Helen Hayes

Helen Hayes MacArthur (née Brown) (October 10, 1900 – March 17, 1993) was an American actress whose career spanned almost 80 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of American Theatre" and was one of 12 people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award (an EGOT). Hayes also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

In 1988, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. The annual Helen Hayes Awards, which have recognized excellence in professional theatre in the greater Washington, DC area since 1984, are her namesake. In 1955, the former Fulton Theatre on 46th Street in New York City's Broadway Theater District was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre. When that venue was torn down in 1982, the nearby Little Theatre was renamed in her honor. Helen Hayes is regarded as one of the Greatest Leading Ladies of the 20th century theatre.

    Early life

    Helen Hayes was born in Washington, DC, on October 10, 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 emigrated from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine.

    Hayes began a stage career at an early age. She said her stage debut was as a five-year-old singer at Washington's Belasco Theatre (on Lafayette Square, across from the White House.) By the age of ten, she had made a short film called Jean and the Calico Doll, but moved to Hollywood only when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. She attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart Convent in Washington and graduated in 1917.


    In the film What Every Woman Knows (1934)

    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 (opposite Clark Gable), What Every Woman Knows (a reprise from her Broadway hit) and Vanessa: Her Love Story. However, Hayes did not prefer that 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 Hotel Astor, the business interests received Hayes' consent to raze the theatre named for her, though she had no ownership interest in the buildings. Parts of the original Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway were used to construct the Shakespeare Center on the Upper Westside of Manhattan, which Hayes dedicated with Joseph Papp in 1982. In 1983 the Little Theater on West 45th Street was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre in her honor, as was a theatre in Nyack, which has since been renamed the Riverspace-Arts Center. In early 2014, the site was refurbished and styled by interior designer Dawn Hershko and reopened as the Playhouse Market, a quaint restaurant and gourmet deli.

    It is unclear when or by whom Hayes was called the "First Lady of the Theatre". Her friend, actress Katharine Cornell, also held that title, and each thought the other deserved it. One critic said that Cornell played every queen as though she were a woman, whereas Hayes played every woman as though she were a queen.

    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, DC, area is named in her honor. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6220 Hollywood Blvd. Helen Hayes is also a member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

    Personal life

    Hayes was a Catholic and a probusiness 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, Ronald Reagan 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 (she had been denied communion from the Church for the length of her marriage to MacArthur, who was a divorced Protestant); 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, 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 the aunt of MacArthur's character.)

    Hayes was hospitalized a number of times for her asthma condition, which was aggravated by stage dust, forcing her to retire from legitimate theater in 1971, at age 71.

    Her last Broadway show was a 1970 revival of Harvey, in which she co-starred with James Stewart. Clive Barnes wrote, "She epitomizes flustered charm almost as if it were a style of acting...She is one of those actors...where to watch how she is doing something is almost as pleasurable as what she is doing." She spent most of her last years writing and raising money for organizations that fight asthma.


    Riverside Shakespeare Company Shakespeare Center Dedication with Helen Hayes, 1982.

    Hayes was a generous donor of time and money to a number of causes and organizations, including the Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City. Along with Mildred Natwick, she became a founding member of the company's Board of Advisors in 1981. She was also on the board of directors for the Greater New York Council of the Girl Scouts of the USA during the early 1970s.

    In 1982, Hayes dedicated Riverside's The Shakespeare Center with New York theatre producer, Joseph Papp, and in 1985 returned to the New York stage in a benefit reading for the company with a reading of A Christmas Carol with the late Raul Julia, Len Cariou, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Carole Shelley, Celeste Holm and Harold Scott, directed by W. Stuart McDowell. The next year Hayes performed a second benefit for the Riverside Shakespeare Company, this time at the Marquis Theatre, the construction of which had been made possible by the demolition of the Helen Hayes Theatre three years before. The production featured Rex Smith, Ossie Davis and F. Murray Abraham, produced by McDowell and directed by Robert Small, with Hayes narrating the performance.

    Helen Hayes Hospital

    According to her daughter-in-law, HB Mac Arthur, Hayes took the most pride, however, in her philanthropic work with Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital located in West Haverstraw, NY. She was extremely proud of the strides the hospital made toward the rehabilitation of people with disabilities.

    Hayes became involved with the hospital in the 1940s, and was named to the Board of Visitors in 1944. In 1974, the hospital was renamed in her honor. She served on the Helen Hayes Hospital Board of Visitors for 49 years, until her death in 1993. In that time, she advocated tirelessly for the hospital and successfully led a fight to prevent the relocation of the facility to Albany in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she was instrumental in the successful lobbying for funding to transform the hospital into a state-of-the-art facility.

    Hayes also contributed her enthusiastic support to hospital events and fund-raising efforts, including handing out diplomas to the children upon graduation when the hospital was still a pediatric care facility. She also faithfully attended the hospital's annual Classic Race, leading the race by riding in a classic car and handing out awards to runners, hand cyclists, and wheelchair racers, and generously offering the use of her home Pretty Penny for a dinner to launch the hospital's endowment fund.


    Hayes died on St. Patrick's Day, 1993, from congestive heart failure in Nyack, New York. Lillian Gish, the "First Lady of American Cinema", was a great friend of Hayes, and had designated her as beneficiary of her estate, but Hayes survived her by less than a month. Hayes was interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack, New York. In 2011, she was honored with a US postage stamp.


    Diminutive and homespun, Helen Hayes was distinctly less glamorous than the other Great Ladies, but the qualities of modesty and practicality that she projected helped create her lasting appeal. Hayes was a stage star for five decades before retiring, when she continued to act occasionally on film, television, and radio.

    Stage and awards

    Year Production Role Notes
    1905 Miss Hawke's May Ball Irish Dancer
    A Midsummer Night's Dream Peaseblossom Revival
    1908 Babe in the Woods Boy babe
    1909 Jack the Giant Killer Gibson Girl, Nell Brinkley, Girl impersonators
    A Royal Family Prince Charles Ferdinand Revival
    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 Revival
    Fannie Hicks, Another Near Orphan
    The Seven Sisters Klara, the Youngest Daughter Revival
    Mary Jane's Pa Revival
    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 Revival
    A Royal Family Prince Charles Ferdinand Revival
    The Prince Chap Revival
    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 Revival
    Romance Suzette
    Just a Woman Hired girl Revival
    Mile-a-Minute Kendall Beth
    Rich Man, Poor Man Linda Hurst Revival
    Alma, Where Do You Live? Germain Revival
    Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch Asia Revival
    Within the Law Revival
    Pollyanna Pollyanna Whittier, The Glad Girl Revival
    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 Entertainment 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 Revival
    Dancing Mothers Catherine (Kittens) Westcourt
    Quarantine Dinah Partlett
    1925 Caesar and Cleopatra Cleopatra Revival
    The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Maria
    Young Blood Georgia Bissell
    1926 What Every Woman Knows Maggie Wylie Revival
    1927 Coquette Norma Besant
    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 Revival
    Victoria Regina Victoria
    1934 What Every Woman Knows Revival
    1936 Victoria Regina Victoria Revival
    1938 The Merchant of Venice Portia Revival
    Victoria Regina Victoria Revival
    1939 Ladies and Gentlemen Miss Terry Scott
    1940 Twelfth Night Viola Revival
    1941 Candle in the Wind Madeline Guest
    1943 Harriet Harriet Beecher Stowe
    1944 Harriet Harriet Beecher Stowe Revival
    1947 Alice-Sit-By-The-Fire Mrs. Alice Grey
    Happy Birthday Addie Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
    1948 The Glass Menagerie Amanda Wingfield Revival
    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 Revival
    1956 Lovers, Villains and Fools Narrator, Puck and the Chorus from Henry V
    The Glass Menagerie Amanda Wingfield Revival
    1958 Time Remembered The Duchess of Pont-Au-Bronc Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (revival)
    1958 A Adventure Lulu Specer
    Mid-Summer Rose, the Maid Revival
    A Touch of the Poet Nora Melody
    1960 The Cherry Orchard Lyuboff Ranevskaya Revival
    The Chalk Garden Mrs. Maugham Revival
    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 Revival
    The School for Scandal Mrs. Candour Revival
    Right You Are If You Think You Are Signora Frola Revival
    We Comrades Three Mother
    You Can't Take It with You Olga Revival
    1967 The Show-Off Mrs. Fisher Tony Award's Vernon Rice-Drama Desk Award (revival)
    1968 The Show-Off Mrs. Fisher return engagement (revival)
    1969 The Front Page Mrs. Grant Revival
    1970 Harvey Veta Louise Simmons Nominated - Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (Revival)
    1971 Long Day's Journey Into Night Mary Cavan Tyrone Revival
    1980 Tony Award's Lawrence Langner Memorial Award

    Filmography and awards

    Year Film Role Notes
    1910 Jean and the Calico Doll though 'unconfirmed' and the film is lost, Hayes would have been nine years old when appearing in this film with canine Vitagraph star Jean
    1917 The Weavers of Life Peggy
    1928 The Dancing Town short subject
    1931 Arrowsmith Leora Arrowsmith
    The Sin of Madelon Claudet Madelon Claudet Academy Award for Best Actress
    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 Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
    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 Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
    1975 One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing Hettie
    1977 Candleshoe Lady St. Edmund

    Television appearances and awards

    Year Title Role Notes
    1950 Showtime, U.S.A. Episode #1.1
    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 for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
    1952 Omnibus The Twelve Pound Look
    Nominated — Emmy Award for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
    1953 Omnibus The Happy Journey
    Omnibus Mom and Leo
    Christmas with the Stars
    Medallion Theatre Harriet Beecher Stowe "Battle Hymn"
    Emmy Award for Best Actress (nonspecific role)
    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 for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
    Playhouse 90 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 for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
    1959 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 Letitia Van Gorder The Bat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
    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 for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
    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 for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series
    1975 Hawaii Five-O Aunt Clara Retire in Sunny Hawaii - Forever
    Nominated - Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series. Costarred with her son James MacArthur (who played her nephew in the episode).
    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 for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie
    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 Marple
    1984 Highway to Heaven Estelle Wicks
    1985 Murder with Mirrors Miss Marple

    Other awards

    In 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Hayes's name and picture. In 1983, Hayes received the Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.

    See also

    • List of persons who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards



    • Mosel, Tad and Macy, Gertrude. Leading Lady: The World and Theatre of Katharine Cornell(1978), Little, Brown & Co, Boston, ISBN 0-316-58537-8
    • Murphy, Donn B. and Moore, Stephen. Helen Hayes; A Bio-Bibliography (1993)

    External links