Susan Hayward

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Susan Hayward
Susan Hayward - 1940s.jpg
Hayward in 1940s
Edythe Marrenner

(1917-06-30)June 30, 1917
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedMarch 14, 1975(1975-03-14) (aged 57)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Resting placeOur Lady of Perpetual Help Cemetery (Carrollton, Georgia)
Education The Girls' Commercial High School
OccupationActress, model
Years active19371972
  • Jess Barker
    (m. 1944;div. 1954)
  • Floyd Eaton Chalkley
    (m. 1957;died 1966)

Susan Hayward (born Edythe Marrenner; June 30, 1917 March 14, 1975) was an American actress and model. She was best known for her film portrayals of women that were based on true stories.


After working as a fashion model, Hayward traveled to Hollywood in 1937 to audition for the role of Scarlett O'Hara. She secured a film contract and played several small supporting roles over the next few years.

By the late 1940s, the quality of her film roles had improved, and she achieved recognition for her dramatic abilities with the first of five Academy Award for Best Actress nominations for her performance as an alcoholic in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). Hayward's success continued through the 1950s as she received subsequent nominations for My Foolish Heart (1949), With a Song in My Heart (1952), and I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955). She finally won for her portrayal of death row inmate Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958).

After Hayward's second marriage and subsequent move to Georgia, her film appearances became infrequent, although she continued acting in film and television until 1972. She died in 1975 of brain cancer.

Early life

Susan Hayward was born Edythe Marrenner on June 30, 1917, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, the youngest of three children to Ellen and Walter Marrenner. Her paternal grandmother, Kate Harrigan, was an actress from County Cork, Ireland. [1] Her mother was of Swedish descent. She had an older sister, Florence (born May 1910), and an older brother, Walter, Jr. (born December 1911). [2] In 1924 Marrenner was hit by a car, suffering a fractured hip and broken legs that put her in a partial body cast with the resulting bone setting leaving her with a distinctive hip swivel later in life. [3] [4] [5]

Hayward was educated at Public School 181 and graduated from the Girls' Commercial High School in June 1935 (later renamed Prospect Heights High School). [6] According to the Erasmus Hall High School alumni page, Hayward attended that school in the mid-1930s, [7] although she only recollects swimming at the pool for a dime during hot summers in Flatbush, Brooklyn. [8] During her high school years, she acted in various school plays, and was named "Most Dramatic" by her class. [9]


She began her career as a model, traveling to Hollywood in 1937 to secure the role of Scarlett O'Hara in the successful film Gone with the Wind . [10] Though Hayward did not get the part, she was used for other actors' screen tests by David Selznick and received a contract at Warner Bros. [11]

Warner Bros.

Talent agent Max Arnow changed Marrenner's name to Susan Hayward once she started her six-month contract for $50 a week with Warner's. [12] Hayward had bit parts in Hollywood Hotel (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) (her part was edited out), and The Sisters (1938), as well as in a short, Campus Cinderella (1938). [13]

Hayward's first sizeable role was with Ronald Reagan in Girls on Probation (1938), where she was a strong 10th in billing. She was also in Comet Over Broadway (1938), but returned to unbilled and began posing for pinup "cheesecake" publicity photos, something she and most actresses despised, but under her contract she had no choice. With Hayward's contract at Warner Bros. finished, she moved on to Paramount Studios. [14]


In 1939 Paramount Studios signed her to a $250 per week contract. Hayward had her first breakthrough in the part of Isobel in Beau Geste (1939) opposite Gary Cooper and Ray Milland. She held the small, but important, haunting love of youth role as recalled by the Geste brothers during desert service in the Foreign Legion while searching for "the blue water", the film was hugely successful. [15]

Paramount put Hayward as the second lead in Our Leading Citizen (1939) with Bob Burns and she then supported Joe E. Brown in $1000 a Touchdown (1939).

Hayward went to Columbia for a supporting role alongside Ingrid Bergman in Adam Had Four Sons (1941), then to Republic Pictures for Sis Hopkins (1941) with Judy Canova and Bob Crosby. Back at Paramount, she had the lead in a "B" film, Among the Living (1941).

Cecil B. De Mille gave her a good supporting role in Reap the Wild Wind (1942), to costar with Milland, John Wayne and Paulette Goddard. [16] She was in the short A Letter from Bataan (1942) and supported Goddard and Fred MacMurray in The Forest Rangers (1942).

United Artists and Republic

Hayward costarred in I Married a Witch (1942) with Fredric March and Veronica Lake, as the fiancé of Wallace Wooly (March) before Lake's witch appears in the 1940s from a Puritanical stake burning 300 years prior. [17] The film served as inspiration for the 1960s TV series Bewitched and was based on an unfinished novel by Thorne Smith; it was made for Paramount but sold to United Artists. [17] [18] She was next in Paramount's all-star musical review Star Spangled Rhythm (1943) that featured its nonmusical contract players as well. [19]

Hayward appeared with William Holden in Young and Willing (1943), a Paramount film distributed by UA. She was in Republic's Hit Parade of 1943 (1943), her singing voice dubbed by Jeanne Darrell. [20]

Sam Bronston borrowed her for Jack London (1943) at UA then she was Wayne's love interest in The Fighting Seabees (1944) at Republic, the biggest budgeted film in that company's history. [21]

She starred in the film version of The Hairy Ape (1944) for UA. Back at Paramount she was Loretta Young's sister in And Now Tomorrow (1944). She then left the studio.

RKO gave Hayward her first top billing in Deadline at Dawn (1946), a Clifford Odets written Noir film, which was Harold Clurman's only movie as director. [22]

Walter Wanger and stardom

Susan Hayward in Smash Up (1947) Susan Hayward - 1947 - Smash.jpg
Susan Hayward in Smash Up (1947)

After the war, Hayward's career took off when producer Walter Wanger signed her for a seven-year contract at $100,000 a year. [23] Her first film was Canyon Passage (1946).

In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations for her role as an alcoholic nightclub singer based on Dixie Lee in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman, her second film for Wanger. Although it was not well received by critics, [24] it was popular with audiences and a box office success, launching Hayward as a star. [25]

RKO used her again for They Won't Believe Me (1947) then she worked for Wanger on The Lost Moment (1948), and Tap Roots (1948); both films lost money but the latter was widely seen. [26]

At Universal she was in The Saxon Charm (1948) and she did Tulsa (1949) for Wanger. Both films were commercial disappointments.

20th Century Fox

Hayward went over to 20th Century Fox to make House of Strangers (1949) for director Joseph Mankiewicz, beginning a long association with that studio.

Sam Goldwyn borrowed her for My Foolish Heart (1949), then she went back to Fox for I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951), which was a hit. [27]

She stayed at that studio to make Rawhide (1951) with Tyrone Power, and I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951).

Hayward then starred in three massive successes: David and Bathsheba (1951) with Gregory Peck, the most popular film of the year; [28] With a Song in My Heart (1952), a biopic of Jane Froman, which earned her an Oscar nomination; and The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952), with Peck and Ava Gardner.

RKO borrowed Hayward for The Lusty Men (1952) with Robert Mitchum, then she went back to Fox for The President's Lady (1953), playing Rachel Jackson alongside Charlton Heston; White Witch Doctor (1953) again a costar with Mitchum; Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), as Messalina; Garden of Evil (1954) with Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark; and Untamed (1955) with Tyrone Power. Hayward then starred with Clark Gable in Soldier of Fortune (1955), a CinemaScope film that was a box office miss. [29]


MGM hired her to play the alcoholic showgirl/actress Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), [30] based on Roth's best-selling autobiography of the same name, for which she received a Cannes award. It was a major financial success. [31]

Although Hayward never truly became known as a singer because she disliked her own singing, [32] she portrayed singers in several films. However, in I'll Cry Tomorrow, though erroneously attributed to ghost singer Marni Nixon, [33] it was actually Hayward's own voice, and can be heard on the soundtrack. [34] Susan Hayward performed in the musical biography of singer Jane Froman in the 1952 film, With a Song in My Heart , a role which won her the Golden Globe for Best Actress Comedy film. Jane Froman's voice was recorded and used for the film as Hayward acted out the songs.

Hayward receiving an Oscar for Best Actress in I Want to Live (1958) Susan Hayward - 1959 Oscar-1.jpg
Hayward receiving an Oscar for Best Actress in I Want to Live (1958)

In 1956, she was cast by Howard Hughes to play Bortai in the historical epic The Conqueror , as John Wayne's leading lady. It was critically reviled but a commercial success. [35] She did a comedy with Kirk Douglas, Top Secret Affair (1956) which flopped. [36]

Hayward made one more film with Wanger, I Want to Live! (1958), playing Barbara Graham; the film was a critical and commercial success. Hayward won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the real life death row inmate. Her performance was "so vivid and so shattering" the New York Times "felt anyone that could sit through this ordeal without shivering and shuddering is made of stone." [37] She was entitled to 37% of the film's profit. [38]

Decline as star

Hayward made Thunder in the Sun (1959) with Jeff Chandler, a mediocre wagon train picture about French Basque pioneers, [39] and then Woman Obsessed (1959) at Fox.

In 1961, Hayward starred as a working girl who becomes the wife of the state's next governor (Dean Martin) and ultimately takes over the office herself in Ada . The same year, she played Rae Smith in Ross Hunter's lavish remake of Back Street , which also starred John Gavin and Vera Miles. Neither film was particularly successful; nor were I Thank a Fool (1963) at MGM, Stolen Hours (1963), and Where Love Has Gone (1964).

Later career

Hayward was reunited with Joseph Mankiewicz in The Honey Pot (1967). Then she replaced Judy Garland as Helen Lawson in the film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1967). [40]

She received good reviews for her performance at Caesars Palace in the Las Vegas production of Mame that opened in December 1968. She was replaced by Celeste Holm in March 1969 after her voice gave out and she had to leave the production. [41] [42]

She continued to act into the early 1970s, when she was diagnosed with brain cancer.

She appeared in the TV movie Heat of Anger (1972) and the film The Revengers (1972) with William Holden.

Her final film role was as Dr. Maggie Cole in the 1972 made-for-TV drama Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole . It 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. [43] Her last public appearance was at the Academy Awards telecast in 1974 to present the Best Actress award despite being very ill. [44] With Charlton Heston's support, she was able to present the award. [45]

Personal life

During WWII Hayward volunteered at the Hollywood Canteen to support the war effort, and this is where she met her first husband, actor Jess Barker. They were married on July 23, 1944, and had two children, fraternal twin sons named Gregory and Timothy, born February 19, 1945. [46] The marriage was turbulent, with a judge granting an interlocutory divorce decree on August 17, 1954. [47] During the contentious divorce proceedings, Hayward stayed in the United States rather than join the Hong Kong location shoot for the film Soldier of Fortune. She shot her scenes on a sound stage with co-star Clark Gable 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. By April 1955, the stress of divorce proceedings and overwork prompted a suicide attempt. [47]

Drawing of Hayward in character after winning an Oscar for I Want to Live, by artist Nicholas Volpe Susan Hayward 1958.jpg
Drawing of Hayward in character after winning an Oscar for I Want to Live, by artist Nicholas Volpe

In 1957, Hayward married Floyd Eaton Chalkley, commonly known as Eaton Chalkley, a Georgia rancher and businessman who had worked as a federal agent. Although an unusual husband for a Hollywood movie star, the marriage was a happy one. They lived on a farm near Carrollton, Georgia, and owned property across the state line in Cleburne County, just outside Heflin, Alabama. [48] She became a popular figure in the area in the 1950s. In December 1964, she and her husband were baptized Catholic by Father Daniel J. McGuire at SS Peter and Paul's Roman Catholic Church on Larimer Avenue, in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, fulfilling a promise made in China to McGuire, that if she ever converted, he would be the one to baptize her. [49] Chalkley died on January 9, 1966. Hayward went into mourning and did little acting for several years. She took up residence in Florida, because she preferred not to live in her Georgia home without her husband.

Before her Catholic baptism, Hayward was a proponent of astrology. [50] She particularly relied on the advice of Carroll Righter, who called himself "the Gregarious Aquarius" and the self-proclaimed "Astrologer to the Stars", who informed her that the optimal time to sign a film contract was exactly 2:47 am, causing her to set her alarm for 2:45 so she could be sure to obey his instructions. [51] Hayward was a lifelong registered Republican, who endorsed Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and appeared at the 1953 Republican Rally.


Hayward's doctor found a lung tumor in March 1972 that metastasized, and after a seizure in April 1973, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. [52] On March 14, 1975, she suffered a seizure in her Beverly Hills home and died at the age of 57. [53] A funeral service was held on March 16 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Carrollton, Georgia. Hayward's body was buried in the church's cemetery. [54]

Theories about the radioactive fallout from atmospheric atomic bomb tests [55] surround the making of The Conqueror in St. George, Utah. Several production members including Hayward, John Wayne, Agnes Moorehead, Pedro Armendáriz (who committed suicide), and its director Dick Powell later succumbed to cancer and cancer-related illnesses. [56] The cast and crew totaled 220 people. By the end of 1980, as ascertained by People , 91 of them had developed some form of cancer, and 46 had died of the disease. [57]

Susan Hayward has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6251 Hollywood Boulevard. [58]


Film and television credits
1937 Hollywood Hotel Starlet at tableUncredited
1938 The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse PatientScenes deleted
The Sisters Telephone operatorUncredited
Girls on Probation Gloria Adams
Comet Over Broadway Amateur ActressUncredited
Campus CinderellaCo-EdShort subject
1939 Beau Geste Isobel Rivers
Our Leading Citizen Judith Schofield
$1,000 a Touchdown Betty McGlen
1941 Adam Had Four Sons Hester Stoddard
Sis Hopkins Carol Hopkins
Among the Living Millie Pickens
1942 Reap the Wild Wind Cousin Drusilla Alston
The Forest Rangers Tana "Butch" Mason
I Married a Witch Estelle Masterson
Star Spangled Rhythm Herself - Genevieve in Priorities Skit
A Letter from Bataan Mrs. Mary Lewis
1943 Young and Willing Kate Benson
Hit Parade of 1943 Jill Wright
Jack London Charmian Kittredge
1944 The Fighting Seabees Constance Chesley
The Hairy Ape Mildred Douglas
And Now Tomorrow Janice Blair
Skirmish on the Home FrontMolly MillerShort subject
1946 Deadline at Dawn June Goffe
Canyon Passage Lucy Overmire
1947 Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman Angelica "Angie" / "Angel" Evans ConwayNominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
They Won't Believe Me Verna Carlson
The Lost Moment Tina Bordereau
1948 Tap Roots Morna Dabney
The Saxon Charm Janet Busch
1949 Tulsa Cherokee Lansing
House of Strangers Irene Bennett
My Foolish Heart Eloise WintersNominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1951Screen Snapshots: Hopalong in Hoppy LandHerselfShort subject
I'd Climb the Highest Mountain Mary Elizabeth Eden Thompson
Rawhide Vinnie Holt
I Can Get It for You Wholesale Harriet Boyd
David and Bathsheba Bathsheba
1952 With a Song in My Heart Jane Froman
The Snows of Kilimanjaro Helen
The Lusty Men Louise Merritt
1953 The President's Lady Rachel Donelson
White Witch Doctor Ellen Burton
1954 Demetrius and the Gladiators Messalina
Garden of Evil Leah Fuller
1955 Untamed Katie O'Neill (Kildare) (Van Riebeck)
Soldier of Fortune Mrs. Jane Hoyt
I'll Cry Tomorrow Lillian Roth
1956 The Conqueror Bortai
1957 Top Secret Affair Dorothy "Dottie" Peale
1958 I Want to Live! Barbara Graham
1959 Thunder in the Sun Gabrielle Dauphin
Woman Obsessed Mary Sharron
1961 The Marriage-Go-Round Content Delville
Ada Ada Gillis
Back Street Rae Smith
1962 I Thank a Fool Christine Allison
1963 Stolen Hours Laura Pember
1964 Where Love Has Gone Valerie Hayden Miller
1967 The Honey Pot Mrs. Lone Star Crockett Sheridan
Valley of the Dolls Helen Lawson
Think TwentiethHerself
1972 The Revengers Elizabeth Reilly
Heat of AngerJessie FitzgeraldTV movie
Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole Dr. Maggie ColeTV movie

Box office rankings

For a number of years, exhibitors voted Hayward among the most popular stars in the country:

Radio appearances

1946Duffy's Tavern
1946 Suspense "Dame Fortune" [59]
1952 Lux Radio Theatre I Can Get It for You Wholesale [60]
1952 Cavalcade of America Breakfast at Nancy's [61]

See also

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Further reading