Nick Name: First Lady of the Theatre
Birthday: October 10, 1900
Died At Age: 92
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Helen Hayes MacArthur
Born in: Washington, D.C., U.S.
Famous as: Actress
Spouse/Ex-: Charlie MacArthur, John Swanson
father: Francis Van Arnum Brown
mother: Catherine Estelle Hayes
children: James MacArthur (adopted), Mary MacArthur
Died on: March 17, 1993
place of death: Nyack, New York, U.S.
City: Washington D.C.
Who was Helen Hayes?
Helen Hayes was a popular American stage and screen actress. She was particularly known for her portrayal of Queen Victoria and other regal ladies in stage plays. Her acting talent on the stage and on the screen earned the adulation of the stage and cinema-going audience. She saw huge success in her long acting career and was one of the three most famous ladies along with Lynn Fontanne and Katharine Cornell who brought glory to the stage and the world of acting during the 1920s and the 1930s. She was often called the ‘First Lady of the American Theater’. She had an elfin smile, grace and beauty which impressed the audience as soon as she appeared on the stage or on the screen. Although she was only 5 feet tall and weighed only about 100 pounds, she could create a larger-than-life character with absolute ease. Over the years she worked hard to become a complete theater professional and she could act with complete ease and versatility in both serious and comic roles. She is one of the twelve persons to win a ‘triple crown’ which included an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy and an Oscar. Her acting career spanned almost eighty years.
Childhood & Early Life
Helen Hayes was born Helen Hayes Brown in Washington on October 10, 1900. She was the only child of a poultry and pork salesman, Francis Van Arnum Brown and actress, Catherine Estelle Hayes.
She acted for the first time in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the ‘Holy Cross Academy’, a school in Washington, when she was just a toddler.
She also sang in the galas organized by her dancing school called ‘Miss Minnie Hawke’s School of Dance’.
She attended a prestigious primary school run by the ‘Dominican Academy’ from 1910 to 1912.
She enrolled at the ‘Sacred Heart Academy’ in Washington when she was eight-year-old and graduated from it in 1917. During this period Lew Fields signed up Helen for the principal role in Victor Herbert’s ‘Old Dutch’ staged at the ‘Herald Square Theater’.
Helen acted in her first film ‘Jean and the Calico Doll’ which was made in the ‘Vitagraph Studio’ in Brooklyn.
She performed in the romantic comedy ‘The Prodigal Husband’ with John Drew in 1914 when she was only 13. Though the play, which opened at the Empire Theater in 1914, was not up to the mark, Helen shone in her role.
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Helen Hayes had her first star billing with ‘Bab’ which opened in New York in 1920 in which she gave an impression that she was the ‘tallest five-foot woman in the world’.
She also acted in the plays ‘We Moderns’ in 1923 and ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ in 1925.
She proved her acting talent in the 1926 revival of James M. Barrie’s comedy ‘What Every Woman Knows’.
Her first great success came in 1927 with the play ‘Coquette’ where she played the role of a Southern girl from an upper class family who kills herself at finding herself pregnant.
In 1930 she acted in ‘Mr. Gilhooey’, which was a flop; ‘Petticoat Influence’ and ‘The Good Fairy’ which were both moderately successful.
In 1931 she acted in her first Hollywood film ‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’ for which she won an Academy Award for the ‘Best Actress’.
She starred in ‘Arrowsmith’ in 1931 opposite Ronald Colman, ‘Farewell to Arms’ in 1932 opposite Gary Cooper, ‘The Whiter Sister’ opposite Clark Gable, ‘Night Flight’ in 1933 along with John Barrymore. All of these films were great hits.
Her greatest success came with the drama ‘Victoria Regina’ in 1935 in which she portrayed Queen Victoria from girlhood to widowhood. Her depth in acting and the makeup artist’s skill helped her portray the Queen as she appeared to age in successive acts of the play.
‘Mary of Scotland’ in 1933 was a great success where she played the title role of the Scottish Queen as well as ‘Harriet’ in 1943 where she played the role of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
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Her other plays included ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ in 1939, ‘Twelfth Night’ in 1940, ‘Happy Birthday’ in 1946, ‘The Wisteria Trees’ in 1950, ‘Mrs. McThing’ in 1952, ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’ in 1955 an 1961, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in 1948, 1956 and 1961, ‘Time Remembered’ in 1957, ‘A Touch of the Poet’ in 1958, ‘The School for Scandal’, ‘Right You Are’ and ‘We Comrades Three’ in 1966, ‘The Show-Off’ in 1967 and ‘The Front Page’ in 1969.
Her last success was the play ‘Harvey’ which was revived in 1970.
In 1971 she played a supporting role in ‘Airport’ for which she won her second Oscar. She also acted in the films ‘Vanessa, Her Love Story’ in 1935, ‘My Son John’ in 1952 and ‘Anastasia’ in 1956.
She decided to retire from the stage in 1972 with Eugene O’Neil’s play ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, staged in Washington from where she had started her acting career.
She also acted for the television in ‘The Snoop Sisters’ in 1972, ‘Victory at Entebbe’ in 1976, ‘A Family Upside Down’ in 1978, ‘Murder is Easy’ in 1982, ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ in 1983 and ‘Murder with Mirrors’ in 1985.
She co-founded the ‘National Wildflower Research Center’ in 1982.
Helen Hayes published her autobiography in 1990 and wrote the memoirs ‘A Gift of Joy’, ‘On Reflection’ and ‘My Life in Three Acts’.
Awards & Achievements
Helen Hayes won the ‘Academy Award for the Best Actress’ in 1931.
She won the ‘Sarah Siddons Award’ in 1953 and 1969.
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She won her second Oscar in 1971.
She was also honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ and a membership of the ‘American Theater Hall of Fame’.
In 1979 she received an award from the ‘Catholic Interracial Council of New York’.
She received the ‘Kennedy Center Honors’ in 1981, the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ form President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and the “National Medal of Arts’ in 1988.
She received honorary degrees from the ‘Smith College, Princeton, Columbia’, ‘Fordham University’ and other institutions.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married John Swanson in 1926 and divorced him in 1928.
She married Charlie MacArthur, a divorcee, in 1928.
She had a daughter, Mary from this marriage and later adopted a son, James.
Hayes suffered constantly from asthma and had to be hospitalized many times.
The ‘Helen Hayes Award’ is given annually to actors and actresses who show artistic achievement in professional theater.
The ‘Fulton Theater’ was named after her and when it was demolished the ‘Little Theater’ was renamed ‘Helen Hayes Theater’.
The ‘Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital’ was named after her in 1974.
Helen Hayes died of heart failure in the Nyack Hospital in New York on March 17, 1993, at the age of 92.
Helen Hayes donated money to a large number of organizations as charity and devoted a lot of time to social work.