Helen Hayes

Honored by:The Theatre Department
Brick location:PAVER:14  map

Helen Hayes' life spanned the twentieth century. She was born in 1900 and died in 1993, and during most of that time was known as the "First Lady of the American Theatre." She was on stage by the time she was five and within a few years she was on Broadway and trouping around the country. She continued working through her eighties, delighting theatre audiences as well as those who watched her films and television work. She played opposite Gary Cooper in the film A Farewell to Arms, with Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia, with Richard Burton in Time Remembered, and opposite Clark Gable in White Sister. On stage she was Mary Queen of Scots, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mrs. McThing, and perhaps her greatest stage success, Victoria Regina, in which she played Queen Victoria both as a teen-ager and towards the end of her life. She was awarded a Tony as well as two Oscars thirty-seven years apart. She gave performances that were full of what she herself said that fine acting was all about--intuition, the right choices, and excitement. When asked to explain her longevity as an actress, she replied, "By nature I was not theatrical, not majestic or awe-inspiring, and no more glamorous than many women who came to watch me perform. Perhaps it is that audiences felt comfortable with me." It certainly is true that audiences saw her as a well-balanced, reachable, thoughtful woman. Her friends agreed; they included Charlie Chaplin, Irving Berlin, Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Carrie Chapman Catt. She was invited to Mrs. Catt's eightieth birthday party and remarked to the honored guest that someday a play would be written about the suffragist's life and that she regretted that she would not be the actress to play Mrs. Catt. Miss Hayes once said, "My life wasn't always wise and faultless but it was round and it was real and I lived it all greedily." She projected a happy optimism and wrote that she was concerned about the positive, not the negative, in life. She enjoyed telling the story of a little boy who was a mathematical genius. His parents wanted him to develop other interests and took him to the theatre to see Peter Pan. His mother and father were thrilled to see that he looked totally engrossed. When intermission came he turned to them and said, "Do you know that there were 71,832 words in that act?" The point to the story, according to Miss Hayes, was that despite all of our protests most of us end up doing exactly what we really want and probably attracting those catalysts that will bring it about. Her devotion to her work was legendary. She quoted George Bernard Shaw: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live." It is difficult to imagine another career in the theatre that lasted longer. Perhaps the most important quality she possessed manifested itself in her life and work. She wrote of herself: "I'm inquisitive. I was born inquisitive and I'll die inquisitive. I'm even inquisitive now about death. There's still so much I don't know." Through her life and her great artistry, Helen Hayes helped her audiences, her family, and her friends understand the richness and complexity of those individuals who people our world.