WE’LL NEVER FORGET SUSAN WHAT’S ‘ER NAME
Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers back again
It’s not easy for either of us at the moment to come up with the name of a bigger Hollywood star of the Forties and Fifties less remembered today than Susan Hayward.
Disagree? Well give us a holler, and while you’re at it, provide us your candidate for most-forgotten-star honors.
Born Edythe Marrenner on June 30, 1917, Hayward was nurtured in “poverty and bred to insecurity,” writes Beverly Linet in her useful 1980 biography of the star, “Susan Hayward: Portrait of a Survivor.
Throughout her life, the famously Brooklyn-born, red-headed 5-foot-3 actress had “to battle for happiness. For over three decades, she dazzled audiences and critics with portrayals of tragic, stormy women – a gallery of winners, losers, fighters and survivors – and she knew then well, because they were all her,” Linet writes in fevered prose style.
In a traumatic street accident, Hayward was hit by a car she didn’t see (her nearsightedness went unattended), severely injured at age seven. She resented her mother, who favored her ne’er-do-well sister Florence. Her beloved father died in a welfare hospital when she was barely in her Twenties.
After a stint in the minor leagues of New York modeling – her movie career was launched via a Saturday Evening Post feature about the modeling world — Hayward made the trek to Hollywood in 1937, under the aegis of mega-producer David O. Selznick. She was tested for a part in “Gone With The Wind” but was rejected. After Selznick gave up on her, Hayward moved on to Warner Brothers where she made her debut movie appearance in a forgettable 1938 ditty titled “Girls on Probation.”
Things soon soured at Warner Brothers. According to Linet, Hayward’s first Hollywood agent reported that a studio drama coach felt that she “not a very nice girl.” At her next studio, Paramount, the word got out that “she’s got nothing…She was a bitch.” (That report came from Susan’s agent at the time. Of course, with agents like that, who needs enemies?)
Nonetheless, Hayward remained on and off with Paramount almost through the mid-Forties. An interruption at Columbia Pictures ended after about a year partially because, according to Linet, Hayward refused to have sex with mogul Harry Cohn.
As the great actor Frederick March – Hayward’s costar in one of her few memorable pictures, Rene Clair’s “I Married A Witch” (1942) – observed: “Every inch of that woman is an actress. She can portray a lonely, desperate, frustrated women because she has experienced all those emotions. If you look closely, you’ll see they left scars on her heart.”
Susan was the second female lead in “Witch” and although she worked constantly she didn’t seem to hit it big until 1947’s “Smash-Up.” She portrayed an alcoholic wife and received her first Academy Award nomination. From this point on her career seemed to set her in soap opera-like “women’s” pictures. A big box office hit was “My Foolish Heart” with Dana Andrews. Another nomination.
By the early Fifties, Hayward began a lengthy career at Darryl F. Zanuck’s Twentieth Century-Fox, where the actress cut a wide swath and established herself as one of Hollywood’s premier actresses. (Curiously, Hayward is not mentioned in either Bob Thomas’ “King Cohn” or Mel Gussow’s Zanuck biography, “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking.”)
By today’s anything-goes standards, Hayward conducted a fairly restrained personal life. In 1944, she began an 11-year-marriage with Jess Barker, a 32-year-old second leading man whose career sputtered as his wife’s took off. They had twin sons, but the union flamed out in spectacular style amidst headlines
And, oh yes, there was that 1955 suicide attempt when Susan overdosed on sleeping pills.
A 1957 second marriage to shadowy Georgia businessman Floyd Eaton Chalkley was happier. It ended at his death nine years later. Among in-between and post-first-marriage flings and affairs were those involving actors Jeff Chandler (also born in Brooklyn as Ira Grossel) and Richard Egan, and – inevitably – Howard Hughes.
Haywards big hits and Academy Award nominations kept coming. No one will dispute she was one of the biggest stars of the 1950’s. Keep the clicks coming on to our site since we’ll have a lot more recollections of our forgotten star.