About Susan Hayward
Energetic red-haired leading lady Susan Hayward clawed her way from poverty to become an Academy Award winning actress. Dubbed the Brooklyn Bombshell, she made her mark on Hollywood playing gutsy, determined women. She achieved recognition for her dramatic abilities with the first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her performance as an alcoholic in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). Her career continued successfully through the 1950s and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of death row inmate Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! (1958).
She was born Edythe Marrenner on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York to Walter Marrenner and Ellen Pearson. Her paternal grandmother was an actress, Kate Harrigan, from County Cork, Ireland. Her maternal grandparents were from Sweden.
Hayward's childhood was difficult. She was hit by a car at the age of seven and stranded at home in a body cast for months. The experience left Hayward with a limp and painful memories of a debility she would never forget.
Her life took an unexpected turn when she was cast as the lead in a school play at age twelve. The attention she received quickly turned her into a compulsive ham. By 1935, a sexy swagger had replaced Hayward's childhood limp, and the gorgeous seventeen-year-old possessed an hourglass figure, a brassy Brooklyn accent and a burning desire for fortune and fame. She began working as a model to help support her family, and when she was featured in the Saturday Evening Post in 1937, all of America was introduced to the red-headed siren from Brooklyn. The same year,David O. Selznick offered Hayward an audition for the part of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Though her lack of experience took her out of serious consideration, Hayward decided to trade in her return ticket and stay in Hollywood. After signing a contract with Warner Brothers, she changed her name to Susan Hayward.
Hayward was driven to succeed as an actress and worked virtually non-stop. Offered the starring role in Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman in 1947, Hayward dazzled both audiences and critics,receiving her first Academy Award nomination as Best Actress.Hayward received four more nominations over the next twelve years,eventually winning for her work in the wildly successful I Want to Live in 1958. Sadly, the actress's happiness was eclipsed by the death of her husband Eaton Chalkey. And in 1972, just as she was emerging from her despair, she was diagnosed with cancer. Refusing to surrender to the illness without a fight, Susan Hayward even managed to present the Academy for Best Actress in1974.
Hayward was married to actor Jess Barker for 10 years, and they had two children, fraternal twin sons. The marriage was described in Hollywood gossip columns as turbulent. They divorced in 1954. During the contentious divorce proceedings, Hayward felt it necessary to stay in the United States and not join the Hong Kong location shooting for the film Soldier of Fortune. She shot her scenes with co-star Clark Gable indoors in Hollywood. A few brief, distant scenes of Gable and a Hayward double walking near landmarks in Hong Kong were combined with the indoor shots.
In 1957, Hayward married Eaton Chalkley, a Georgia rancher and businessman who had formerly worked as a federal agent. Though he was an unusual husband for a Hollywood movie star, the marriage was a happy one. She lived with him in Carrollton, Georgia, becoming a popular figure in a state that in the 1950s was off the beaten path for most celebrities. In December 1964, she and her husband were baptized Catholic at SS Peter and Paul's Roman Catholic Church on Larimar Avenue, in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, by one Father McGuire. She had met McGuire while in China and promised him that if she ever converted, he would be the one to baptize her. Chalkley died in 1966. Hayward went into mourning and did little acting for several years, and took up residence in Florida because she preferred not to live in her Georgia home without her late husband.
On March 14, 1975, at age fifty-six, the irrepressible Brooklyn Bombshell died, leaving behind legions of fans all over the world. Hayward was cremated and buried beside Chalkley at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church in Carrollton.