Life has become a challenge for some and a journey for others; the essentialities that we genuinely value can sometimes be taken for granted. As the only girl in a family of five, I lived with the constant demands of my parents’ acceptance of my two brothers and the conflicted restraints/relationships as a result. I valued a noteworthy compliment via good grades, having modeled behavior, or just the love and unconditional respect that was shown after so many years. But for me, being an only girl was one thing; getting caught in the middle was another. I was neither the oldest nor the youngest sibling– in a sense, I felt trapped in a web of sibling animosity & rivalry in order to win the affections of our parents. Though this may seem harsh to most, it has taught me a valuable lesson: Be grateful/blessed for what you’ve got. I say that because I’m very thankful that my parents instilled an unparalleled love and passion for their classic films in me when I was younger. The amazingly gifted actor Dana Andrews said that the actress with whom I’m paying a tribute to, was one of his favorites in which he’s ever worked and starred with (even though they only appeared in two films together, Canyon Passage & My Foolish Heart), a compelling indelible force of nature who embodied a certain spark of familiarity with her profound wisdom, smoldering earthly looks, a deeply passionate aura of immense talent and incomparable depth to each of her characters onscreen: her name was Susan Hayward.
Born Edythe Marrenner on June 30th, 1917 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn New York, Edythe was the youngest of 3 children to her father Walter Marrenner, a transportation worker, and her mother Ellen Pearson, both of whom were of Irish & Swedish descent respectively. Her paternal grandmother was the actress Kate Harrigan from County Cork, Ireland & her maternal grandparents were from Sweden. Her deeply cultured background endowed Edythe with the milky complexion and red mane that would become her trademark, hence the nickname given for her deep fiery locks: the aptly titled “Red”
Although she lived a fairly comfortable life as a child, Edythe grew up in poverty in the shadow of her older sister Florence who was her mother’s favorite and would nurse a life-long grudge over what she perceived as her mother’s neglect. The precocious little red head had no idea of the life that awaited her amidst the glitz and glamour of Hollywood via The Golden Age; Edythe attended public school in Brooklyn, where she graduated from a commercial high school that was intended to give students a marketable skill. Edythe had planned on becoming a secretary, but all that changed for the better. She then began doing some modeling work for photographers in the NYC area; after working as a fashion model in New York, Edythe (her beauty in full bloom) traveled to Hollywood in 1937 where open auditions were held for the leading role in David’s lavish production of Gone with the Wind (1939) based on Margaret Mitchell‘s Pulitzer Prize winning romantic novel–as a teenager, she was brought to Hollywood as one of the hundreds of girls who won a chance to screen test for the iconic role of Scarlett O’Hara, aiming with fierce determination and fire to secure the coveted role that would bring cinematic immortality to the lucky individual. Unfortunately, the test was abysmal; it would take several years of studio subsidized acting and vocal lessons before her raw passionate talents would fully emerge as a bona fide actress and that she would be renamed Susan Hayward. Although she, along with countless other aspiring Scarletts, lost to the India-born English actress Vivien Leigh (November 5th, 1913-July 7th, 1967)
for the role, she still wanted to carve her own signature in Hollywood circles. Hayward was then given a film contract and played several small roles over the next few years; in 1937 she was given a bit part in Hollywood Hotel and continued all through 1938 w/Susan playing, among other things: a coed, a telephone operator and an aspiring actress–she wasn’t happy with these bit parts, but she also realized that she had to “pay her dues”. Finally, in 1939 Susan Hayward landed her first role with substance in the 1939 film version of Beau Geste w/Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston playing Isobel Rivers; after that she played Millie Perkins in the 1941 offbeat thriller Among the Living, which was a substantial film role in it that it genuinely showcased Susan’s considerable dramatic talents for the first time. By the late 1940s, from 1942-1947 Susan Hayward was given more roles that improved cinematically and inspiring than her mere bit parts earlier in her career- achieving film recognition for her dramatic roles as well; but despite the higher standard in her film career, she longed continually for the meaty role in which she craved.
In 1947, Hayward secured a film role which would be one of her 5 Academy Award nominations as Best Actress and would also further solidify her career as an iconic American actress. Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman starred Lee Bowman, Marsha Hunt and Eddie Albert directed by Stuart Heisler & loosely based on the life of an alcoholic night club singer named Dixie Lee (November 4th, 1911-November 1st, 1952), the American actress and dancer who became the first wife of crooner/actor Bing Crosby (May 3rd, 1903-October 14th, 1977). Aside from being nominated for Best Writing, Original Story, the drama film was also nominated for Best Actress; Hayward felt that she’d secure her standing as a truly noteworthy actress. Many thought that she was well deserved for the Oscar win, but lost to Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter. Despite the unfortunate loss, Susan continued on to her lucrative film career w/her 2nd Oscar nod for My Foolish Heart (1949), hoping that her performance would give her the coveted gold statuette; but again her hopes were dashed when it was announced that Olivia de Havilland won for her performance in The Heiress. Having secured 2 Oscar nods under her belt, Susan Hayward was a force to be reckoned with: she was given better scripts and she chose carefully in appearing for only good quality productions; it paid off with huge dividends with her 3 Oscar nomination for With a Song in My Heart (1952); having yet securing an Academy Award, her 4th Oscar nod came in 1955 for I’ll Cry Tomorrow based on the best-selling autobiography of the same name by actress Lillian Roth who overcame a harrowing alcohol dependency and became an iconic actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age (for which Hayward won a Cannes award).
This time, Hayward was certain that she would take home Hollywood’s most emblematic prize; however, the results proved to be futile as once again she was denied the golden statuette. Despite winning critically acclaimed performances and an unprecedented 4 Oscar nods, Susan wasn’t able to achieve Oscar worthy status in regards to her winning an Academy Award. In 1957, Hayward married Eaton Chalkley, a Georgia rancher and businessman who had formerly worked as a federal agent. Though he was an unusual husband for a Hollywood movie star, the marriage was a long and happy one. She lived with him in Carrollton, Georgia, becoming a popular figure in a state that in the 1950s was off the beaten path for most celebrities. In December 1964, she and her husband were baptized Catholic at SS Peter and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Larimar Avenue, in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, by one Father McGuire. She had met McGuire while in China and promised him that if she ever converted, he would be the one to baptize her. Chalkley died suddenly of hepatitis 9 years later in 1966. Hayward left Hollywood for five years in deep mourning and did little acting for several years, taken up residence in Florida because she preferred not to live in her Georgia home without her late husband. But in 1958, Susan Hayward received the meaty role that seemed destined for her, the role that would ultimately become the greatest critically acclaimed portrayal in her career and one that would seal her immortality:
1958s I Want to Live, directed by Academy Award winning director Robert Wise (September 10th, 1914-September 14th, 2005), starred Simon Oakland, Theodore Bikel and Dabbs Greer; but the real star of the show was Hayward, who gave the performance of a lifetime with the riveting, compelling and deeply moving portrayal of doomed real life California killer Barbara Graham, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. Many film buffs considered this film to be one of Hayward’s greatest performance and her electrifying characterization not only earned her a 5th Oscar nod, but also gave her the well deserving Academy Award as Best Actress.
With her Oscar win under her belt at last, Hayward’s film appearances became infrequent appearing at only 1 film/year although she‘d continue to act in films and television until 1972. Susan’s personality was usually described as cold, icy and aloof; she did not like socializing with the crowd. Hayward was married previously to actor Jess Barker for 10 years (1944-1954), and they had two children, fraternal twin sons Timothy & Gregory Barker on February 19th , 1945. The marriage was described in Hollywood gossip columns as turbulent and stormy. They divorced in 1954. Hayward endured a bitter custody battle of her twin sons and survived a subsequent suicide attempt after the divorce. During the contentious divorce proceedings, Hayward felt it necessary to stay in the United States and not join the Hong Kong location shooting for the film Soldier of Fortune. She shot her scenes with co-star Clark Gable indoors in Hollywood. A few brief, distant scenes of Gable and a Hayward double walking near landmarks in Hong Kong were combined with the indoor shots. Both of her husbands were rugged Southerners; she loved sport fishing and owned 3 ocean going boats for that purpose.
Movie directors enjoyed Susan’s professionalism and her high standards; though she wasn’t always chummy after the cameras stopped, her demeanor sometimes showcased a considerate individual who was easy to work with. She portrayed an alcoholic in three films, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), My Foolish Heart (1949) and I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) and was nominated for an Oscar for each performance. In 1967, Hayward took over the ballsy role of stage star Helen Lawson in the 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls after Judy Garland was fired. Her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre are the only ones set in gold dust. A two pack a day smoker with a taste for an alcoholic drink, in March of 1972, Susan Hayward was diagnosed with brain cancer, allegedly the result of being exposed to dangerous radioactive toxins on location in Utah while making 1956s The Conqueror; but despite the grim demise it had on her life, she continued to act into the early 1970s, even after her unfortunate diagnosis. Her final film role was as Dr. Maggie Cole in the 1972 made-for-TV drama Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole. (The film was intended to be a pilot episode for a weekly television series, but because of Hayward’s cancer diagnosis and failing health the series was never produced. She also replaced an ailing Barbara Stanwyck in 1972s Heat of Anger (TV), which was to have been a pilot for a TV series to be called “Fitzgerald and Pride”.
From 1937-1972, Susan Hayward has appeared in numerous classic films and television appearances with her last public appearance at the Academy Awards telecast on April 2nd, 1974 to present the Best Actress award, despite the fact that she was very ill. With Charlton Heston supporting her, she was able to present the award. Having survived considerably longer than doctors had predicted and despite several production members, including all of the leads John Wayne , Agnes Moorehead, director Dick Powell and Pedro Armendariz, later succumbing to cancer and cancer-related illnesses in their life, Hayward’s final theatrical performance of her career was as Elizabeth Reilly in the 1972 western The Revengers starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode & Arthur Hunnicutt, directed by Daniel Mann; on March 14th, 1975 Susan Hayward passed away of pneumonia related complications from her brain cancer at her Hollywood CA home–she was 57 years old. After a three year struggle with the disease, she ultimately lost her battle that she valiantly fought with every fiber in her being; cancer had taken the life of one of cinema’s greatest treasures via Hollywood’s Golden Age. Susan Hayward was cremated & laid to rest in a grave adjacent to that of her husband Eaton Chalkley where they had spent several happy years together in life- @Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Carrollton Georgia; she’s survived by her two sons from her previous marriage to Barker and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6251 Hollywood Boulevard (both Hayward & Andrews said that Ronald Colman was one of their favorite actors and a profound cinematic inspiration I’m sure). Susan Hayward became a genuinely memorable and immensely talented artisan of the silver screen, but if I could take one thing that I’ve learned from posting my ardent tribute to a truly gifted, respected, loved and sometimes underappreciated actress, it would be to never take anything for granted; so many have had a few rough patches in their life. What makes me continue to respect and appreciate Susan Hayward is her selfless actions, her profound humility, her compassion and her fiery determination to never give up on your hopes, your dreams and to remember where you come from…for life was meant to have the ups and downs that remains to be a constant reminder of the imperfections that turns an individual into something much greater–a human being w/real emotions, feelings and an impassioned gratitude for all things that are created equal! “You aim at all the things you have been told that stardom means–the rich life, the applause, the parties cluttered with celebrities. Then you find that you have it all. And it is nothing, really nothing. It is like a drug that lasts just a few hours, a sleeping pill. When it wears off, you have to live without its help.” Susan Hayward (June 30th, 1917-March 14th, 1975)