Who was Diana Hyland?
Diana Hyland was an American TV, film, and stage actor. She was mostly known for her roles in TV productions. Diana initially used her birth name for her acting credits but later changed it on her agent’s insistence. She chose her mother’s maiden name as her stage moniker. The slim-faced, honey-blonde beauty had appeared in a sizable number of TV series, among which two of the most notable were 'Peyton Place' and 'Young Doctor Malone.' Diana is also remembered for her remarkable performance in the TV movie 'The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,' for which she was honored with an 'Emmy,' posthumously. Diana was moderately popular in the theater circuit and had been part of a few acclaimed plays, too. Her film career, however, was short-lived. In her entire career, Diana had done only five films, all of which released in the 1960s. After divorcing her first husband, Diana had a passionate affair with her much younger co-star John Travolta. The two remained together until Diana died of cancer at the age of 41. Her unfortunate death was not only a loss to the entertainment industry but also left John devastated for life. Diana is regarded as John’s first and only real-life love interest and remained irreplaceable throughout his life. As an actor, too, she was bold and vibrant and continued working till her last breath.
Childhood & Early Life
Diana was born Diane Gentner, on January 25, 1936, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, to John Gentner and his wife.
As a teenager, Diana was associated with stage and worked in summer stock theater. In 1955, she moved to New York to try her luck in professional acting. Almost immediately, Diana bagged a few TV roles.
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Diana was 19 when she made her debut with the 'NBC' series 'Robert Montgomery Presents.' In 1956, she bagged a role in the 'ABC' anthology 'Star Tonight.' However, to support her finances, Diana did a part-time job as a switchboard operator. She simultaneously continued with her theater work and toured with the play 'Look Back in Anger.’ Diana emerged as a fine actor in the ‘Broadway’ circuit with the role of depressed ingénue ‘Heavenly Finley’ in the acclaimed 1959 play 'Sweet Bird of Youth.' She was considered for the film version of the play, which could have been her film debut, but Shirley Knight bagged the role instead.
From 1961 to 1962, Diana appeared in the regular role of ‘Gig Houseman Malone’ in the 'NBC' soap opera 'Young Doctor Malone.' After a number of one-episode appearances in TV series, she finally got her first film. Diana was cast as ‘Ruth Stafford Peale’ in the 1963 drama film 'One Man's Way.' Despite venturing into the silver-screen circuit, Diana’s focus remained on TV. Throughout the 1960s, she had played emotionally strong characters in several TV productions.
In the same decade, Diana appeared as ‘Princess Diana’ in the TV movie 'Hercules and the Princess of Troy.' Her first significant TV role came toward the end of the 1960s. Diana played ‘Susan Winter’ in 56 episodes of the 'ABC' primetime soap opera 'Peyton Place.'
By the beginning of the 1970s, Diana had enriched her stint in the film industry with four more appearances. In the last decade of her career and of her life, Diana worked exclusively in TV productions. During this time, she appeared as ‘Mickey Lubitch’ in the 1976 TV movie 'The Boy in the Plastic Bubble' and was appreciated for her performance. The TV film was not only a milestone for her career but also brought a huge change in her personal life.
Diana’s final TV appearance was in 1977. She was seen in two 'ABC' sitcoms: 'Happy Days' (as ‘Adrianna Prescott’) and 'Eight Is Enough' (as ‘Joan Bradford’).
Family & Personal Life
Diana got married to actor Joe Goodson on April 24, 1969. The couple had dated briefly before walking the aisle. They had a son, Zachary, in 1973. They divorced in 1975, 2 years after Zachary’s birth.
The year following the divorce, Diana began a relationship with actor John Travolta, who was then 18 years younger to her. They first met while filming ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,' in which Diana played John’s on-screen mother. They felt a strong emotional connection, and after a month of friendship, they realized their true feelings for each other. During their 7 months of togetherness, Diana and John (often accompanied by Zachary) spent quality time in Palm Springs, Big Bear, and New York. They had even planned a trip to Rio after John finished his upcoming projects.
Unfortunately, their relationship was short-lived, as on Christmas that year, Diana was diagnosed with breast cancer after she suffered from flu and terrible body pain. John, who was then working on 'Saturday Night Fever,' was devastated to hear the news. On March 26, 1977, he flew to Ohio to be with Diana.
A day after John’s arrival, on March 27, 1977, Diana died. After she was cremated, a memorial gathering was held at her home. John wore the same white suit he had bought to wear on their Rio trip. He never wore the suit again. Diana’s untimely death had a lifelong impact on John. The actor had to resort to Scientology to attain inner peace later. John also completely submerged himself in work in order to cope with the unbearable truth. Although he married later, Diana remained in his heart forever.
John later revealed that Diana was the only woman he had truly loved and that he would have married her had she lived longer. The two had even chosen a house where they might have moved in together after John finished 'Saturday Night Fever.'
Diana won a posthumous ‘Emmy’ for her supporting role in 'The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.' John received the award on Diana’s behalf. Shortly before her death, Diana had begun shooting for 'Eight Is Enough' but could film only four episodes. Her character on the show, ‘Joan Bradford’ was later “killed” in the script.