this was 1943 and she was a famous actress).  She found out she was pregnant.  So she married the handsome Barker and things only got worse.  Even after the birth of their twin sons, they fought constantly, some of which got physical.  By wedding him she had committed the cardinal sin of actresses... don't marry down.  Barker would never be more than a B-movie actor with quite an ego and he could hardly stand being Mr. Hayward.  While she fought like a panther at home, she clawed her way to the top of the Hollywood heap and the 1950s were her shining decade. 
She appeared twice with Gregory Peck, first in 1951's David and Bathsheba (red hair flying everywhere as the wicked Bathsheba) and then in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952).  I always thought it odd that she did this part.  Although billed over costar Ava Gardner, Gardner had the showier female part.  I did love this film.  She was again Oscar-nominated for With a Song in My Heart (1952), a giant Technicolor song and dance bio of singer Jane Froman who was crippled in a plane crash during WWII.  Susan lip-synched to perfection, photographed gorgeously, cried repeatedly and all artifice and hardness had vanished.  A softer Hayward was always a pleasant diversion.
While filming a western I have always quite liked, 1954's Garden of Evil, Hayward was more troubled and belligerent than ever.  Whether she was liked or not on sets depended upon the movie.  (Robert Preston, her costar in three films, famously said they'd never print what he thought of her.  Robert Cummings said what a number of actors have, that when she wasn't needed before the cameras, she retreated to her dressing room on the set, shut the door, rarely speaking to anyone unless it was in the script.)  She hated the director of this film, Henry Hathaway, whom she worked with before and would again.  If one wonders why they continued working together, remember this was during the studio contract days.  They both were indentured servants of Fox and more or less did what they were told.  Her marriage was seriously unravelling during the making of this film.
 After filming the wonderful and underrated Untamed, 1955, she went into one of the most famous films she would ever make, I'll Cry Tomorrow, also 1955.  It would be another biography of another singer, this time Lillian Roth, a Broadway baby with a gaggle of stud boyfriends and husbands and a gargantuan booze problem.  Her filmed story would be the stuff of dreams for actresses and many knew it and coveted it.  Roth was a scrappy fighter who worked for years at trying to keep the demons at bay and who better to sing her tune than Susan Hayward?
Despite her many scrapes with coworkers, Hayward was always regarded as a pro and she called upon all her resources for this outing.  And she always wanted that elusive Oscar and was sure this one would do the trick for her.
Unfortunately during the making of I'll Cry Tomorrow, some of those demons broke through the enclosure.  Perhaps it was due to the divorce from Barker or their continued problems or the depressing Roth story or perhaps something else, but Hayward swallowed a lot of pills.  Headlines screamed across the newspapers with photos of her on a stretcher and it has been said she was very close to dying.  It also seemed a bit unlike her to do that but perhaps even the great warriors of life get a bit weary.
 She finished the film and was nominated for another Oscar that she didn't get.  Since the final votes are done by the entire membership of the Academy, maybe that was the problem.  Who doesn't know it's often more a popularity contest than one of merit?  She wasn't ever going to win Miss Congeniality.
It was during this time that she also made The Conqueror (1955), the circumstances of which I outlined earlier in my piece on Hayward's costar, Agnes Moorehead.  The Utah locations and the atomic testing in the area would have apparent grave consequences for many on the production, including Susan.
In 1958 she finally copped that Oscar for her searing portrayal of convicted murderess Barbara Graham in I Want to Live.  Her performance is riveting and gutsy and very, very deserving of the award.
 For the remainder of her life, her star never shone quite as brightly. Her greatest movie roles were behind her.  That doesn't mean I personally didn't like some of the last batch because not only did I like some, a few even contain some of my favorite Hayward performances.
 One happy note for a woman who knew so much unhappiness and apparently caused a great deal of it for others was she met and married the love of her life, Eaton Chalkley, a rich, southern gentleman.  It could certainly be argued that she did some of her best work during an ugly marriage and then some of her less interesting work during her best marriage.  Unfortunately they didn't have that many years together because he died unexpectedly.

All glammed up in Back Street

During this time she appeared in the third offering of Back Street (1961).  It was not highly regarded and one that didn't require a whole lot of her but she sure did look like dynamite as a fashion designer carrying on an affair with an unhappily married man.  A year or so earlier she played an unhappy widow trying to find new love with Stephen Boyd in the sadly underrated and little seen Woman Obsessed (1959).
Indulge me ballyhooing 1964's Where Love Has Gone.  It was another sudsy soaper containing some cheesy writing and ravaged by critics but it's still a fun one to me.  She stood nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with another actress well-known for great displays of temperament, Bette Davis.  It was a great slugfest watching these two play mother and daughter, all the while knowing they didn't get along in real-life either.  The fact that the film was teasingly based on the real-life Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato/Cheryl Crane murder case only made me salivate more.
The last film Hayward made of any real interest was in 1967 when she replaced Judy Garland in the naughty and trashy Valley of the Dolls.  I am not sure that anyone today would be bragging about this film on a resume, but in its day, the movie and especially the novel on which it was based, was just about all anyone was talking about.  Garland was fired in her role as a Broadway singer who was defiant, embittered, always scrappy and secretly scared of slipping down the mountain.  Hmmm, wonder what Susan Hayward is doing?
 After her beloved soulmate died, so did a part of Susan.  She moved to Florida, enjoyed some loving relationships but slipped into a life that she had often portrayed so well on the screen, a woman who drank too much.
Her last public appearance was an endearing and enduring one, presenting an award with her old costar Charlton Heston on the Oscars.  She would soon die of cancer like so many who had worked on The Conqueror.
She was only 57 years old when she died in 1975.  I am fairly certain I have seen every film she ever made and I think I am in a good light to say she was among the very best.  She ascended to the top of American film actresses, scrappy all the way.  She has forever been my favorite redhead.

NEXT POST:  Quiz 1


  1. This was my favorite so far. Love the old-tyme bitches from days gone by. Thanks again and sorry for the late post. I don't get around very much.

  2. You requested her, Keith C, and I did it. So glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ciao! Thanks for Your answer. I jumped right to That Fiery Redhead. I think she might have give a perfect performance of Scarlett O'Hara,I liked Vivien Leigh but I think that her career starts and, with the exception of A Streetcar named Desire, ends with GWTW.
    I loved The Snows, but I agree that the film belongs to Ava. Remember the scene when Peck asks her name? " Chynthia. Chynthia Green" MY GODD! One thing in that film (Which I love) that puzzles me is the scene when Hayward meets Peck on the bridge over the Sein river. Was she following him? But that's nothing. The movie ie very good just the same. The other film that I saw maybe a hundred tims is With A song In My Heart. She was just great even if she did not use her own voice in the songs: I will never forget the I'LL WALK ALONE Scene. Okay it's really too much for You to just one day. Ciao. Carlo

  4. I really loved "With a Song in My Heart," too. It's one of my earliest memories of a movie... 1952 was my coming-out year for moviegoing. I remember most the title song, as she and handsome Richard Allan sang it while they danced. Wow, what a dance. He was also Marilyn Monroe's boyfriend in "Niagara" the following year. Would sure love to know why he didn't become a big star. Love hearing from you, Carlo.

  5. Maybe it was Table or the location, but I love "Soldier of Fortune." And I also like just about anything Hayward was in.

  6. I know you meant Gable and I'm glad you wrote to say you liked her films. They were great fun.

  7. Susan Hayward was my favourit female star...still i after all these years...I never found another actress eho made me forget her beauty and talent...She wanted to live!

  8. She is an unforgettable talent as your comments prove. Thanks so much for writing.