Susan Hayward would have turned 100 today.
She died at the age of 57 after developing brain cancer. Most likely, Hayward was another victim of radioactive poisoning from the movie set of The Conqueror, which was filmed in St. George, Utah a former atomic test site.
There were 220 people on the set, 91 would develop cancer of one sort or another, and 46 had already died from the disease by 1980.
The deaths included Agnes Moorehead, John Wayne, and Dick Powell.
Hayward isn’t remembered for the way she died, she’s remembered for her films.
Moving to Hollywood in 1937 to land the role of Scarlett O’Hara (she didn’t), the girl who would eventually live on a large farm in Georgia, started her career as a model, and quickly found bit parts in films throughout WW II.
After the war, she was “discovered” by Walter Wagner and signed a seven year contract.
Wagner, apparently a visionary, paid her, a veritable unknown, $100,000 a year.
In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations when she played an alcoholic nightclub singer in Smash UP, the Story of a Woman.
She went on to become one of the public’s favorite leading ladies, delighting audiences by portraying Rachel Jackson in The President’s Lady, another boozer in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and a California murderer, Barbara Graham, in I Want To Live.
She won her only Oscar for that one.
But my favorite and one that gets little attention is Back Street, a lavish Ross Hunter re-make of an earlier film.
No one played the role of the “other woman” like Susan Hayward, and Rae of Back Street was an “other woman” role like no other!
Back Street is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite memories. My sister, Zola, and I would stay UP late, lie in front of the black and white swivel bottom TV, get as close as we could get, turn the sound low to keep from waking the house, and watch Back Street.
Mother of course, would come out and tell us to get to bed; quite frankly, I think I was an adult before I saw the end of the film.
Melodrama at its best, Back Street is the story of a wealthy department store heir’s love affair with a small town dress shop owner. The dress shop owner dumps him when she finds out he’s married.
Of course, she runs to New York, becomes a fashion designer, moves to Rome and becomes the brains behind a salon and becomes an even more famous designer.
The heir pursues her, telling her his lush of a wife won’t give him a divorce, pledging his love yadda, yadda, yadda.
Of course, she caves, they become lovers, things happen, the wife shows UP, Chautauqua hits the fan…you know the drill.
I won’t spoil the end, but it’s one of Old Hollywood’s classiest.
Check it out, make a new memory.
Hey, it’s gonna be hot this weekend, and you need something to do.