Childhood & Early Life
Sterling Walter Hayden was born Sterling Relyea Walter, on March 26, 1916, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, US, to George and Frances Walter. Following his father’s death, James Hayden adopted him. He was 9 years old at that time. James renamed him “Sterling Walter Hayden.” He grew up in New England, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington, Massachusetts, and Maine.
Hayden studied at the ‘Wassookeag School’ in Dexter, Maine. At age 16, he dropped out of high school and started working as a mate on a schooner. He also worked as a fisherman and a fireman aboard a steamer. He ran a charter yacht for a while.
Following this, he obtained his master's license and went on a world cruise in 1937, working as a mate aboard the brigantine ‘Yankee.’ He worked on large vessels as a sailor and a fireman and sailed across the globe many times. He received his first command in 1938, at 22, when he captained ‘Florence C Robinson,’ a square rigger, from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Tahiti.
On March 21, 1940, Hayden shared his nautical experiences during a monthly meeting of the ‘Adventurers' Club of New York.’ Hayden once mentioned that he acted in films predominantly to pay for his ships and voyages. He purchased a canal barge in 1969 in the Netherlands.
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A photo of Hayden taken at the yearly Gloucester, Massachusetts, ‘Fishermen's Race’ made its way to the cover of a magazine and was spotted by ‘Paramount Pictures.’ This eventually resulted in Hayden earning a 7-year contract. He joined ‘Paramount Pictures’ in May 1940. He was tagged as "The Beautiful Blond Viking God" and “The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies" by the studio.
He made his film debut with the 1941 American drama ‘Virginia,’ which also starred his future wife, Madeleine Carroll. Being just a couple of films old, Hayden left Hollywood to join the army in the then-ongoing Second World War. Although he had enlisted in the army and had been trained in Scotland, Hayden was asked to leave after he broke his ankle.
He later joined the ‘United States Marine Corps’ as a private. To hide his Hollywood past, he adopted the name “John Hamilton.” He was recommended for ‘Officer Candidate School.’ Following his graduation, he was designated as a second lieutenant. He served the ‘Office of the Coordinator of Information’ as an undercover agent and continued to serve the office after it became the ‘Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS).
Hayden was made a first lieutenant on September 13, 1944. On February 14, 1945, he became a captain. The awards received by him during the Second World War include a ‘World War II Victory Medal,’ a ‘Silver Star Medal,’ an ‘American Campaign Medal,’ and a ‘European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal’ with ‘Arrowhead Device’ and a bronze service star. On December 24, 1945, Hayden quit active duty.
Following his war services, Hayden made his comeback to Hollywood and returned to ‘Paramount,’ where he was later suspended for not accepting a role in ‘The Sainted Sisters.’ Meanwhile, in 1946, he had a short stint as a member of the ‘Communist Party.’ However as the ‘Red Scare’ intensified in America, he had to cooperate with the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’ and testify publicly.
His real breakthrough in films came with the role of ‘Dix Handley’ in the June 1950-released film noir/heist film ‘The Asphalt Jungle,’ directed by John Huston. The ‘Academy Award’-nominated film was a huge critical success and catapulted Hayden to instant fame.
In the ensuing years, he starred in films of various genres. These include westerns such as ‘Flaming Feather’ (1952), ‘Denver and Rio Grande’ (1952), ‘Kansas Pacific’ (1953), ‘Johnny Guitar’ (1954, title role), and ‘Top Gun’ (1955); film noir projects such as ‘Journey into Light’ (1951), ‘Crime Wave’ (1954), and ‘Suddenly’ (1954); and Second World War films such as ‘Fighter Attack’ (1953) and ‘The Eternal Sea’ (1955).
One of the most notable films starring Hayden was the Stanley Kubrick-directed 1956 film noir ‘The Killing.’ The film found a place on several critical “Top-Ten” lists that year and eventually became a classic. Hayden continued to entertain audiences as a leading man in several other films, such as ‘Zero Hour!’ (1957), ‘Ten Days to Tulara’ (1958), and ‘Terror in a Texas Town’ (1958).
During the 1960s, he appeared in several notable supporting roles. One of his most remarkable roles was that of ‘General Jack D Ripper’ in 1964 political satire/black comedy ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.’
He also succeeded in the New Hollywood era, appearing in various noted films. One such film was the 1972 blockbuster hit crime flick ‘The Godfather,’ directed by Francis Ford Coppola, which is regarded as one of the greatest films in world cinema. He also starred in the 1973 American thriller ‘The Long Goodbye,’ directed by Robert Altman, and the 1976 Italian epic and historical drama ‘1900,’ directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, which is now considered a cult classic.
Over the course of his acting career, Hayden also appeared in several TV series, such as ‘Schlitz Playhouse of Stars’ (1954), ‘Playhouse 90’ (1957, 1958), ‘The Starlost’ (1973), and ‘Banacek’ (1974). His last screen appearance was in the TV miniseries ‘The Blue and the Gray’ in 1982.
He authored his autobiography, ‘Wanderer’ (1963), and a novel, ‘Voyage’ (1976), both of which received immense acclaim.
Family & Personal Life
He was married to Madeleine Carroll from 1942 to 1946.
He married Betty Ann de Noon in 1947 and remained married to her till1958. With Betty, he had four children: Matthew, Gretchen, Dana, and Christian.
He married Catherine Devine McConnell in 1960. They remained married till 1986. They had two children: David and Andrew.
He was arrested for possessing hashish at the ‘Toronto International Airport ‘in 1981.
Hayden succumbed to prostate cancer on May 23, 1986, in Sausalito, California, US.