The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States
Helen Hayes

the first person ever to win a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony, and an Emmy in competitive categories

Helen Hayes

Helen Brown was born in Washington, D.C., on October 10, 1900. She made her professional stage debut at age five, playing Prince Charles in the Columbia Players production of "The Royal Family" in Washington. A member of the Columbia Players for four seasons, she appeared in "Little Lord Fauntleroy," "The Prince Chap" and "The Prince and the Pauper" while attending Holy Cross. She made her Broadway acting debut in 1909, in "Old Dutch," and her film debut in a 1910 two-reeler titled Jean and the Calico Doll. She spent the next several years on Broadway before finally making the move to Hollywood.

In 1928, Hayes married playwright Charles MacArthur, who was subsequently signed to an MGM contract. Moving to Hollywood with her husband, Hayes made her sound film debut in The Sin of Madelon Claudet, in 1931. Her portrayal of a woman who sacrifices everything to help her illegitimate son garnered her a Best Actress Academy Award. An apparent screen natural, she took well-written roles in quality films, such as Arrowsmith (1931), A Farewell to Arms (1932), The White Sister (1933), What Every Woman Knows (1934), and Vanessa: Her Love Story (1935). Hayes never really clicked with moviegoers, however, and she ultimately returned to New York (as did her husband) and made only a few film appearances thereafter.

Hayes' subsequent stage career was highlighted by a three-year run in the play "Victoria Regina," 1935-1938, in which she aged 60 years during each performance of the title role (Queen Victoria). In 1955, the Fulton Theater on Broadway was renamed the Helen Hayes Theater in her honor (it was razed in 1984 to make way for the Marriot Marquis Hotel). She was eventually forced off the stage due to health problems related to 65+ years of breathing theater dust.

The "First Lady of the American Theater" could have easily retired to a quiet life, but she chose to refocus her career instead. She snagged another Oscar for her characterization of an ingenuous stowaway in Airport (1970), which introduced and endeared her to a new generation. She also lent her talents to such Disney films as Herbie Rides Again (1974), One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1976), and Candleshoe (1977), and acted in several made-for-TV movies.

Hayes wrote three volumes of memoirs: A Gift of Joy (1965), On Reflection (1969), and My Life in Three Acts (1990).

Helen Hayes died in her home at Nyack, New York, on March 17, 1993. She is interred at Oak Hill Cemetery, Nyack.

Hayes won Oscars in 1932 and 1971 (for The Sin of Madelon Claudet and Airport, respectively); Tonys in 1947, 1958, and 1980 (the 1980 award being non-competitive); Emmys in 1953 and 1978; and, a Grammy in 1976 for Best Spoken Word Recording. Barbra Streisand won the Grand Slam before Hayes, but Streisand's Tony (in 1970) was a non-competitive award for Star of the Decade.

The Official Site of Helen Hayes is

See Also

October 10
Queen Victoria
March 17

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States

This page was last updated on 10/11/2018.