Edythe Marrener was born on June 30, 1918 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York (where anything can happen, and I ought to know because I was born there myself). Her parents were Irish and Swedish and thus her beautiful red mane and milky complexion. The youngest of three children, she grew up in poverty, in the shadow of an older sister named Florence who was her mother’s favorite. Perceived maternal neglect was a life-long, unresolved psychological issue for the beautiful girl who would become the screen legend, Susan Hayward.
After graduating from high school, she studied for a career in fashion design and her good looks landed her many jobs as a photographer’s model. She was the sole support of her family in these early years. Her movie career started in 1937 when she was brought to Hollywood after winning a chance for a screen test for the most coveted part at the time, that of Scarlett O’ Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Although she and all the others lost to Vivian Leigh, Edythe did manage to secure extra work and bit parts at Warner Brothers.
After several years of training, she emerged as Susan Hayward and in 1939 signed a contract with Paramount. She was unhappy, however, because the studio insisted on giving her secondary roles, and finally she won her first leading role in “The Fighting Seabees” opposite John Wayne in 1944 while on loan to another studio. Although she made many movies in her short lifetime, her greatest roles were “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”, the story of singer Lillian Roth (1955), and “I Want to Live”, the death row drama about Barbara Graham in 1958 for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Susan Hayward was a heavy smoker and drinker and was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1972 at the age of 54. There is still a great deal of controversy as to what caused her cancer, as it is alleged that it might have been the result of being exposed to dangerous toxins on location in Utah while making “The Conqueror” in 1956. All of the leading actors, John Wayne, Agnes Morehead, John Hoyt and director, Dick Powell, died of cancer.
Her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater are the only ones set in gold dust.
What are some of YOUR favorite Susan Hayward performances? Please share.