Hand color tinted photo of Susan Hayward
Susan Hayward (June 30, 1917 – March 14, 1975) was an American actress.
After working as a fashion model in New York, Hayward travelled to Hollywood in 1937 in the hope of playing the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). Although she was not selected, 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 nominations for Best Actress for her performance as an alcoholic in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). Her career continued successfully through the 1950s and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of death row inmate Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958).
By this time, Hayward was married and living in Georgia and her film appearances became infrequent, although she continued acting in film and television until 1972. She died in 1975 following a long battle with brain cancer.
Hayward was born Edythe Marrenner in Brooklyn, New York to Walter Marrenner and Ellen Pearson. Her maternal grandparents were from Sweden. She began her career as a photographer’s model, going to Hollywood in 1937, aiming to secure the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Her screen name was chosen by her management because it was “as close to Rita Hayworth as we can get away with.”
Although she did not win the role of Scarlett O’Hara, Hayward found employment playing bit parts until she was cast in Beau Geste (1939) opposite Gary Cooper. During the war years, she played leading lady to John Wayne twice, in Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and The Fighting Seabees (1944). She also starred in the film version of The Hairy Ape (1944). Later in 1955, she was cast by Howard Hughes to play Bortai in the historical epic The Conqueror, again opposite John Wayne.
After the war, she established herself as one of Hollywood’s most popular leading ladies in films such as Tap Roots (1948), My Foolish Heart (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), and With a Song in My Heart (1952).
In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations for her role as an alcoholic nightclub singer in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman.
During the 1950s she won acclaim for her dramatic performances as President Andrew Jackson’s melancholic wife in The President’s Lady (1953); the alcoholic actress Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), based on Roth’s best-selling autobiography of the same name, for which she received a Cannes award; and the real-life California murderer Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958). Hayward’s portrayal of Graham won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She replaced Judy Garland as Helen Lawson in the 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.
She received good reviews for her performance in a Las Vegas production of Mame, but left the production because she felt unprepared for the demands the role made on her voice. She blamed herself for not wanting to spend the money on voice lessons that might have allowed her to keep the role. She was replaced by Oscar-winning actress and singer Celeste Holm.
She continued to act throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. 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 due to Hayward’s cancer diagnosis and failing health, the series was never produced.) Her last public appearance was at the 1974 Academy Awards telecast to present the Best Actress award, despite the fact she was very ill. With Charlton Heston supporting her, and having been given massive doses of dopamine, she was able to present the award. Hayward later stated, “that’s the last time I do that.”
Hayward was married to actor Jess Barker for 10 years, and they had two children. The marriage was described in Hollywood gossip columns as turbulent. They divorced in 1954. 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 to create a remarkably effective illusion.
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 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 national 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 in 1966. Hayward went into mourning and did little acting for several years, and took up residence in Florida because she preferred not to live in her Georgia home without her late husband. Hayward died at age 57 on March 14, 1975, of pneumonia-related complications of brain cancer, having survived considerably longer than doctors had originally predicted. There is some speculation that she may have been contaminated with radioactive fallout from above-ground atomic bomb testing during the making of The Conqueror, with John Wayne. Several of the production members, as well as Wayne himself, later succumbed to cancer and cancer-related illnesses. She was survived by her two sons from the marriage with Barker.
Susan Hayward was cremated and buried at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church at 210 Old Centerpoint Rd., Carrollton, Georgia. There is a grave site marker for visitors.
Hayward has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6251 Hollywood Boulevard.