A Centennial Tribute to Helen Hayes

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A Centennial Tribute to Helen Hayes

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Known as the “First Lady of the American Theater” (she appeared in over 80 Broadway productions), Helen Hayes probably had roles in as many TV shows as she did movies, and most people alive today remember her primarily as an older actress. But she did have a strong, though somewhat brief, career in the early days of the cinema. She won a Best Actress Oscar for her first full-length talkie, The Sin of Madelon Claudet, when she was 31 (the first actress from the stage to win an Academy Award). She returned to the stage 4 years later, then began another movie career in the 50s, winning a Supporting Actress Oscar almost 40 years after her first award (making her the first person to win awards in two categories), for Airport (1970). But Airport wasn’t a swan song, by any means. Though she retired from the stage in 1971, almost half of her film appearances were still to come. Though most would not equal the quality of her stage appearances, or even her early film roles, she never gave a bad performance, even if playing Miss Marple, or sharing the screen with a Volkswagen or a dinosaur!

Born Helen Hayes Brown in Washington, D.C. in 1900, Helen Hayes was the first actress to earn the coveted Tony award, and the first woman to have two successive Broadway theatres bear her name. Hayes was married to screenwriter Charles MacArthur from 1928 until his death in 1956; their son, James MacArthur (whom Helen adopted), is an actor, perhaps best known for his role in Hawaii 5-0 (for which his mother won a Supporting Actress Emmy in 1976).

On Oct. 10, 2000, we celebrated the centennial of Helen Hayes’ birth with this article. Unfortunately, because she only appeared in about two dozen films, there wasn’t as much information as I’d hoped. If you know of anything I’ve missed, please let me know.

Helen Hayes Tributes/Pages

Selected Reviews of Helen Hayes’ Films

Where To Find Or See Helen Hayes Films

Books by or about Helen Hayes

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