In The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
|Born||Sterling Relyea Walter
March 26, 1916
Upper Montclair, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||May 23, 1986
Sausalito, California, U.S.
|Other names||Sterling Walter Hayden
|Occupation||Actor, author, sailor, model, Marine, OSS agent|
|Height||6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)|
Betty Ann de Noon
Catherine Devine McConnell
With de Noon:
Andrew and David
Sterling Walter Hayden (born Sterling Relyea Walter; March 26, 1916 - May 23, 1986) was an American actor and author. For most of his career as a leading man, he specialized in westerns and film noir, such as Johnny Guitar, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Killing. Later on he became noted for appearing in supporting roles such as Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). He also played the Irish American policeman Captain McCluskey in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather in 1972 and the novelist Roger Wade in 1973's The Long Goodbye. He played the role of Leo Dalcò in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 in 1976. At 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m), he towered over most other actors.
Hayden was born in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, to George and Frances Walter, who named him Sterling Relyea Walter. After his father died, he was adopted at age 9 by James Hayden and renamed Sterling Walter Hayden. As a child he lived in coastal towns of New England, and in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Maine. He attended Wassookeag School in Dexter, Maine.
Hayden dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and took a job as mate on a schooner. His first voyage was to Newport Beach, California, from New London, Connecticut. Later, he was a fisherman on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, ran a charter yacht, and served as a fireman on 11 trips to Cuba aboard a steamer. He skippered a trading schooner in the Caribbean after earning his master's license, and in 1937 he served as mate on a world cruise of the schooner Yankee. After serving as sailor and fireman on larger vessels and sailing around the world several times, he was awarded his first command at age 22, skippering the square rigger Florence C. Robinson 7,700 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Tahiti in 1938. Hayden spoke of his nautical experiences before the monthly meeting of the Adventurers' Club of New York on March 21, 1940.
Hayden became a print model and later signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, who dubbed the 6?5? (1.96 m) actor "The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies" and "The Beautiful Blond Viking God." His first film, Virginia (1941), directed by Edward H. Griffith, starred Madeleine Carroll whom he married. He, Griffith and Carroll were reunited in Bahama Passage (1941).
After two film roles, he left Hollywood and joined the United States Marine Corps as a private, under the name John Hamilton, a nom de guerre he never used otherwise. While at Parris Island, he was recommended for Officer Candidate School.
After graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and was transferred to service as an undercover agent with William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan's Office of the Coordinator of Information. He remained there after it became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
As OSS agent John Hamilton, his World War II service included sailing with supplies from Italy to Yugoslav partisans and parachuting into fascist Croatia. Hayden, who also participated in the Naples-Foggia campaign and established air crew rescue teams in enemy-occupied territory, became a first lieutenant on September 13, 1944, and a captain on February 14, 1945. He received the Silver Star (for gallantry in action in the Balkans and Mediterranean; "Lt. Hamilton displayed great courage in making hazardous sea voyages in enemy-infested waters and reconnaissance through enemy-held areas"), a Bronze Arrowhead device for parachuting behind enemy lines, and a commendation from Yugoslavia's Marshal Tito. He left active duty on December 24, 1945.
Hayden returned to Paramount, to play one of several brothers in an aviation film, Blaze of Noon (1947).
His great admiration for the bravery of the Communist partisans led to a brief membership in the Communist Party. He was apparently active in supporting an effort by the Communist-controlled motion picture painters union to absorb other film industry unions. As the Red Scare deepened in U.S., he cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee, confessing his brief Communist ties and "naming names." His wife at that time, Betty de Noon, insisted that the names her ex-husband provided were already in the hands of the committee, which had a copy of the Communist Party's membership list. In any event, Hayden subsequently repudiated his cooperation with the committee, stating in his autobiography, "I don't think you have the foggiest notion of the contempt I have had for myself since the day I did that thing."
Hayden's career received a boost when cast by John Huston in the starring role of MGM's heist thriller, The Asphalt Jungle (1950). It was only a minor hit but was highly regarded critically and established Hayden as a leading man.
He followed it with a series of action films: Denver and Rio Grande (1952), a Western, for Paramount; Hellgate (1952), another Western; The Golden Hawk (1952), a pirate swashbuckler for producer Sam Katzman; Flat Top (1952), a Korean War drama; Fighter Attack (1953), a World War Two film.
So Big (1953) was a bit different - a melodrama from an Edna Ferber novel starring Jane Wyman. Then it was back to medium budget action films: Take Me to Town (1953), a Western with Ann Sheridan; Kansas Pacific (1953), a Western; Crime Wave (1954), a film noir.
He had a support role in a big studio picture, Prince Valiant (1954), playing Sir Gawain, then returned to more conventional material with Arrow in the Dust. Johnny Guitar (1954) was another Western, but this time with Joan Crawford and Nick Ray - it was a hit, and became a cult favourite. It was financed by Republic Pictures who used Hayden on several occasions.
There were some film noirs: Naked Alibi (1954) with Gloria Grahame and Suddenly (1954) with Frank Sinatra. Then it was action: Battle Taxi (1954), a Korean War movie; Timberjack (1955), a Western for Republic; Shotgun (1955), a Western with Yvonne de Carlo; The Eternal Sea (1955), a World War Two naval story; Top Gun (1955), a Western for producer Edward Small.
Hayden was then cast in a heist film which turned out to be a classic: The Killing (1956), an early work from director Stanley Kubrick. He remained a "B picture" star though: Crime of Passion (1957), a noir; 5 Steps to Danger (1957), a mystery film; Valerie (1957), a Western "noir"; Zero Hour! (1957), a disaster film; Gun Battle at Monterey (1957), a Western; The Iron Sheriff (1957), a Western for Edward Small; Ten Days to Tulara (1958), an adventure film; Terror in a Texas Town (1958), a Western.
Hayden often professed distaste for film acting, saying he did it mainly to pay for his ships and voyages. In 1958, after a bitter divorce from Betty Ann de Noon, Hayden was awarded custody of his children. He defied a court order and sailed to Tahiti with all four children, Christian, Dana, Gretchen and Matthew. The crew sailed from San Francisco Bay to Tahiti, where Hayden had planned to film a movie. Hayden also invited well-known photographer Dody Weston Thompson along to document the trip and to help shoot location choices. Her South Seas folio contains photographs of Hayden's ship, The Wanderer; on-deck photos of life aboard the ship; colorful prints of his children, Tahitian women and children; and unique artifacts on shore. The film never materialized; however, according to Dody's notes, U.S. Camera and Travel printed her photographs of paradise in 1961. Marin County Superior Court Judge Harold Haley later ordered Hayden to repay Republic Pictures nearly $50,000 to recover the cost of financing the trip.
In 1960, he married Catherine Devine McConnell. They had two sons, Andrew and David, and were married until his death in 1986. McConnell also had a son (Scott McConnell) from her first marriage to Neil McConnell, an heir to Avon's founding family.
In the early 1960s, Hayden rented one of the pilot houses of the retired ferryboat Berkeley, docked in Sausalito, California, where he resided while writing his autobiography Wanderer, which was first published in 1963. In it, he reminisces about turning points in his life:
The sun beats down and you pace, you pace and you pace. Your mind flies free and you see yourself as an actor, condemned to a treadmill wherein men and women conspire to breathe life into a screenplay that allegedly depicts life as it was in the old wild West. You see yourself coming awake any one of a thousand mornings between the spring of 1954, and that of 1958--alone in a double bed in a big white house deep in suburban Sherman Oaks, not far from Hollywood.
The windows are open wide, and beyond these is the backyard swimming pool inert and green, within a picket fence. You turn and gaze at a pair of desks not far from the double bed. This is your private office, the place that shelters your fondest hopes: these desks so neat, patiently waiting for the day that never comes, the day you'll sit down at last and begin to write.
Why did you never write? Why, instead, did you grovel along, through the endless months and years, as a motion-picture actor? What held you to it, to something you so vehemently professed to despise? Could it be that you secretly liked it--that the big dough and the big house and the high life meant more than the aura you spun for those around you to see?
"Hayden's wild," they said. "He's kind of nuts--but you've got to hand it to him. He doesn't give a damn about the loot or the stardom or things like that--something to do with his seafaring, or maybe what he went through in the war . . .":151
He was in Hard Contract (1969), supporting James Coburn.
In the 1970s, after his appearance in The Godfather, he appeared several times on NBC's Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, where he talked about his career resurgence and how it had funded his travels and adventures around the world. Hayden bought a canal barge in the Netherlands in 1969, eventually moving it to the heart of Paris and living on it part of the time. He also shared a home in Wilton, Connecticut, with his family and had an apartment in Sausalito.
Hayden wrote two acclaimed books: an autobiography, Wanderer (1962), and a novel, Voyage (1976).
In the film Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975), two veteran CIA officers were reminiscing about their past. Higgins (Cliff Robertson) asked Mr. Wabash, "You served with Col. Donovan in the OSS, didn't you, sir?" Wabash (John Houseman) replies, "I sailed the Adriatic with a movie star at the helm. It doesn't seem like much of a war now, but it was."
In 2011 the American singer-songwriter Tom Russell released the song "Sterling Hayden" on his album Mesabi.
Hayden, under his nom de guerre Lieutenant John Hamilton, and his role as an OSS agent play a secondary part in the 2012 novel Death's Door: A Billy Boyle World War II mystery by author James R. Benn. Hayden/Hamilton assists in getting protagonist Billy Boyle through German-occupied Italy.