An early promo postcard I found many years ago at the first "Papermania" show I ever went to in Hartford CT. 1953-54 saw a lot of changes in Susie's career and personal life. Her first film after returning from her European vacation was also her first Cinemascope production. "Demetrius and the Gladiators", a sequel to "The Robe", starring Victore Mature and directed by Delmer Daves, was the type of overblown-epic that Hollywood would churn out thoughout the 1950's to compete with television. I find the film rather enjoyable and once again Susie in color is something not to be missed! Her divorce proceedings finally wrapped up a year after they were started. Susie was awarded all her property, her earnings and custody of her twins. Barker got the family station wagon and visiting rights! Despite bad headlines and negative publicity Susie was still listed among the top-10 biggest box-office stars during that time!
Susie had a reputation for being an extremly hard worker. While working on the 1954 production of "Untamed" co-star Richard Egan asked her why she pushed herself so hard. Her response was: "Have you ever been hungry, Richard?". She was of course referring to her meager beginnings in Brooklyn when she and her family were often only able to afford left-over bread from the local bakery. According to Susan, when the depression hit, her life barely changed at all because they had been living like that all along. Poverty was also a huge factor in Kirk Douglas' intense drive and work-ethic as well.
An original 1944 magazine ad for Lipton Tea. Susie was seen in many advertisements throughout her movie career, but never for hair dye! After 3 fairly lackluster realeases "Garden of Evil", "Untamed" and "Soldier of Fortune", Susie got her most challenging role yet, that of singer Lillian Roth in the 1955 MGM production of "I'll Cry Tomorrow". Often cited as the female equivalent of "The Lost Weekend", the story is served up straight with no chaser and is not for the faint of heart! Susie's performance is simply remarkable, even doing all of her own singing (she was later beseiged by offers from nightclubs, cabarets and Vegas hotels but decided she wasnt ready for a live audience!)! Critics unanimously praised her and the film and she received her 4th oscar nomination for best actress. Many thought she was a shoe-in but once again she lost, this time to Anna Magnani for "The Rose Tattoo". Susie did however win the Canne film festival award. She was now an international star and the film turned out to be MGM's 3rd biggest money-maker behind "Gone with the Wind" and "Quo Vadis"!
Ironically the Susan Hayward film released after "I'll Cry Tomorrow" was also probably her worst film ever! "The Conqueror" is quite simply a laugh riot! Howard Hughes spent a fortune on the production, let it sit on the shelf for over a year before releasing it (He did the same with "Jet Pilot", but tinkered with that one for several years before release!) and it was actually a box office hit, but as a film it is incredibly silly and also a bit embarassing to see great stars like Susie, the Duke and Agnes Moorehead in such nonsense! I must admit though, I do enjoy Susie's barefoot sword-belly dance!
Susan appeared on scores and scores of magazine covers throughout most of her career. On February 9th 1957, Susan married Eaton Chalkley, a wealthy Georgia attorney whom she had been dating on and off since 1955. She also turned down script after script, some of them wise choices, others not so wise, but Walter Wanger gave her a script in late 1957 that she became very interested in! The film was "I Want to Live!" and the role of Barbara Grahame, a woman sent to the gas chamber for a murder she may or may not have commited, challenged Susie to the limit of her abilities and beyond. Director Robert Wise had nothing but praise for her talent and professionalism and said "She's one of the few actresses who can hold up a movie all by herself."
A publicity shot with Robert Young for "They Won't Believe Me"
"I Want to Live!' was a huge critical and commercial sucess and Susie FINALLY got what she had been chasing for almost 20 years, an Oscar for best actress! She also won practically every other acting award given out that year as well, and since she was in for 33% of the profits she made a tidy sum on the picture too. "I Want to Live!" is a very unsettling film to watch but well worth multiple viewings if you can take it, and Susie's performance is simply unforgettable!
To be continued...