Helen Hayes, the First Lady of the American Theater, made most of her infrequent film appearances after an allergy to theater dust forced her to retire from the stage. Her stage career began when she was five; at age nine, she made her first Broadway appearance. By 1918, she was a star. When she married playwright Charles MacArthur in 1928, the couple came to Hollywood briefly, where she won her first Oscar for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931). Other memorable roles during that time included her role as a nurse in A Farewell to Arms (1932) with a very young Gary Cooper, and What Every Woman Knows (1934). Unhappy in Hollywood, she returned to the stage, where she reigned as one of the outstanding American stage actresses. One of her most famous roles was Queen Victoria in Victoria Regina. She won a Tony Award the first year they were presented, in 1947, for Happy Birthday, and another in 1958 for Time Remembered. Throughout the '40s, '50s, '60s and into the '70s, Hayes made numerous television appearances, winning an Emmy as Best Actress in 1952 and starring in the short-lived comic mystery series The Snoop Sisters with Mildred Natwick in 1971. She returned to films in the 1950s, making an impressive showing as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia (1956) and winning another Oscar for her role in Airport (1970). In her later years, she often played kind but mischievous old ladies. Her son is actor James MacArthur. Hayes wrote several memoirs, prompted to write originally by the death of her daughter.
Biography by Rovi
- Nicknamed "First Lady of the American Theater."
- A hospital, a New York City theater and an award are named in her honor.
- Her play Coquette closed when she became ill during her pregnancy with Mary MacArthur; the producer tried to get out of paying the actors' severance citing Helen's child as "An Act of God."
- Her debut film was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar.
- Founded the Mary MacArthur Fund to raise awareness about polio after her daughter died from the disease in 1949; was credited by Jonas Salk for helping him establish funding for a vaccine.