Susan Hayward: “God Has Not Forgotten Me”
The big old trees made a dappled pattern on the Carrolton, Georgia sidewalk as the morning sun filtered through. In a patch of shadow, a six-year-old girl with a bridge of freckles across her nose and her light-brown hair braided into two pigtails stood looking very solemn, moving only her hips as she kept a red hula hoop rotating around her small middle.
“Mornin’, Mrs. Chalkley.” The girl greeted her neighbor without missing a single revolution of the hoop. Then she smiled to show an empty place in her mouth where she’d just lost a tooth. She let the hoop circle down to her ankles, jumped out of it deftly, snatched it up and offered it.
“Want to try?”
“I’ll have to practice first,” Susan Hayward Chalkley laughed. “You’re so good at it, I’d rather just watch you.” Susan stood there admiring the little girl as she wiggled her hoop. “Got to go now,” she finally said. “See you again.”
Susan Hayward walked on past the wide lawns, the roomy houses with their ante-bellum pillars and porticos, and the occasional new ranch house with its picture windows glinting in the sunlight. She turned a corner and came out onto the modest shopping street. “Mornin’, Mrs. Chalkley,” a farmer in overalls called to her and she smiled back at him as she continued on past the haberdashery and shoe stores, past the gleaming front of the new supermarket and the savory smells of the barbecue stand close by it, past the still-shuttered ticket cage of the movie theater. She skirted a pile of cardboard cartons waiting to be carried inside the general-notions store, waved at a man in a white apron who was polishing the word “French” on the window of the dry cleaners’, and then came back to where she had left her car, in front of the small brick post office. She’d driven into town to pick up the mail and she had left the stack of letters and magazines on the front seat before starting her walk. Now she slid behind the wheel and drove slowly back through the quiet streets, feeling once again a sense of gratitude for the peace of this little town that had let her come home.
It had been a long road home.
As Susan passed the outskirts of town and turned onto the highway, she gained speed, making the asphalt and the white center stripe appear to be moving ever-faster backward beneath the wheels of her car. And as she watched the stripe, her thoughts turned to a quiet little girl—Edythe Marrener, nicknamed “Mousey”—sitting in the assembly hall of Girls Commercial High School in Brooklyn, listening to a lady giving a lecture. Through a monotony of speech the words incentive—drive—personality—lingered in the girl’s mind. While Edythe listened to the woman, her eyes rested on the mink coat that the speaker had carelessly tossed over the back of a chair on the stage. Then she looked down at her own faded, mended cotton dress; she owned just one other. And that afternoon she made a promise to herself: “Some day I’ll come back here and lecture to the girls, and I’ll be wearing furs, too.”
She kept the promise. Years later she came back, wearing furs, and she lectured and signed autographs—“Susan Hayward.”
She was now earning over $200,000 a year.
As she guided the car along the highway out of the town of Carrolton, she found herself speaking the words, “You can get razzle-dazzle in Hollywood. You can get rich. And you can get smashed!”
Here in the sunlight, among the peaceful hills of the Georgia countryside, it was hard to remember the night when her life seemed to lie in ruins. But as she turned off, onto the narrow, tree-shadowed road through the pine woods which led to her house, Susan’s mind went back to the night of April 25, 1955, in another house, in Sherman Oaks, California . . .
She was alone in the living room. As she watched the carved hands of the tall grandfather clock relentlessly slip away the minutes, her thoughts circled hopelessly. Her marriage had blown up the year before, blown up in a flare of headlines. Just four days earlier, she had reluctantly met with her ex-husband, who challenged her custody of their twin sons. As she sat on the couch, her head thrown back in utter exhaustion, she could hear his angry voice echoing in her ears. Nothing had been settled; she could forsee no end to the recriminations and quarrels.
Timothy and Gregory were sleeping upstairs, yet at this moment they seemed very far away from her. Kept at the studio for a conference, she had come home after their bedtime and crept up to look in on them, just motionless forms outlined under the covers with only their heads peeping out. In the afternoon, when school was out, the house must have been filled with the shouts and laughter of two husky ten-year-olds. But she had not been there to hear them.
Susan sighed. She looked up again at the clock. How the minutes were dragging. It seemed as though the night would never end. Already she had tried to go to sleep—but sleep would not come. So she had gotten out of bed to come and sit on the couch. Beside her lay the script of “I’ll Cry Tomorrow.” She picked it up, glanced at a few pages, but could not concentrate. Her mind kept racing on, racing in circles, finding no way out of her personal trap.
Her doctor had prescribed sleeping pills. They didn’t do any good. She was still awake, still sitting in her living room, in the dark, alone. She could feel no love around her, no promise of help from anywhere, no vision of morning light to come.
Even now, driving along the winding road through the pine woods, Susan could not clearly bring her mind to remember the rest of that terrible night. She knew only what her mother had told her and what the newspapers had reported.
In the small hours of the morning, Mrs. Ellen Marrener had been awakened in her own house by the ringing of the telephone. The voice over the wire, broken by sobs, said, “Don’t worry, Mother. You’ll be well taken care of.”
Herself close to hysteria, Mrs. Marrener promptly called the police, saying, “My daughter! I’m afraid she’s going to commit suicide!”
Speeding through the quiet streets, the squad car screeched to a halt at the house in Sherman Oaks. The policemen rushed across the patio and pounded on the nearest door. From within came a dim voice trying to shape the word “Yes,” but managing only “Yeh—yeh.” They broke through the door and found Susan Hayward lying unconscious on the floor of her living room. Looking down on her, its face blank and unpitying, the clock that had measured the slow minutes after midnight now showed four o’clock. In Susan’s bathroom cupboard upstairs, the police found two bottles of sleeping-tablets—empty.
Susan was rushed to North Hollywood Hospital for emergency treatment, then transferred to Cedars of Lebanon. And there she returned fully to consciousness. The morning had come after all, she thought, its light reaching into the hospital room. She felt weak, but her thoughts were no longer whirling; her mind seemed relaxed and she lay there welcoming the sensation of being alive.
Her mother and her brother, Walter, were waiting to see her. As they walked towards her bed she saw in their faces the love that for a few terrified moments, the night before, she had forgotten. And she felt a spiritual love.
A few days after that, she said: “Don’t ever think for one instant in your life that God does not exist. He does. I know.” And she did know. Somehow she felt the other evening she had almost come face to face with Him.
Rounding a curve, the car moved out of the shadows of the pine woods and into the afternoon sunlight. Ahead was home, hidden among the gentle hills. Then it came into view, a rambling stone hunting lodge with a white roof. In a way, it had grown out of two hearts, hers and her husband’s. Susan had pored over rough ketches with him and then architects’ blueprints. And then almost every day they had walked from the small guest house that was already on the property, to see these drawings turn into solid reality, stone by stone.
Bringing her car to a stop in the garage, Susan switched off the ignition, pulled the key out and sorted the front-door key from the bunch on the ring before she gathered up the mail, a pile of magazines and her purse which lay on the seat beside her. As she went toward the door she smiled wistfully down at the key glinting in the sun. She reached the front door, opened it and went inside to find the living room orderly and spotless. Leaving the mail on the desk, the magazines on the coffee table, Susan went into the kitchen to prepare lunch. The planning of this room had been entirely up to her, and she had tried to make it both efficient and beautiful; all in white and gold. Its airy lightness suited her present mood. As she took lettuce, fresh fruit and cottage cheese from the refrigerator, she began thinking back to a pleasant evening three years before that had turned out to be more than merely pleasant.
It was during Christmastime of 1955, and she had been invited to a party at the home of Vincent Flaherty, sports columnist on a Los Angeles newspaper. The guest list casually mixed movie people and “non-pros,” so for Susan there were many unfamiliar faces. Different kinds of shop talk, cheerful chatter, snatches of gossip and laughter echoed around her. Under the red, green, gold and silver of holiday decorations, it was a good-humored group. And then she saw him, “across a crowded room.” She noticed him first because he was so tall and for the moment alone, beside the tinseled tree he looked so assured and at ease. Then people, circulating gaily, cut off her view, and she lost him in the crowd.
Flaherty came toward her a while later, always the genial host. “Having a pleasant time, Susan? Like some more punch?”
“This is fine, Vince. Thank you.”
Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the stranger walk past them, Flaherty caught him by the arm.
“Oh, you two haven’t met, have you? Susan, this is Eaton Chalkley.”
She looked up at the stranger. He smiled. “Merry Christmas, Miss Hayward.”
She caught a soft slowness in the deep- pitched voice. “Is that Dixie I hear?”
“Carrolton, Georgia,” Eaton laughed.
“Forty miles from Atlanta. It’s a small place, but it has been growing the last few years.”
“Are you vacationing out here, Mr. Chalkley?” she asked.
“No, it’s a business trip. I have a car agency in Carrolton, but my law practice takes most of my time. It brings me to the Coast pretty often. Anti-trust cases, chiefly.”
She listened to his shop talk, listened respectfully, with increasing interest. It doesn’t matter what a man’s work is, she thought, because if he’s really absorbed in it, really good at it, he can make it sound fascinating. And gradually the other voices at the party faded, and she could hear only Eaton Chalkley’s.
His name was Floyd Eaton Chalkey. He’d once been in the FBI. He’d been divorced twice and was the father of three children. He was forty-six, eight years older than Susan, and he was enjoying his maturity. Susan liked that, for in Hollywood she had seen too many aging “boys,” too many “girls” reaching frantically after vanishing youth. Certainly there was no time in her life that she yearned to go back to. Instead, with a sense of awakening, she found herself eagerly looking forward to the future.
Looking forward to what? Three years ago she could not possibly have pictured herself living contentedly in this house in Georgia. Susan went over to the easel in the corner of the living room and uncovered the painting she had started the day before. Slipping into her smock which she kept on a hook by the easel, Susan took out her palette and brushes and the box filled with tubes of oil paint. Patiently, she began to mix a blue. She was painting the view from the window and the blue was for the shadows under the trees.
The countryside was waiting, awakening, eagerly yet serenely. That was the look Susan wanted to put on canvas. And that had been the feeling in her heart three years earlier.
She had been waiting for something then, not waiting desperately and hungrily, but waiting serenely. Faith had returned to her. She knew happiness was not something to be greedily grasped at. It would come as a precious gift from God, to be accepted humbly and gratefully. And it would come first in small ways, as these buds would unfold on the trees, singly and slowly.
Susan remembered a spring night in 1956. It was the night of the Academy Awards, and she had invited her friends to come to her house afterwards for a “Win or Lose Party.” Well, she had lost. She moved through the crush murmuring thanks for words of sympathy, lightly brushing aside words that laid the sympathy on too thick. Her gaiety might have been brittle and false, if there had not been a steady, reassuring influence in her house that night. Eaton Chalkley was among her guests. Each time their eyes met, the little golden statue she hadn’t won seemed less and less important.
His standing in his profession was high enough to give him a choice among clients, and Susan smiled as she remembered what an unusual number of Californian cases had drawn his attention that year. When he was in town, they didn’t dine at the fashionable see-and-be-seen restaurants. Nor did they haunt the so-called “hideaway” spots, which seem to be favorite hang-outs for columnists’ informants. They simply went to dinner parties or informal evenings at friends’ homes, or Susan entertained the group at her home. Often, the two of them would drift away to a corner of the room and stay there, quietly talking, absorbed in each other. Their friends must have noticed, Susan thought. If so, friendship was put first. This new romance was not fingered for quality, measured for size, pulled apart and rendered shopworn in the public prints. It remained the private property of Susan Hayward and Eaton Chalkley.
It wasn’t first love—swift and sweet and uncaring. That kind is only for the young, never to be recaptured, though it can last and change and become stronger—if the couple are lucky. Susan and Eaton had not been that fortunate in their first loves. But they made a wonderful discovery: With the years, through experience, they had grown, and now their capacity for loving was greater than ever before.
And so they decided quietly to be married. They went to Phoenix, Arizona, for the ceremony. The date—February 8, 1957. The thought of that day brought Susan suddenly back to the present moment. Was their second anniversary really that close? Hmmm . . . that might explain the mysterious package Eaton had whisked out of her sight the other day. Well, she had her secret plans too.
Her wedding bouquet had been a single carnation, pinned to her simple, short- sleeved silk dress. The bridal party had reached Phoenix with no pack of newsmen and lensmen hot on the trail, but after Susan had become Mrs. Floyd Eaton Chalkley the reporters did catch up. Some of their questions made her nervous; it sounded as if they were trying to sensationalize this marriage story by recalling earlier headlines. Then, as Eaton’s hand held hers in a firmer grasp, Susan answered straightforwardly: “I don’t want to look back. From now on, I’m going to look forward, always.”
She was going home, home to Carrolton, Georgia She remembered a friend saying, I “Leave Hollywood? You? You’ll change your mind!” But then, they had not known how happy she would be, married to Eaton.
The first time she strolled the streets of Carrolton with her husband, she found gentle people to welcome her. baton’s friends accepted her as their kind; being one of them gave her a wonderful, comfortable feeling. When the Chalkleys entertained or went calling, Hollywood was mentioned no more often than in any average group anywhere in the country. She had learned to play the accordion, to play simple melodies by ear, and now on many friendly evenings neighbors dropped in to listen to the music.
This evening there would be just the two of them, Susan and Eaton. Evening! With a start, Susan looked up at the clock and noticed it was already five-thirty. She hurried into her dressing room, just off the master bedroom, and began freshening up. There was only one other bedroom, for Timothy and Gregory. No guest rooms and, Susan had resolved, there never would be any. She had been quite firm about that when they planned the house; she wanted to keep it strictly a family unit, mall and intimate.
Susan felt warm gratitude as she thought of her boys. Last April, she and Jess Barker had at last reached a legal agreement, and she had been allowed to take Tim and Greg home to Georgia, though Barker was permitted to visit his sons or have them visit him at certain times each year. They were almost fourteen now, both enrolled at Georgia Military Academy nearby. Tomorrow, Susan thought with happy anticipation, they’d be coming home for the weekend. And she would have time, plenty of time, long lazy hours to spend entirely with her sons. They would go tramping through the woods, across the fields of home, talking all the way, and enjoying a greater closeness than they had ever known before.
Soon she would have to go to Hollywood o fill a picture commitment—to make “The Snow Birch.” This would be only her third movie since her marriage There had been “I Want to Live,” then “Thunder in the Sun.” On both of these she had found her work as absorbing as ever. But between takes she had felt a new detachment about the whole business of movie-making, almost as if she were a visitor on the set. At those times she found herself thinking, I want to be home. I want to be doing what I like best—making a man happy.
She heard the faint sound of a car approaching along the winding road through the pine woods. It grew louder and then stopped, and she heard the familiar rumble of the garage door closing. Then came the click of a key in the front door. Then the beloved voice: “I’m home!”
“I’m here,” she called out.
He was in the doorway, crossing the room, and as he reached her he put his arms around her.
“Did you have a good day, darling?” she whispered.
“Mmm. And did you?”
Susan slipped into the kitchen to prepare their dinner. When she came into the living room she noticed the papers over the neatly-stacked kindling had already caught alight, and Eaton’s manly figure was outlined against the blaze. She admired his expertness at laying a fire. The flames, still low, were steady, and there was a cheerful crackling. Eaton had turned on the TV but she didn’t pay any attention to it until the announcer gave the title of the feature film which was about to be presented: “Adam Had Four Sons,” starring Ingrid Bergman.
“That’s an old one,” Susan laughed. “I was in it, too,” she added, turning to Eaton.
Then the announcer said, “I wonder if Susan Chalkley is watching in Carrolton tonight? This must have been one of her very early movies.”
With those words a wonderful realization struck her: She wasn’t Susan Hayward any more. All of that was past. She was Susan Chalkley!
“Is she watching?” Eaton asked, as she settled down on the couch next to him.
“Only if you want to. I can run out and put on the steak during a commercial.”
Dinner under way, she sat by the warm fire, her husband’s arm around her, feeling completely contented. She looked up at Eaton and remarked, “You know, dear, God has been good, very good to me.”
ACCORDING TO INSIDERS, U.A.’s “l WANT TO LIVE” IS SURE TO BRING SUSAN HER FIFTH ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION THIS MONTH. SHE WILL BE SEEN NEXT IN PARAMOUNT’S “THUNDER IN THE SUN” AND 20TH’S “THE SNOW BIRCH.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1959