Helen Hayes

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Helen Hayes
Promotional photograph of Helen Hayes.jpg
Promotional photo, 1940
Helen Hayes Brown

(1900-10-10)October 10, 1900
DiedMarch 17, 1993(1993-03-17) (aged 92)
Years active1905–1987
(m. 1928;died 1956)
Children2, including James MacArthur

Helen Hayes MacArthur (née Brown; October 10, 1900 – March 17, 1993) [1] was an American actress whose career spanned 80 years. She eventually received the nickname "First Lady of American Theatre" and was one of 16 people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award (an EGOT). She was also the first woman and first person to win the Triple Crown of Acting. Hayes also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan in 1986. [2] In 1988, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.


The annual Helen Hayes Awards, which have recognized excellence in professional theatre in greater Washington, DC, since 1984, are her namesake. In 1955, the former Fulton Theatre on 46th Street in New York City's Broadway Theater District was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre. When that venue was torn down in 1982, the nearby Little Theatre was renamed in her honor. Helen Hayes is regarded as one of the greatest leading ladies of the 20th-century theatre. [3]

Early life

Helen Hayes Brown was born in Washington, D.C., on October 10, 1900. Her mother, Catherine Estelle "Essie" (née Hayes), was an aspiring actress who worked in touring companies. [4] [5] Her father, Francis van Arnum Brown, worked at a number of jobs, including as a clerk at the Washington Patent Office and as a manager and salesman for a wholesale butcher. [5] [6] Hayes's Catholic maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland during the Great Famine. [7]

Hayes began a stage career at an early age. She said her stage debut was as a five-year-old singer at Washington's Belasco Theatre, on Lafayette Square, across from the White House. [8] By age ten, she had made a short film, Jean and the Calico Doll (1910), but moved to Hollywood only when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. Hayes attended Dominican Academy's prestigious primary school, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, from 1910 to 1912, appearing there in The Old Dutch, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and other performances. She attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart Convent in Washington and graduated in 1917. [9]


Hayes in 1927 Helen Hayes 1927.jpg
Hayes in 1927

Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet , for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith (with Ronald Colman), A Farewell to Arms (with Gary Cooper), The White Sister (opposite Clark Gable), Another Language (opposite Robert Montgomery), What Every Woman Knows (a reprise of her Broadway hit), and Vanessa: Her Love Story also with Robert Montgomery. But Hayes did not prefer film to the stage.

Hayes eventually returned to Broadway in 1935, where for three years she played the title role in Gilbert Miller's production of Victoria Regina , with Vincent Price as Prince Albert, first at the Broadhurst Theatre and later at the Martin Beck Theatre.

Hayes in the film What Every Woman Knows (1934) What Every Woman Knows 1934.JPG
Hayes in the film What Every Woman Knows (1934)

In 1951, she was involved in the Broadway revival of J.M. Barrie's play Mary Rose at the ANTA Playhouse. In 1953, she was the first-ever recipient of the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre, repeating as the winner in 1969. She returned to Hollywood in the 1950s, and her film star began to rise. She starred in My Son John (1952) and Anastasia (1956), and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway in the disaster film Airport (1970). She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as Herbie Rides Again , One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing and Candleshoe . Her performance in Anastasia was considered a comeback—she had suspended her career for several years due to her daughter Mary's death and her husband's failing health.

In 1955, the Fulton Theatre was renamed for her. In the 1980s, business interests wished to raze that theatre and four others to construct a large hotel that included the Marquis Theatre. Hayes's consent to raze the theatre named for her was sought and given, though she had no ownership interest in the building. Parts of the original Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway were used to construct the Shakespeare Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which Hayes dedicated with Joseph Papp in 1982. [10] In 1983 the Little Theater on West 45th Street was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre in her honor, as was a theatre in Nyack, which has since been renamed the Riverspace-Arts Center. In early 2014, the site was refurbished and styled by interior designer Dawn Hershko and reopened as the Playhouse Market, a quaint restaurant and gourmet deli.

Hayes, who spoke with her good friend Anita Loos almost daily on the phone, told her, "I used to think New York was the most enthralling place in the world. I'll bet it still is and if I were free next summer, I would prove it." With that, she convinced Loos to embark on an exploration of all five boroughs of New York. They visited and explored the city; Bellevue Hospital at night, a tugboat hauling garbage out to sea, parties, libraries, and Puerto Rican markets. They spoke to everyday people to see how they lived their lives and what made the city tick. The result of this collaborative effort was the book Twice Over Lightly, published in 1972.

It is unclear when or by whom Hayes was called the "First Lady of the Theatre". Her friend, actress Katharine Cornell, also held that title, and each thought the other deserved it. [11] [12] One critic said Cornell played every queen as though she were a woman, whereas Hayes played every woman as though she were a queen. [11]

In 1982, with friend Lady Bird Johnson, she founded the National Wildflower Research Center, now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in Austin, Texas. The center protects and preserves North America's native plants and natural landscapes. [13]

The Helen Hayes Award for theater in the Washington, DC, area is named in her honor. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6220 Hollywood Blvd. Hayes is also in the American Theatre Hall of Fame. [14]

Personal life

Hayes was a Catholic [15] [16] and a pro-business Republican who attended many Republican National Conventions (including the one held in New Orleans in 1988), but she was not as politically vocal as several other Republicans (e.g., Adolphe Menjou, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, etc.) in the Hollywood community of that time.

Hayes wrote three memoirs: A Gift of Joy, On Reflection, and My Life in Three Acts. Some of these books' themes include her return to Roman Catholicism (she had been denied communion from the Church for the duration of her marriage to Charles MacArthur, who was a divorced Protestant); and the death of her only daughter, Mary (1930–1949), an aspiring actress, of polio at the age of 19. Hayes's adopted son, James MacArthur (1937–2010), went on to a career in acting, starring in Hawaii Five-O on television and marrying actresses Joyce Bulifant and Melody Patterson, and later, Helen Beth "H.B." Duntz. [17] Hayes guest-starred on Hawaii Five-O in the 1975 episode "Retire in Sunny Hawaii... Forever" and later, in 1980, both appeared in The Love Boat episode "No Girls for Doc/Marriage of Convenience/The Caller/The Witness".

Hayes was hospitalized a number of times for asthma, which was aggravated by stage dust, forcing her to retire from theater in 1971, at age 71. [18] [1]

Her last Broadway show was a 1970 revival of Harvey , in which she co-starred with James Stewart. Clive Barnes wrote, "She epitomizes flustered charm almost as if it were a style of acting ... She is one of those actors ... where to watch how she is doing something is almost as pleasurable as what she is doing." [19] She spent most of her last years writing and raising money for organizations that fight asthma.


Riverside Shakespeare Company Shakespeare Center Dedication with Helen Hayes, 1982. SHAKESPEARE CENTER DEDICATION HELEN HAYES 4 small.jpg
Riverside Shakespeare Company Shakespeare Center Dedication with Helen Hayes, 1982.

Hayes was a generous donor of time and money to a number of causes and organizations, including the Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City. Along with Mildred Natwick, she became a founding member of the company's Board of Advisors in 1981. [20] She was also on the board of directors for the Greater New York Council of the Girl Scouts of the USA during the early 1970s.

In 1982, Hayes dedicated Riverside's The Shakespeare Center with New York theatre producer, Joseph Papp, [21] and in 1985 she returned to the New York stage in a benefit for the company with a reading of A Christmas Carol with Raul Julia, Len Cariou, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Carole Shelley, Celeste Holm and Harold Scott, directed by W. Stuart McDowell. [22] The next year Hayes performed a second benefit for the Riverside Shakespeare Company, this time at the Marquis Theatre, the construction of which had been made possible by the demolition of the Helen Hayes Theatre three years before. The production featured Rex Smith, Ossie Davis and F. Murray Abraham, and was produced by McDowell and directed by Robert Small, with Hayes narrating.

Helen Hayes Hospital

Helen Hayes and a young patient at Helen Hayes Hospital 1945 Helen Hayes and young patient at Helen Hayes Hospital 1945.jpg
Helen Hayes and a young patient at Helen Hayes Hospital 1945

According to her daughter-in-law, HB MacArthur, Hayes took the most pride in her philanthropic work with Helen Hayes Hospital, a physical rehabilitation hospital located in West Haverstraw, New York. She was extremely proud of the strides the hospital made toward the rehabilitation of people with disabilities, saying: "I've seen my name in lights on theater marquees and in letters 20 feet tall on Broadway billboards, but nothing has ever given me greater sense of pride and satisfaction than my 49-year association with this unique hospital." [23]

Helen Hayes at Helen Hayes Hospital in the 1950s. Helen Hayes MacArthur on the grounds of Helen Hayes Hospital in the 1950s.jpg
Helen Hayes at Helen Hayes Hospital in the 1950s.

Hayes became involved with the hospital in the 1940s and was named to the Board of Visitors in 1944. In 1974, the hospital was renamed in her honor. She served on the Helen Hayes Hospital Board of Visitors for 49 years, until her death in 1993. In that time, she advocated tirelessly for the hospital and successfully led a fight to prevent its relocation to Albany in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she was instrumental in lobbying for funding to transform the hospital into a state-of-the-art facility.

Hayes also contributed her enthusiastic support to hospital events and fund-raising efforts, including handing out diplomas to the children upon graduation when the hospital was still a pediatric care facility. She also faithfully attended the hospital's annual Classic Race, leading it in a classic car, handing out awards to runners, hand cyclists, and wheelchair racers, and offering the use of her home, Pretty Penny, for a dinner to launch the hospital's endowment fund. [23]


Hayes died on March 17, 1993, of congestive heart failure in Nyack, New York. Hayes's friend Lillian Gish, the "First Lady of American Cinema", was the designated beneficiary of her estate, but Gish had died less than a month earlier. Hayes was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack [24] and was survived by her son, James Gordon MacArthur, and four grandchildren: Charles P. MacArthur, Mary McClure, Juliette Rappaport, and James D. MacArthur. [17] In 2011, she was honored with a US postage stamp. [25]

Stage appearances and awards

YearProduction [26] Role [26] [27] Notes
1905Miss Hawke's May BallIrish Dancer
A Midsummer Night's Dream PeaseblossomRevival
1908Babe in the WoodsBoy babe
1909 Jack the Giant Killer Gibson Girl, Nell Brinkley, Girl impersonators
A Royal FamilyPrince Charles FerdinandRevival
Children's Dancing KermessImpersonation of "The Nell Brinkley Girl"
The Prince ChapClaudia, Age 5
A Poor RelationPatch
1910Old DutchLittle Mime
The Summer WidowersPacyche Finnegan, Pinkie's playmate
1911The BarrierMolly, an Alaskan Child
Little Lord Fauntleroy Cedric ErrolRevival
The Never Homes Fannie Hicks, Another Near Orphan
The Seven SistersKlara, the Youngest DaughterRevival
Mary Jane's PaRevival
1912The June BrideThe Holder's Child
1913Flood Victim's Benefit
The Girl with Green EyesSusie, the Flower Girl
His House in OrderDerek Jesson, his sonRevival
A Royal FamilyPrince Charles FerdinandRevival
The Prince ChapRevival
The Prince and the Pauper Tom Canty and Edward, Prince of Wales
1914The Prodigal HusbandYoung Simone
1916The DummyBeryl Meredith, the Kidnapper's Hostage
On TrialHis Daughter, Doris Strickland
1917It Pays to AdvertiseMarie, Maid at the MartinsRevival
Just a WomanHired girlRevival
Mile-a-Minute KendallBeth
Rich Man, Poor ManLinda HurstRevival
Alma, Where Do You Live?GermainRevival
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage PatchAsiaRevival
Within the LawRevival
Pollyanna Pollyanna Whittier, The Glad GirlRevival
1918 Penrod
Dear BrutusMargaret, his daughter
1919On the Hiring LineDorothy Fessenden, his daughter
ClarenceCora Wheeler
The Golden Age
1921The WrenSeeby Olds
The Golden DaysMary Ann
1922To the LadiesElsie Beebe
No Siree!: An Anonymous Entertainment by the
Vicious Circus of the Hotel Algonquin
1923Loney LeeLoney Lee
1924We ModernsMary Sundale, their Daughter
The Dragon
She Stoops to Conquer Constance NevilleRevival
Dancing MothersCatherine (Kittens) Westcourt
QuarantineDinah Partlett
1925 Caesar and Cleopatra CleopatraRevival
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Maria
Young BloodGeorgia Bissell
1926What Every Woman KnowsMaggie WylieRevival
1927CoquetteNorma Besant
1928CoquetteNorma BesantLondon version
1930Mr. GilhooleyA girl
Petticoat InfluencePeggy Chalfont
1931 The Good Fairy Lu
1933 Mary of Scotland Mary Stuart
1935 Caesar and Cleopatra CleopatraRevival
Victoria Regina Victoria
1934What Every Woman KnowsRevival
1936 Victoria Regina VictoriaRevival
1938 The Merchant of Venice PortiaRevival
Victoria ReginaVictoriaRevival
1939 Ladies and Gentlemen Miss Terry Scott
1940 Twelfth Night ViolaRevival
1941Candle in the WindMadeline Guest
1943Harriet Harriet Beecher Stowe
1944HarrietHarriet Beecher StoweRevival
1947Alice-Sit-By-The-FireMrs. Alice Grey
Happy BirthdayAddie Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
1948 The Glass Menagerie Amanda WingfieldRevival
1949Good Housekeeping
1950The Wisteria TreesLucy Andree Ransdell
1952Mrs. McThingMrs. Howard V. Larue III
1955Gentleman, The QueensCatherine, Lady Macbeth, Mary and Queen Victoria
The Skin of Our Teeth Mrs. AntrobusRevival
1956Lovers, Villains and FoolsNarrator, Puck, and the Chorus from Henry V
The Glass Menagerie Amanda WingfieldRevival
1958Time RememberedThe Duchess of Pont-Au-Bronc Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (revival)
1958A AdventureLulu Specer
Mid-SummerRose, the MaidRevival
A Touch of the Poet Nora Melody
1960 The Cherry Orchard Lyuboff RanevskayaRevival
The Chalk Garden Mrs. St. MaughamRevival
1962Shakespeare Revisited: A Program for Two Players
1964Good Morning Miss DoveMiss Lucerna Dove
The White House Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Edith Wilson, Julia Grant, Leonora Clayton, Mary Todd Lincoln, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, Mrs. Franklin Pierce, Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston, Mrs. James G. Blaine, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Jackson
1965Helen Hayes' Tour of the Far East
1966The CircleRevival
The School for Scandal Mrs. CandourRevival
Right You Are If You Think You AreSignora FrolaRevival
We Comrades ThreeMother
You Can't Take It with You OlgaRevival
1967 The Show-Off Mrs. Fisher Tony Award's Vernon Rice-Drama Desk Award (revival)
1968The Show-OffMrs. Fisherreturn engagement (revival)
1969 The Front Page Mrs. GrantRevival
1970 Harvey Veta Louise SimmonsNominated—Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (Revival)
1971 Long Day's Journey Into Night Mary Cavan TyroneRevival
1980 Tony Award's Lawrence Langner Memorial Award

Filmography and awards

1910 Jean and the Calico Doll and one subsequent Vitagraph filmJuvenile leadHayes recalled in a 1931 interview with The New York Times that she had played the juvenile lead in two films starring Jean, the Vitagraph dog. [28] [29]
1917The Weavers of LifePeggy
1928 The Dancing Town Olive PepperallShort subject
1931 The Sin of Madelon Claudet Madelon Claudet Academy Award for Best Actress
Arrowsmith Leora Arrowsmith
1932 A Farewell to Arms Catherine Barkley
The Son-Daughter Lian Wha 'Star Blossom'
1933 The White Sister Angela Chiaromonte
Another Language Stella 'Stell' Hallam
Night Flight Madame Fabian
1934 Crime Without Passion Extra in hotel lobbyUncredited
This Side of Heaven Actress on screen in theatreUncredited
What Every Woman Knows Maggie Wylie
1935 Vanessa: Her Love Story Vanessa Paris
1938Hollywood Goes to TownHerself, uncreditedShort subject
1943 Stage Door Canteen Herself
1952 My Son John Lucille Jefferson
1953 Main Street to Broadway Herself
1956 Anastasia Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
1959 Third Man on the Mountain TouristUncredited
1961The Challenge of IdeasNarratorShort subject
1970 Airport Ada Quonsett Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1974 Herbie Rides Again Mrs. SteinmetzNominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing Hettie
1977 Candleshoe Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund
1987 Divine Mercy: No Escape NarratorFinal film role

Television appearances and awards

Prudential Family Playhouse Elizabeth Moulton-BarrettThe Barretts of Wimpole Street
Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Gwenny BeanThe Late Christopher Bean
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots Mary of Scotland
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Honora CanderayDark Fleece
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars The Lucky Touch
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Not a Chance
Robert Montgomery Presents Queen Victoria Victoria Regina
Nominated—Emmy Award for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
1952 Omnibus The Twelve Pound Look
Nominated—Emmy Award for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
1953 Omnibus Mrs. KirbyThe Happy Journey
Omnibus MomMom and Leo
Medallion Theatre Harriet Beecher Stowe "Battle Hymn"
Emmy Award for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
1954 The United States Steel Hour Mrs. AustinWelcome Home
The Best of Broadway Fanny CavendishThe Royal Family
The Motorola Television Hour Frances ParrySide by Side
1955 Producers' Showcase Margaret AntrobusThe Skin of Our Teeth
The Best of Broadway Abby BrewsterArsenic and Old Lace
1956 Omnibus Mrs. DearthDear Brutus
Omnibus Bessie ArlingtonThe Christmas Tie
1957 The Alcoa Hour Mrs. GillingMrs. Gilling and the Skyscraper
Nominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
Playhouse 90 Sister TheresaFour Women in Black
1958 Omnibus Mrs. Howard V. Larue IIIMrs. McThing
The United States Steel Hour Mother SeraphimOne Red Rose for Christmas
Nominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
1959 Hallmark Hall of Fame Essie Miller Ah, Wilderness!
Play of the Week Madame Ranevskaya The Cherry Orchard
1960 The Bell Telephone Hour Baroness Nadedja von MeckThe Music of Romance
Play of the Week Mother HildebrandThe Velvet Glove
Dow Hour of Great Mysteries Letitia Van Gorder The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
1963 The Christophers What One Bootmaker Did
1967 Tarzan Mrs. WilsonThe Pride of the Lioness
1969 Arsenic and Old Lace Abby BrewsterTV movie
1970The Front PageNarrator (voice)TV movie
1971 Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate Sophie Tate CurtisTV movie
Nominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
1972 Harvey Veta Louise SimmonsTV movie
Here's Lucy Mrs. Kathleen BradyLucy and the Little Old Lady
Ghost Story Miss GildenAlter-Ego
1973–1974 The Snoop Sisters Ernesta SnoopTV series (5 episodes)
Nominated—Emmy Award for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series
1975 Hawaii Five-O Clara WilliamsRetire in Sunny Hawaii... Forever
Nominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series
Co-starred with her son James MacArthur (who played her nephew in the episode).
1976 The Moneychangers Dr. McCartneyTV miniseries
Victory at Entebbe Etta Grossman-WiseTV movie
1978 A Family Upside Down Emma LongTV movie
Nominated—Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
1980 The Love Boat Agatha WinslowNo Girls for Doc/Marriage of Convenience/The Caller/The Witness
1982 Love, Sidney Mrs. ClovisPro and Cons
Murder Is Easy Lavinia FullertonTV movie
1983 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Jane Marple TV movie
1984 Highway to Heaven Estelle WicksHighway to Heaven: Part 1, Highway to Heaven: Part 2
1985 Murder with Mirrors Miss Jane Marple TV movie

Other awards

In 1972, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. [30] [31]

In 1973, Hayes was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. [32]

In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Hayes's name and picture. [33]

In 1983, Hayes received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. [34]

In 1979, she received the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame.

See also

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  19. Barnes, Clive. "Stage:Unseen White Rabbit Returns:James Stewart Stars in Phoenix's 'Harvey'", The New York Times, February 25, 1970, p.41
  20. O'Haire, Patricia. "Dickens lends the Bard a Hand," The New York Daily News, Sept 13, 1982
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  29. "Miss Hayes and Films". The New York Times . March 15, 1931. Retrieved 2015-11-28. I'm afraid my former career in the movies doesn't mean much, but when I was 8 years old and had just made my first stage appearance, in a Lew Fields musical show, 'Old Dutch', my mother took me over to the old Vitagraph studio in Brooklyn. I had long curls and they let me play the juvenile lead in two pictures in support of Jean, the collie. Jean was the most famous dog of the day and I was very thrilled.
  30. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  31. "Photo of Helen Hayes, Lowell Thomas, and Leon Jaworski at the 1974 Banquet of the Golden Plate Award ceremonies in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo of Helen Hayes presenting the Golden Plate Award to Jimmy Stewart". American Academy of Achievement.
  32. "Hayes, Helen". National Women’s Hall of Fame.
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