Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Susan Hayward...

The final installment of my long-winded tribute to Susan Hayward!

After her triumph with "I Want to Live!" Susie seemed content to be "Mrs Eaton Chalkley" and spent most of her time on their ranch in Georgia. They both loved fishing and they spent a great deal of time on their boats. She got offers for various roles but it seemed as if she had hit a peak with her Oscar win and never had as much enthusiasm for her work again. "Where love has Gone" released in 1964, was the last film where she reigned as a superstar.
At the end of 1965 she was in Italy filming "The Honey Pot" when her husband was stricken with the Hepatitus that he'd developed because of contaminated blood in an earlier operation. He died on Jan 6th 1966. A devastated Susie, always the professional, managed to get back to Italy a few days later and finish filming. Afterwards she went into seclusion for a year. She came out of retirement to replace Judy Garland in "Valley of the Dolls", a film totally blasted by the critics but a huge money-maker anyway.
In mid-1968 she was offered the part of "Mame" in Las Vegas, her one and only crack at legitimate stage work, but after only 2 months she had to back out under doctors orders because of a throat ailment. Back to work in 1971 she had a cameo role in "The Revengers", a sort of "Wild Bunch" knockoff starring William Holden. Susie's few scenes with him are the best part of the film. She made one more film, a TV movie called "Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole" which was a weirdly prophetic title as Susie would never work as an actress again. She had been diagnosed with multiple inoperable brain tumors and was having blackouts and convulsive siezures.
Susie was a fighter all her life and this final chapter of it would be no different. She agreeed to attend the 1974 Academy Awards as a presenter alongside Charlton Heston. She was introduced by David Niven who said "Mr Heston has created many miracles-just illusions on the screen. But in presenting our next award he brings with him not an illusion, but the real thing-Miss Susan Hayward!" Susie had to lean heavily on Heston and the camera men respectfully avoided close ups. Frank Westmore had spent hours with her that day making her up as she had lost all of her beautiful red hair and was very thin and pale. She had asked for him specifically because she wanted "Only a Westmore" to get her ready for the show that night. Westmore said he was never more proud of his craftmanship than what he was able to do for her that day.
Till the end she maintained she would beat her illness and many friends and former associates visited with her including Garbo! Finally on March 14th 1975 Susie passed away after a siezure at her home. She was only 56 years old.
Back in the early 1950's the portrait painter Peter Fairchild included Susie in a group of 4 beautiful women (along with Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Lizabeth Scott) saying these were the only ones left in Hollywood since Garbo. Susie's response to this was: "It was kind of Mr Fairchild, but physical beauty comes by the grace of god and your parents. It's what you achieve on your own that counts". I'd say little Edythe Merrener achieved quite a bit in her far too-short life!
They had faces!
It's Susan Hayward's Birthday today! Let the tribute continue!

An early promo postcard I found many years ago at the first "Papermania" show I ever went to in Hartford CT. 1953-54 saw a lot of changes in Susie's career and personal life. Her first film after returning from her European vacation was also her first Cinemascope production. "Demetrius and the Gladiators", a sequel to "The Robe", starring Victore Mature and directed by Delmer Daves, was the type of overblown-epic that Hollywood would churn out thoughout the 1950's to compete with television. I find the film rather enjoyable and once again Susie in color is something not to be missed! Her divorce proceedings finally wrapped up a year after they were started. Susie was awarded all her property, her earnings and custody of her twins. Barker got the family station wagon and visiting rights! Despite bad headlines and negative publicity Susie was still listed among the top-10 biggest box-office stars during that time!
Susie had a reputation for being an extremly hard worker. While working on the 1954 production of "Untamed" co-star Richard Egan asked her why she pushed herself so hard. Her response was: "Have you ever been hungry, Richard?". She was of course referring to her meager beginnings in Brooklyn when she and her family were often only able to afford left-over bread from the local bakery. According to Susan, when the depression hit, her life barely changed at all because they had been living like that all along. Poverty was also a huge factor in Kirk Douglas' intense drive and work-ethic as well.
An original 1944 magazine ad for Lipton Tea. Susie was seen in many advertisements throughout her movie career, but never for hair dye! After 3 fairly lackluster realeases "Garden of Evil", "Untamed" and "Soldier of Fortune", Susie got her most challenging role yet, that of singer Lillian Roth in the 1955 MGM production of "I'll Cry Tomorrow". Often cited as the female equivalent of "The Lost Weekend", the story is served up straight with no chaser and is not for the faint of heart! Susie's performance is simply remarkable, even doing all of her own singing (she was later beseiged by offers from nightclubs, cabarets and Vegas hotels but decided she wasnt ready for a live audience!)! Critics unanimously praised her and the film and she received her 4th oscar nomination for best actress. Many thought she was a shoe-in but once again she lost, this time to Anna Magnani for "The Rose Tattoo". Susie did however win the Canne film festival award. She was now an international star and the film turned out to be MGM's 3rd biggest money-maker behind "Gone with the Wind" and "Quo Vadis"!
Ironically the Susan Hayward film released after "I'll Cry Tomorrow" was also probably her worst film ever! "The Conqueror" is quite simply a laugh riot! Howard Hughes spent a fortune on the production, let it sit on the shelf for over a year before releasing it (He did the same with "Jet Pilot", but tinkered with that one for several years before release!) and it was actually a box office hit, but as a film it is incredibly silly and also a bit embarassing to see great stars like Susie, the Duke and Agnes Moorehead in such nonsense! I must admit though, I do enjoy Susie's barefoot sword-belly dance!

Susan appeared on scores and scores of magazine covers throughout most of her career. On February 9th 1957, Susan married Eaton Chalkley, a wealthy Georgia attorney whom she had been dating on and off since 1955. She also turned down script after script, some of them wise choices, others not so wise, but Walter Wanger gave her a script in late 1957 that she became very interested in! The film was "I Want to Live!" and the role of Barbara Grahame, a woman sent to the gas chamber for a murder she may or may not have commited, challenged Susie to the limit of her abilities and beyond. Director Robert Wise had nothing but praise for her talent and professionalism and said "She's one of the few actresses who can hold up a movie all by herself."

A publicity shot with Robert Young for "They Won't Believe Me"

"I Want to Live!' was a huge critical and commercial sucess and Susie FINALLY got what she had been chasing for almost 20 years, an Oscar for best actress! She also won practically every other acting award given out that year as well, and since she was in for 33% of the profits she made a tidy sum on the picture too. "I Want to Live!" is a very unsettling film to watch but well worth multiple viewings if you can take it, and Susie's performance is simply unforgettable!
One of the most cherished items in my household, my vintage Susan Hayward autographed photo, which at the time I bought it, was the most I ever spent on a collectible!
The Susan Hayward tribute continues...
Another scan of a promo postcard I have. In the mid 1950's Susie starting wearing her hair shorter but only because she wanted to. Always keenly aware of her strengths and protecting her interests (which would serve her well during her divorce!) , she had a clause in her contract stating her hair could not be cut against her wishes! Her 2nd film at Fox was actually done on a loanout to Sam Goldwyn and released through RKO. "My Foolish Heart" was a tailor-made vehicle for Susie and she nabbed her 2nd oscar nomination for her work in it. The film received great notices across the board and was the 3rd hit in a row for director Mark Robson, who directed the searing noir boxing film "Champion", starring Kirk Douglas, also in 1949. Robson is a director that doesnt get enough recognition these days but he did some truly excellent and wide-ranging work. Susie didnt get the oscar that year, the award going to Olivia deHavilland for her incredible performance in "The Heiress" instead.
A publicity still for one of Susie's best films of the early 1950's, Henry Hathaway's western thriller "Rawhide" with Tyrone Power. A taut, credible and well-acted film with gritty location photography by Milton Krasner. In 1952 Susie and John Wayne were declared "The Most Popular Stars in the World" by the Foreign Press Association. I recall AMC showing the newsreel footage of them receiving the "Henrietta" statue for this award. I probably have it on tape... somewhere!

One of my fave pics of Susie, a publicity shot for "I Can Get It For You Wholesale", a film I have yet to see, but by all accounts one of her best "ambitious-climbing-to-the-top-bitch roles" ever! On Aug 10th 1951 Susie was invited to put her hand prints in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Shortly after that she had her biggest film to date, the biblical epic "David and Bathsheba". Directed by Henry King in searing technicolor, the film had everything going for it but is a major snoozer. The only reason I would steel myself to sit through this again would be to see Susie in color. But it was the biggest money-maker for Fox that year!

A promo postcard for "Snows of Kilaminjaro", which about half of Susie's scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. She ends up with a rather thankless role and the film totally belongs to Ava Gardner. But before she made that film she starred in "With a Song in My Heart", a bio-pic about singer Jane Froman. Susie once again gave a solid, gutsy performance (and even allowed her hair to be cut shorter to more resemble Froman!) which garnered her a 3rd Oscar nomination, this time losing out to Shirley Boothe for "Come Back Little Sheba". That was one of the few times she didnt actually attend the Oscar ceremonies because she, husband Jess Barker and the twins took off on a long awaited European vacation.

A shot from another excellent but often overlooked gem of a film, Nicholas Ray's "The Lusty Men". Susie's co stars were Robert Mitchum and the ever-reliable Arthur Kennedy. Ray's films are usually off-beat and interesting and this one is no exception. Susie gave a restrained, realistic performance and looked totally gorgeous to boot. In 1953 after 9 years of marriage Susan filed for divorce from Jess Barker. It was an ugly, bitter and long drawn out process because Barker simplty stated he did not want a divorce! She offered him a $100,000 settlement which he refused, demanding instead half of her community property which would have been worth about a quarter of a million, BUT back in 1944 she had him sign away any rights to her property when they got married! Quite an unprecedented thing at that time! Susan had made about $374,000 in 1951-52 while during the same period Barker had made $665! No wonder he didnt want a divorce!!
ribute to Susan Hayward

At the end of 1944 Susie had her last paramount release, the soaper "And Now Tomorrow" where she was billed 3rd under Alan Ladd and Loretta Young. With her contract up the studio offered her a lot more money to sign a new 7-year deal. She was never happy with how the studio handled her and so apparently she told them what they could do with their "deal"! During this time she also gave birth to twins!
After Susie left Paramount she got top billing for the first time in RKO's "Deadline at Dawn" in 1946. During this time she received offers from 3 of Hollywood's biggest producers: Sam Goldwyn, David Selznick and Walter Wanger. At first she was going to go with Selznick but apparently after being told she'd have to wait an hour to see him in his office, she left and signed with Wanger, a decision she was to be thankful for all her life. Her first film under contract to Wanger was the underappreciated technicolor western "Canyon Passage" directed by Jaques Tourneur and co-starring Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy.
Her next film for Wanger would become a turning point in her career. "Smash Up-The Story of a Woman" gave Susie the kind of role she had been waiting and working for 10 years to get and she rose to the challenge admirably, garnering her first Oscar nomination as best actress of 1947 for her gutsy portrayal of an alcoholic. She lost to Loretta Young in "The Farmer's Daughter" but Susie was now offically a "star" and a force to be reckoned with as an actress as well. If only her personal life were going half as good! Her marriage to Jess barker was plagued by arguements and walk-outs and they tried marriage counseling to work things out.

Susie scored another hit in RKO's "They Wont Believe Me", produced by Joan harrison who had worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Robert Young went effectively against type and played a heel. The above pic is a vintage Lobby Card I have for the film. Susie was disappointed though when she lost the lead in "The Snake Pit" which ended up with a bravura performance from Olivia deHavilland instead. It would surely have been interesting to see Susan in that role!

Her last film for Wanger was the technicolor adventure yarn "Tulsa" where she played an ambitious woman, fighting her way to the top... certainly there was much of herself in that one! Once again the sight of Susie in technicolor is something not to be missed! The late 40's was probably the best period for her looks and weather in color or not she was always stunning! Because of money troubles Wanger sold her contract to Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Centruy Fox for $200,000, which was just about what her new 7-year contract would get her per year.

Look at the fire in her eyes! Susie looking quite ravishing in a pic with Richard Conte from her first film at Fox, the excellent "House of Stangers". Directed by Joespeh L. Mankiewicz and starring the by now legendary Edward G Robinson. It was a performance that got him the best actor prize at Cannes that year. Mankiewicz wanted Susie to cut her hair shorter and tried all manner of persuasions but no dice! This film is sort of a forgotten gem of the late 40's but well worth seeing, especially if one like's Mankiewicz's other films like "All About Eve" and "A Letter to Three Wives". This was a great start at her new studio and her next flm would get her a second Oscar nomination!
The second installment of my tribute to Susan Hayward.
One of Susie's few scenes from the 1939 Paramount production of "Beau Geste", her first film at that studio. Over the next year and a half she did lots of posing for still photographers and toured with Louella Parsons' "Flying Stars" but made few films. In 1941 on loan out to Columbia she finally had her first meaty role in "Adam Had Four Sons" with Ingrid Bergman, where she played her first "drunk scene", something she would do a LOT more of in the future! She got along well with Bergman and received good notices from the critics.
Susie's beautiful red hair got her noticed everywhere! She was once offered $5,000 to endorse a hair dye called, oddly enough, "Susan Hayward Red" and even though she needed the money at that time she refused, saying she didnt want anyone thinking she wasnt a natural redhead. This is a scan of one of the many small promotional postcards I have of Susie.
Finally in 1942 Susie was in a BIG film, C.B. DeMille's "Reap the Wild Wind" with John Wayne, Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. The blazing technicolor showed her hair to great advantage and she appeared immediately in another technicolor production "The Forest Rangers", once again playing second banana to Paulette Goddard. A critic for the New York post hads this to say: "Both girls are a joy in technicolor, with the gorgeous Goddard wardrobe showing to better advantage than the Hayward britches. But Susan's hair wins out." For some reason Susie never got star billing again at Paramount for the rest of her contract.
On loan out once again, to United Artists this time, Susie appeared in "I Married a Witch" starring Fredric March and Veronica Lake. Susie played her "Bitch" role with sincerity and was starting to get typecast because she was so good at it! Apparently that film was the inspiration for the classic 60's TV show "Bewitched". It was during this time that Susan started referring to herself as "God gift to the lower part of the double bill"!

In 1944 she appeared in her only war film "The Fighting Sea-Bees", her second movie with John Wayne. On July 23rd, 1944 Susan married Jess Barker whom she had met at the Hollywood Canteen in 1943. It would turn out to be an extremely volatile marriage!!

Ah yes, the film that started it all for me! Susie had one of her best early roles in the 1944 production of "The Hairy Ape" playing opposite William Bendix. The film is far from great but Susie looked incredible and once again plays her bitch role to the hilt, causing Time magazine to declare her as "Hollywood's abelest bitch-player!". This is a scan of an original vintage Lobby Card I have in my collection, aquired many, many moons ago from my good friend, the legendary Mr Door Tree!
Since the first time I saw Susie in "The Hairy Ape" with William Bendix many years ago, I was totally taken by this sultry-voiced, red-haired beauty. Her b-day is coming up in a few days and so for the next week or so I'll be posting a tribute to her.
A great early photo of Susie taken in the early to mid 1940's. She was born Edythe Marrener of Brooklyn on June 30th, 1918. Young Edythe was run over by a car while running in the streets one day and her parents were told she had a fractured hip and would probably never walk again. This injury and the lack of treatment she received while healing caused her to have a bit of a 'slink" to her walk for the rest of her life, but she did indeed walk again!
In the mid 1930's Edythe took a drama course and tried making the rounds to the theatrical agencies with no luck, but her pretty face, shapely figure and blazing red hair got her plenty of modeling jobs at the Walter Thornton agency where she appeared in ads for everything from underwear to tooth brushes.
In mid 1937 she appeared in the Saturday Envening Post in an article about New York models. The article, titled "The Merchant of Venus", featured 8 color pictures of Edythe and caught the eye of George Cukor, who was then immersed in his search for an actress to play Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind". She received a wire from Selznick studios offering her a test and a two-way ticket to California. Little Edythe was on her way to Hollywood!

Obviously, she did not get the role but she also did not use her return ticket, instead cashing it to in to buy some groceries! She hired an agent and he showed her test to Warner bros. and Edythe got a 6 month starlet contract. It was there at Warner's that she became "Susan Hayward" and started playing bit roles and finally a small speaking role in the b-quickie "Girls on Probation" starring Ronald Reagan. This is the only film I am aware of that Susie's Brooklyn accent is fully evident.

Warner's did not renew her contract so she tested for a western over at Republic where the director promptly said "She STINKS!" and was also told to get rid of her accent! She ended up at Paramount, sans accent, with a $200 a week contract instead. Her first film there was William Wellman's awesome "Beau Geste", with Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and a scene-stealing Brian Donlevy. During this time Walter Thornton agency was attempting to sue her for $100,000 for breach of contract. This was just one of the many battles Susie would be involved in throughout her stormy life!

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