Actress & EGOT Winner
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Date Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 06:15:20am
RENOWNED STAGE ACTRESS HELEN HAYES DIES AT 92
March 18, 1993
Helen Hayes, who endured as a symbol of the American theater long after she had retired from acting in it, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure.
She was 92, and during her lifetime in her art, she played innumerable roles, won every conceivable professional award, campaigned ceaselessly for arts support and enjoyed the widely recognized title as first lady of the American theater-a sobriquet that, through ceaseless repetition, she grew to loathe.
Miss Hayes was admitted March 9 to Nyack Hospital near her home in Nyack, N.Y., suffering from heart failure and an irregular heartbeat. Her son, actor James MacArthur, and his wife were with her at the hospital when she died.
After 66 years as a professional actress, Miss Hayes retired from live theater in 1971, because of allergies aggravated by dust. Even then, she maintained a busy schedule, swimming five laps a day in her pool when she was home, making speeches on behalf of theater causes and touring to promote her memoirs. She was as quick to produce pictures of her grandchildren as she was to relate anecdotes of the peak days of her career.
From her first professional role in 1905 at age 5, to her final years, mostly in television and film, she stood for tasteful, elegant, unobtrusive American stage artistry.
Despite her size-she stood only 5 feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds-she was a strong, recognizable stage presence, embodying a restraint and grace that theatergoers found most appealing.
She enjoyed her status as an American icon, but she could also joke about it. In a 1966 interview, she noted, "When I get panicky at rehearsals, I reassure myself by thinking, `No, they wouldn't dare fire me. It would be like spitting on the American flag.' "
The daughter of a traveling salesman and a sometime actress, Miss Hayes was born Helen Hayes Brown on Oct. 10, 1900, in Washington, D.C., and took her mother's maiden name professionally.
She was already a star in 1928 when she married Charles MacArthur, who, with another Chicago-based journalist, Ben Hecht, wrote "The Front Page," the definitive stage work on American journalism.
They were married until he died in 1956 after years of increasingly heavy drinking. In recent decades, she worked to promote her husband's memory as much as her own career.
The MacArthurs' first child, Mary, became famous in theatrical lore as the "act of God baby," because Miss Hayes precipitated a labor dispute by quitting her star role in the Broadway hit "Coquette" in order to await the birth. The show shut down, and the producer, Jed Harris, invoking an escape clause in the labor contract, said he did not have to pay the actors because the birth was an act of God. He was unsuccessful.
Mary MacArthur died in 1949 at 19 of polio, a loss her mother mourned for many years. The MacArthurs had adopted James in 1938; he became a star on TV's "Hawaii Five-O."
Eventually, Miss Hayes' offstage grace and soft-spoken advocacy, as well as her shrewd, steely common sense, became as essential to her public role as her acting. But hers was a long and full-bodied traditional career, as well, earning comparison to other greats of her day, Katharine Cornell and Lynn Fontanne in particular.
She made her Broadway debut at age 9 in 1909 in "Old Dutch," and thereafter also performed on Broadway as Cleopatra in George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra"; as Maggie Wylie in James M. Barrie's "What Every Woman Knows" (which she often described as her favorite part); as Mary Stuart in Maxwell Anderson's "Mary of Scotland," and, her most famous role, as Queen Victoria, from teen years to widowhood, in Laurence Housman's "Victoria Regina."
She portrayed these roles on nationwide tours, as well as on Broadway, often traveling by special train from coast to coast. Her 1937-38 tour of "Victoria Regina," for example, grossed $1.2 million at the box office, a vast sum in those Depression days.
She later won Tony Awards in 1947 for her portrayal of a mousy librarian who goes on a spree in Anita Loos' "Happy Birthday" and in 1957 for her performance as an imperious duchess in Jean Anouilh's "Time Remembered." A third Tony, for lifetime achievement, came in 1980.
In the movies, she was twice nominated for an Oscar and won both times, in 1931 as best actress for "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" and in 1970 as supporting actress for her portrayal of the peppery little old lady stowaway in "Airport." After a distinguished beginning in such '30s films as "Arrowsmith" and "A Farewell to Arms," she left Hollywood for the stage.
She returned to the movies in the mid-1950s, confining herself to character roles and frequently appearing in Disney family films and lighthearted TV mysteries.
In all she won three Tonys, two Oscars, a television Emmy and a recording industry Grammy, for a disc on which she read the Bill of Rights. In 1981, she earned one of the lifetime achievement honors from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 1980 she was one of 10 American artists to be commemorated on a gold medallion issued by the Treasury Department.
At a Washingon gala marking her 90th birthday, Miss Hayes recalled the 90th-birthday scene in "Victoria Regina." A crowd was cheering the aged monarch on when a man burst through a police line and yelled, "Go it, old girl. You've done well."
"I like that," she said. "I'm going to have it on my tombstone."
Her funeral will be private, but a memorial service will be held later.
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