Childhood & Early Life
Susan Hayward was born Edythe Marrenner in a Brooklyn suburb in New York City, New York, United States on June 30, 1917. Her father, Walter Marrener, was a subway guard and Coney Island barker and her mother was a Swedish stenographer named Ellen Pearson.
She had an older sister named Florence and an older brother named Walter.
She attended the ‘Girls Commercial High School’ and instead of becoming a secretary decided to do modeling in New York.
In 1937 David O. Selznick saw her on the cover of the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ and tested her for the role of ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ in ‘Gone with the Wind’ in Hollywood. She failed the test and Selznick advised her to forget Hollywood and go back home.
She was determined to stay in Hollywood and met Benny Medford through a freak biking accident. Edythe convinced him of giving her a role and he signed her up as Susan Hayward.
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She made her Hollywood debut in 1937 with Holiday Hotel’ where she was given a small role after signing a contract with ‘Warner Bros’.
She was able to get bit parts only in ‘Girls on Probation’ in 1938 and ‘Comet Over Broadway’ the same year.
In 1939 she got her first important role in ‘Beau Geste’ where she played the role of a young innocent girl who loses her fiancé to the Foreign Legion.
She started getting noticed and got an opportunity to compete with Ingrid Bergman as a scheming vixen in ‘Adam Had Four Sons’ in 1941. In the same year she played the character of a greedy mill worker involved with a psychotic killer in ‘Among the Living’.
She was not satisfied with the number of roles she got and even challenged the head of the ‘Paramount Studios’, Y. Frank Freeman’ at an exhibition’s luncheon for giving her a break.
She started getting better roles after that like a supporting role in the Cecil B. DeMille’s epic ‘Reap the Wild Wind’ in 1942 starring John Wayne and Paulette Goddard, a comedy ‘I Married a Witch’ in 1942 with Veronica Lake in the lead role and a World War II drama ‘The Fighting Seabees’ in 1944 opposite John Wayne which made her very popular.
After completing her contract she started freelancing with ‘Deadline at Dawn’ in 1946 where she played the role of a nightclub dancer trying to help a sailor accused of murder.
She teamed up with independent producer Walter Wanger to make ‘Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman’ in 1947 in which she played the part of a married singer who becomes an alcoholic. She got her first ‘Oscar Best Actress’ nomination but lost the to Loretta Young.
She got her second Oscar nomination for the film ‘My Foolish Heart’ in 1949 where she appeared again as an alcoholic.
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She signed up with ‘20th Century Fox’ and acted in ‘With a Song in My Heart’ in 1952 which was a biography of singer Jane Froman. She won her third Oscar nomination with the film.
A fourth nomination came her way when she was loaned out to ‘MGM’ where she played the best role of her career as an alcoholic singer and also sang in the film ‘I’ll Cry Tomorrow’ made in 1955.
After her breakup with Jess Baker and marriage with Floyd Eaton Chalkley, she teamed up again with Wanger to act in the film ‘I Want to Live’ in 1958 in which she played the part of a petty criminal ‘Barbara Graham’ sentenced to death for crime she did not commit. For this role she won the ‘Best Actress Award’ from the ‘New York Film Critics’ and also an Oscar.
After winning the Oscar she left Hollywood to live with Chalkley in Georgia and made only a few films which includes a medical drama ‘I Thank a Fool’ in 1962 and ‘Stolen Hours’ in 1963, which was a remake of Bette Davis’ ‘Dark Victory’.
In 1964 she travelled to Los Angeles to make the film ‘Where Love Has Gone’.
While making ‘Honey Pot’ in Venice, Italy, in 1965 she got the news of her husband’s illness and left without completing the film.
After Chalkley’s death in 1966 Hayward acted in some unsuccessful movies like ‘The Valley of Dolls’ in 1967 in place of Judy Garland and the musical ‘Mame’ at ‘Caesar’s Palace’ in Las Vegas.
Around this time she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which ultimately spread to her brain.
She announced her retirement from films after acting in the film ‘The Revengers’ and a TV movie ‘Say Goobye, Maggie Cole’, both of which were made in 1972.
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She made her final appearance during the 1974 Oscar ceremony when she and Charlton Heston presented the ‘Best Actress’ award.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married actor Jess Barker in 1944 and divorced him in 1954. She had had twin sons from this marriage - Timothy and Gregory.
Thereafter, she married Floyd Eaton Chalkley in 1957 and lived with him till his death in 1966.
She had an automobile accident at the age of 7 and was bedridden for months.
Susan Hayward died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States, on March 14, 1975.