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Helen Hayes


Helen Hayes (October 10, 1900March 17, 1993) was a two-time Academy Award-winning American actress, whose career spanned almost 70 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of the American Theater", and was one of the nine people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award.


Early life

Hayes was born Helen Hayes Brown in Washington, D.C. in 1900. Her mother, Catherine Estelle (née Hayes), or Essie, was an aspiring actress who worked in touring companies. Her father, Francis van Arnum Brown, worked at a number of jobs, including as a clerk at the Washington Patent Office and as a manager and salesman for a wholesale butcher. Hayes' Irish Catholic maternal grandparents immigrated from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine; her mother was a great-niece of Irish singer Catherine Hayes.

Hayes began a stage career at an early age. By the age of ten, she had made a short film called Jean and the Calico Doll, but only moved to Hollywood when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal.


Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith (with Myrna Loy), A Farewell to Arms (with actor Gary Cooper whom Hayes admitted to finding extremely attractive), The White Sister, What Every Woman Knows (a reprise from her Broadway hit), and Vanessa: Her Love Story. However, she never became a fan favorite and Hayes did not prefer the medium to the stage.

Hayes eventually returned to Broadway in 1935, where for three years she played the title role in the Gilbert Miller production of Victoria Regina, with Vincent Price as Prince Albert, first at the Broadhurst Theatre and later at the Martin Beck Theatre.

In 1953, she was the first-ever recipient of the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre, repeating as the winner in 1969. She returned to Hollywood in the 1950s, and her film star began to rise. She starred in My Son John (1952) and Anastasia (1956), and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway in the disaster film Airport (1970). She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as Herbie Rides Again, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing and Candleshoe. Her performance in Anastasia was considered a comeback—she had suspended her career for several years due to the death of her daughter Mary, and her husband's failing health.

In 1955 the Fulton Theatre was renamed for her. However, business interests in the 1980s wished to raze that theatre and four others to construct a large hotel that included the Marquis Theatre. To accomplish razing this theatre and three others, as well as the Astor Hotel, the business interests received Hayes' consent to raze the theatre named for her, even though she had no ownership interest in the buildings. As a result in 1983, the Little Theater on West 45th Street was re-named The Helen Hayes Theatre in her honor; as was a theatre in Nyack, which has since been re-named the Riverspace-Arts Center.

In 1982, with friend Lady Bird Johnson, she founded the National Wildflower Research Center, now the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin Texas. The center protects and preserves North America's native plants and natural landscapes.

The Helen Hayes Award for theater in the Washington D.C. area is named in her honor. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6220 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life

Hayes was a Catholic and a pro-business Republican who attended many Republican National Conventions (including the one held in New Orleans in 1988), but she was not as politically vocal as some others (e.g., Adolphe Menjou, Ginger Rogers, John Wayne, etc.) in the Hollywood community of that time.

Hayes wrote three memoirs: A Gift of Joy, On Reflection and My Life in Three Acts. Some of the themes in these books include her return to Roman Catholicism after having been denied communion from the Church for the length of her marriage to MacArthur, who was a Protestant and a divorcé, and the death of her only daughter Mary, who was an aspiring actress, from polio at the age of 19. Hayes's adopted son, James MacArthur, also went on to a career in acting, starring in Hawaii Five-O on television. (Hayes herself guest starred on a 1975 episode of Hawaii Five-0, playing MacArthur's character's aunt.)

Hayes was hospitalized a number of times for her asthma condition, which was aggravated by stage dust, forcing her to retire from legitimate theater. Her last Broadway show was a revival of Harvey in which she co-starred with James Stewart in 1970. She spent most of her last years writing and raising money for organizations that fight asthma.


Hayes died on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1993 from congestive heart failure in Nyack, New York, aged 92, not long after the death of her friend, Lillian Gish, with whom she had been friends for many decades. Gish made Hayes the beneficiary of her estate, but Hayes only survived her by a month. Hayes was interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, New York.


  • "The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy." (at age 73)

Body of work

Stage and awards

Year Production Role Other notes
1905 Miss Hawke's May Ball Irish Dancer
A Midsummer Night's Dream Peaseblossom
1908 Babe in the Woods Boy Babe
1909 Jack the Giant Killer Gibson Girl, Nell Brinkley, Girl impersonators
A Royal Family Prince Charles Ferdinand
Children's Dancing Kermess Impersonation of "The Nell Brinkley Girl"
The Prince Chap Claudia, Age 5
A Poor Relation Patch
1910 Old Dutch Little Mime
The Summer Widowers Pacyche Finnegan, Pinkie's playmate
1911 The Barrier Molly, an Alaskan Child
Little Lord Fauntleroy Cedric Errol
The Never Homes Fannie Hicks, Another Near Orphan
The Seven Sisters Klara, the Youngest Daughter
Mary Jane's Pa
1912 The June Bride The Holder's Child
1913 Flood Victim's Benefit
The Girl with Green Eyes Susie, the Flower Girl
His House in Order Derek Jesson, his son
A Royal Family Prince Charles Ferdinand
The Prince Chap
The Prince and the Pauper Tom Canty and Edward, Prince of Wales
1914 The Prodigal Husband Young Simone
1916 The Dummy Beryl Meredith, the Kidnapper's Hostage
On Trial His Daughter, Doris Strickland
1917 It Pays to Advertise Marie, Maid at the Martins
Romance Suzette
Just a Woman Hired girl
Mile-a-Minute Kendall Beth
Rich Man, Poor Man Linda Hurst
Alma, Where Do You Live? Germain
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Asia
Within the Law
Pollyanna Pollyanna Whittier, The Glad Girl
1918 Penrod
Dear Brutus Margaret, his daughter
1919 On the Hiring Line Dorothy Fessenden, his daughter
Clarence Cora Wheeler
The Golden Age
1920 Bab Bab
1921 The Wren Seeby Olds
The Golden Days Mary Ann
1922 To the Ladies Elsie Beebe
No Siree!: An Anonymous Entertaiment by the Vicious Circus of the Hotel Algonquin
1923 Loney Lee Loney Lee
1924 We Moderns Mary Sundale, their Daughter
The Dragon
She Stoops to Conquer Constance Neville
Dancing Mothers Catherine (Kittens) Westcourt
Quarantine Dinah Partlett
1925 Caesar and Cleopatra Cleopatra
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Maria
Young Blood Georgia Bissell
1926 What Every Woman Knows Maggie Wylie
1927 Coquette Norma Besant
Ziegfeld Follies of 1927
1928 Coquette Norma Besant London version
1930 Mr. Gilhooley A girl
Petticoat Influence Peggy Chalfont
1931 The Good Fairy Lu
1933 Mary of Scotland Mary Stuart
1935 Caesar and Cleopatra Cleopatra
Victoria Regina Victoria
1936 Victoria Regina Victoria Revival
1938 The Merchant of Venice Portia
What Every Woman Knows
Victoria Regina Victoria Revival
1939 Ladies and Gentlemen Miss Terry Scott
1940 Twelfth Night Viola
1941 Candle in the Wind Madeline Guest
1943 Harriet Harriet Beecher Stowe
1944 Harriet Harriet Beecher Stowe Revival
1946 Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire Mrs. Alice Grey
Happy Birthday Addie Tony Award Best Actress in a Play
1948 The Glass Menagerie Amanda Wingfield
1949 Good Housekeeping
1950 The Wisteria Trees Lucy Andree Ransdell
1952 Mrs. McThing Mrs. Howard V. Larue III
1955 Gentleman, The Queens Catherine, Lady Macbeth, Mary and Queen Victoria
The Skin of Our Teeth Mrs. Antrobus
1956 Lovers, Villans and Fools Narrator, Puck and the Chorus from Henry V
The Glass Menagerie The Mother
1957 Time Remembered The Duchess of Pont-Au-Bronc Tony Award Best Actress in a Play
1958 A Adventure Lulu Specer
Mid-Summer Rose, the Maid
A Touch of the Poet Nora Melody
1960 The Cherry Orchard Lyuboff Ranevskaya
The Chalk Garden Mrs. Maugham
1962 Shakespeare Revisited: A Program for Two Players
1964 Good Morning Miss Dove Miss Lucerna Dove
The White House Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Edith
Wilson, Julia Grant, Leonora Clayton, Mary
Todd Lincoln, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, Mrs.
Franklin Pierce, Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Mrs.
James G. Blaine, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Jackson
1965 Helen Hayes' Tour of the Far East
1966 The Circle
The School for Scandal Mrs. Candour
Right You Are If You Think You Are Signora Frola
We Comrades Three Mother
You Can't Take It With You Olga
1967 The Show-Off Mrs. Fisher Tony Award - Vernon Rice-Drama Desk Award
1968 The Show-Off Mrs. Fisher return engagement
1969 The Front Page Mrs. Grant
1970 Harvey Veta Louise Simmons Nominated - Tony Award Best Actress in a Play
1971 Long Day's Journey Into Night Mary Cavan Tyrone
1980 Tony Award - Lawrence Langner Memorial Award

Filmography and awards

Year Film Role Other notes
1917 The Weavers of Life Peggy
1920 Babs uncredited
1928 The Dancing Town short subject
1931 The Sin of Madelon Claudet Madelon Claudet Academy Award for Best Actress
Arrowsmith Leora Arrowsmith
1932 A Farewell to Arms Catherine Barkley
The Son-Daughter Lian Wha 'Star Blossom'
1933 The White Sister Angela Chiaromonte
Another Language Stella 'Stell' Hallam
Night Flight Madame Fabian
1934 Crime Without Passion Extra in hotel lobby Uncredited
What Every Woman Knows Maggie Wylie
1935 Vanessa: Her Love Story Vanessa Paris
1938 Hollywood Goes to Town Herself, uncredited short subject
1943 Stage Door Canteen Herself
1952 My Son John Lucille Jefferson
1953 Main Street to Broadway Herself
1956 Anastasia Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna Nominated - Golden Globe
1959 Third Man on the Mountain Tourist Uncredited
1961 The Challenge of Ideas Narrator short subject
1970 Airport Ada Quonsett Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1974 Herbie Rides Again Mrs. Steinmetz Nominated - Golden Globe
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing Hettie
1977 Candleshoe Lady St. Edmund

Television appearances and awards

Year Production Role Other notes
1950 Showtime, U.S.A. Episode #1.1
The Prudential Family Playhouse The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Mary, Queen of Scots The Late Christopher Bean
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Mary, Queen of Scots Mary of Scotland
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Dark Fleece
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars The Lucky Touch
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Not a Chance
Robert Montgomery Presents Queen Victoria Victoria Regina
Nominated - Emmy Award
1952 Omnibus The Twelve Pound Look- Nominated - Emmy Award
1953 Omnibus The Happy Journey
Omnibus Mom and Leo
Christmas with the Stars
Medallion Theatre Harriet Beecher Stowe Battle Hymn
Emmy Award
1954 The United States Steel Hour Mrs. Austin Welcome Home
The Best of Broadway Fanny Cavendish The Royal Family
The Motorola Television Hour Frances Parry Side by Side
1955 Producers' Showcase Mrs. Antrobus The Skin of Our Teeth
The Best of Broadway Abby Brewster Arsenic and Old Lace
1956 Omnibus Dear Brutus
Omnibus The Christmas Tie
1957 The Alcoa Hour Mrs. Gilling and the Skyscraper - Nominated - Emmy Award
Playhouse 9 Sister Theresa Four Women in Black
1958 Omnibus Mrs. McThing
The United States Steel Hour Mother Seraphim One Red Rose for Christmas - Nominated - Emmy Award
1959 The United States Steel Hour Mother Seraphim One Red Rose for Christmas
Hallmark Hall of Fame Essie Ah, Wilderness!
Play of the Week Madame Ranevskaya The Cherry Orchard
1960 The Bell Telephone Hour Baroness Nadedja von Meck The Music of Romance
Play of the Week Madame Ranevskaya The Velvet Glove
Dow Hour of Great Mysteries The Bat
1961 Michael Shayne Murder Round My Wrist
1963 The Christophers What One Bootmaker Did
1967 Tarzan Mrs. Wilson The Pride of the Lioness
1969 Arsenic and Old Lace Abby Brewster
1970 The Front Page Narrator
1971 Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate Sophie Tate Curtis Nominated - Emmy Award
1972 Harvey Veta Louise Simmons
Here's Lucy Mrs. Kathleen Brady Lucy and the Little Old Lady
Ghost Story Miss Gilden Alter-Ego
1973-1974 The Snoop Sisters Ernesta Snoop Nominated - Emmy Award
1974 Black Day for Bluebeard Ernesta Snoop
1975 Hawaii Five-O Aunt Clara Retire in Sunny Hawaii - Forever - Nominated - Emmy Award
1976 Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers Dr. McCartney miniseries
Victory at Entebbe Etta Grossman-Wise
1978 A Family Upside Down Emma Long Nominated - Emmy Award
1980 The Love Boat Agatha Winslow 1 episode
1982 Love, Sidney Mrs. Clovis Pro and Cons
Murder is Easy Lavinia Fullerton
1983 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Jane Marple
1984 Highway to Heaven Estelle Wicks
1985 Murder with Mirrors Miss Jane Marple

See also


External links


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