Susan Hayward in Her Own Words


Susan Hayward is TCM’s Star of the Month. Films she appeared in will be airing every Thursday evening throughout the month of September.

I didn’t know much about TCM’s current Star of the Month so I decided to delve into her past recently and was somewhat surprised by the way Susan Hayward had been portrayed (and ignored) by the media since her death in 1975. Nicknamed the “Divine Bitch” following the release of a similarly titled biography, the four-time Academy Award nominated actress didn’t make a lot of friends in Hollywood and is rarely described in flattering terms by studio executives and costars so the general picture we have of her seems somewhat skewed. I’m a firm believer that there are usually two-sides to every story so I decided to explore newspaper and movie magazine archives in an effort to learn more about the redheaded screen siren in her own words without the opinions of her biographers and colleagues getting in the way. In the process I discovered a complex woman whose turbulent real life was often more sensational than the fictional lives of the characters she portrayed.

There’s no doubt that Hayward’s Brooklyn upbringing by a hard-drinking father and neglectful mother toughened her up at an early age. I know from firsthand experience that living in poverty can put a chip on your shoulder and Hayward never forgot where she came from or how hard it was to overcome her humble beginnings. When she arrived in Hollywood with a wave of other actresses eager to get the prime role of Scarlet O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), she quickly discovered that success wasn’t going to be easy. Hayward refused to play casting couch games and had to fight hard to win good roles, which didn’t endure her to many producers or directors. Despite her thorny relationship with studio bigwigs, the public loved her. By 1950 Hayward was one of the most popular stars in Hollywood and after being nominated for Best Actress three times, she finally took home a hard-earned Oscar for her performance in the true crime drama I WANT TO LIVE! (1958).

After her Academy Award win, Hayward reportedly didn’t work as hard or as often and preferred life on her Georgia ranch as the mother of twin boys and the wife of her second husband, a successful businessman and former FBI agent named Floyd Eaton Chalkley. She may not have won the role of Georgia born Scarlet O’Hara but there must have some satisfaction in becoming a successful landowner in the same state as the fictional heroine she once longed to play. The tough Brooklyn dame who took on Hollywood passed away in 1975 following a long battle with cancer but she left behind plenty of movies that will be airing on TCM every Thursday throughout the month of September. I’m looking forward to playing catch-up with her filmography myself since I’ve only seen a handful of the movies she appeared in and after reading up on Hayward I gained new admiration for her professionalism in an industry that often rewards celebrity and personality rather than talent and skill. Hayward may have been many things to many people but she was undoubtedly a consummate actress who cared deeply about her craft. She also had a lot to say so I’ll get out of the way and let her take over now.


On her early life:

“I learned at a very early age that life is a battle. My family was poor, my neighborhood was poor. The only way that I could get away from the awfulness of life, at that time, was at the movies. There I decided that my big aim was to make money. And it was there that I became a very determined woman.”

“I earned my first dollar selling newspapers at the age of 12 and was the only girl who had a route with the Brooklyn Eagle. When I was 14 I supplemented the family income with modeling.”

“I can remember those horrible months when we had to rush to make payments . . .That’s the reason why you’ll never see me crying about taxes or about what the Government takes out of my salary. Those days were too grim to forget.”

On acting & Hollywood:

“Emotions of natural redheads are close to the surface . . . Film acting requires a girl to produce any one of a dozen emotions before the cameras without preliminary buildup, so the redhead has an immediate advantage.”

“I try never to be late on the set, know my lines and never keep anyone waiting. Oh, I’ve had arguments about a story or about a scene and will stick to my point unless I’m convinced my ideas are wrong. But a certain amount of temperament is necessary in this business. All performers have to have it if they’re to express themselves strongly.”

“I can remember doing the ‘walking off the set routine’ just once – and that was when I was at Paramount in the early stages of my career. The director kept riding me. Nothing I did was right. One day he got particularly nasty and I blew. I said to him, ‘You can take the rest of your picture and throw it in the ash can.’ I then went to Buddy DeSylva’s office–he was the producer–and said, ‘I won’t go back on that set until that man apologizes.’ I haven’t had to do that since.”

“This isn’t a business conducive to great emotional stability. It’s also highly demanding–especially for a man. Then, socially, in this town you’re more or less with one group all the time and while it’s a lovely group of brilliant talented people, it’s difficult to live with them constantly.”

“Naturally, I like my work. It’s wonderful. And it’s fun. It’s a great way to make a living.”

On her temperament & tumultuous relationships with colleagues:

“I have a definite temper. I blow off steam but not without a definite reason–in personal relationships or my career.”

“I’m not the ‘darling’ type . . . I’m not and never have been the hail-fellow-well-met type. On first meeting, I don’t usually shoot my bolt with anyone. It’s like meeting an opponent on a football field. In business he measures the opposing player, eyes him, and the first thing he knows is he’s playing the game. But I’m not aloof and stand offish.”

“I spent an unhappy, penniless childhood in Brooklyn. I had to slug my way up in a town called Hollywood where people love to trample you to death. I don’t relax because I don’t know how. I don’t want to know how. Life is too short to relax.”

On travel:

“These trips (around the world) have given me a deeper appreciation and feeling for my work. You sort of get the pulse of the world and are able to achieve a broader understanding of the characters you are asked to portray.”

On raising her children:

“I try to be friends with my sons as well as their mother. And friendship can only result from patience and understanding–and from working at it.”

“If I have tried to instill any one thing in them it’s a feeling of self-reliance. I help Timmy and Gregory to be aware of themselves as individuals, to think for themselves in all things.”

On divorce:

“Time heals everything. I tried every way I knew to make our marriage last but when I couldn’t do it anymore, I had to admit to myself that I had failed and that it was no good to continue living a mistake.”

Emotions? Susan has them:

“Sometimes I feel happy, outgoing, and sometimes I don’t. No one is the same every day.”

“I always cry at sad movies. When I was seeing A STAR IS BORN (1954), I was trying so hard not to cry that the tears went down my throat and choked me. Then I started to cough so I left the theatre. I had to go back a few nights later to see it again. I can never see a parade without crying. Weddings always make me dissolve and an unexpected kindness sometimes fractures me.”

What she likes:

“I like mood music . . . I play my records all the time at the studio. It soothes the savage beast in Hayward. Besides, I work better with music going. I have records on almost constantly when I’m at home.”

On death, retirement and her deep-seated fear of . . . cows?!

“When you’re dead, you’re dead. No one is going to remember me when I’m dead. Oh maybe a few friends will remember me affectionately. Being remembered isn’t the most important thing anyhow. It’s what you do when you are here that’s important.”

“If I should ever stop working I think you’d find me living on a ranch. I’m the outdoor type. I like to ride horseback and I love animals–except cows. I’m frightened to death of them. Maybe it’s their eyes–the way they look at you! You never know what they might do. They always seem to be planning a way to chase and attack.”

- Susan Hayward Profile on
- Susan Hayward: Her Films and Life by Kim R. Holston
- Screenland magazine, various authors
- Susan Hayward, Portrait of a Survivor by Beverly Linet
- The Hollywood Book of Death by James Parish

8 Responses Susan Hayward in Her Own Words
Posted By Steve Burrus : September 3, 2015 6:27 pm

I think that most people remember Susan Hayward from one opf her last movies “Valley of the Dolls” [1967] and that fight scene with Patty Duke in the woman’s bathroom.

Posted By Emgee : September 3, 2015 7:14 pm

Her death is often linked with the making of The Conqueror, often referred to as the most disastrous movie ever made because several cast and crew members died of cancer. Filming not far from the Nevada Test Site for nuclear weapons is often quoted as the reason for the high mortality rate.

I’ve only seen her in Deadline at Dawn, a fine if somewhat confusing film noir.

Posted By LD : September 3, 2015 7:59 pm

The first time I saw I WANT TO LIVE was at a drive-in. I was too young to pay much attention to it but I did remember the stuffed toy and unfortunately the ending.

In the 1960′s, films starring Susan Hayward were frequently shown on television in the afternoon where I lived. THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND, THE PRESIDENT’S LADY, WHITE WITCH DOCTOR (with it’s memorable tarantula scene), TOP SECRET AFFAIR, just to mention a few. Thanks for the reminder Kimberly. It will be fun revisiting some of these films.

Not too long ago I read that Bogart and Bacall had planned to make another film together called MELVILLE GOODWIN, USA. Bogie became too ill so Kirk Douglas and Susan Hayward took over the roles. It’s title was changed to TOP SECRET AFFAIR. TCM will be showing it this month and this time I will see it from a different perspective.

Posted By AL : September 3, 2015 9:42 pm

She was amazing in I WANT TO LIVE, a “signature role”, but my absolute favorite character she created was the shrewish wife in I MARRIED A WITCH…

Posted By Steve Burrus : September 3, 2015 10:01 pm

How about thatr movie she did with a young Robert Mitchum? What was that one called anyway?

Posted By Candice : September 3, 2015 10:13 pm

Aw, looks like she lived a rough life. I wonder if actresses back then had it better, worse, or about the same as actresses today.

Posted By Emgee : September 4, 2015 9:16 am

@Steve Burrus : The Lusty Men, indeed a good movie.

Posted By Steve Burrus : September 4, 2015 2:56 pm

I thought thart I heard that she didn’t get along too well with Mitchum or he treated her in a disrespectful manner, right?

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