Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again to field a most welcome e-mail from another reader who demurs from our dismissal of Susan Hayward.
In our blog of July 14 — “Susan Hayward — Forgotten Star?” — we wrote that although Hayward was popular in the late Forties and Fifties, she is a largely “who dat?” today. On Oct. 11, we ran reader Philippe Elan’s comment that took us (mildly, thank heaven) to task with his opening line, “happy to disagree on the fact that Susan Hayward is a forgotten star.”
We were delighted to receive Phillipe’s defense of the actress. But we also pointed out that although such Hollywood luminaries as Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner may not be household names today to those under 40, their respective films — eg. “Gilda” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” among others — are so good that both actresses are assured cinematic immortality.
Did Susan Hayward make films as good? We said and say, no. Thus, her largely forgottten status today.
But reader “iarla” gracefully disagrees, and e-mailed us the following wide-ranging and thoughtful consideration of Hayward. We like it so much that we just had to let you in on the exchange. So here’s “iarla.”
It’s true that Edythe Marrenner (Hayward’s real name) is unfortunate in that none of her movies are as well revived as say, Lana’s “Postman” or Rita’s “Gilda”.
She is simply unlucky in that none of her films achieved cult status, with the sole — startling — exception being “Valley of the Dolls”, and it is screened today for reasons other than Hayward’s contribution.
Although this was possibly the most comercially popular film Hayward ever appeared in, its not exactly a prestigious credit for any of its participants. Although, female audiences loved Hayward back in the Fifties when she was considered a “strong” actress as well as a box office star.
Though critics were not always as impressed, and I recall Hayward being unflatteringly referred to as a “bargain basement Bette Davis”( ! ).
(The late film critic) Pauline Kael, while enjoying the earlier Hayward of (director Harold Clurman’s 1946 murder mystery) “Deadline at Dawn” felt she had “slipped” considerably by the time (1955) of (Daniel Mann’s biopic of singer Lillian Roth) “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.”
It’s as if certain performers, who start out as starlets, become almost embarrassed and self-conscious and unfortunately mannered when they strive to be taken ‘seriously’ as dramatic actresses.
But I’ve always wondered why ‘actressy’ types date badly in comparison to the glamour queens, such as (Norma) Shearer and Louise Rainer versus (Jean) Harlow and (Marlene) Dietrich in the Thirties, or (Greer) Garson and Jennifer Jones against Rita and Lana in the forties.
Maybe its the sense of ‘fun’ and approachability thats lacking.
Hayward never had the good fortune to become a cult figure. Also, although her private life was rather tempestuous, and covered as such by the media at the time, there was always a brittle, cold quality to the private Hayward image as opposed to the more inviting, vulnerable qualities emitted by some of the sex symbols like (Kim) Novak or (Marilyn) Monroe in the Fifties.
Changing fashions dictate public tastes and interests, and Susan Hayward is simply not in the public consciousness. Oftentimes, clotheshorses like Lana or Rita are referenced as emblems of classical Hollywood glamour when designers like Valentino (“Ziegfeld Girl”) or Gaultier (“Shanghai Express”) discuss their muses/inspirations. Hayward was never identified in this way either then or now, proving the power and endurabilty of image over talent, especially today!
Now that I think of it, Hayward died (of cancer in 1975 at 57) relatively early compared to her peers, which is a pity as she would almost certainly have had a substantial shot at television like (Barbara) Stanwyck or (Jane) Wyman.
But she was a genuine star, and context is everything, and I’m glad to remember her even though her heyday had passed long before I was born!”
Thanks iarla. And keep on commenting.