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The Shocking Failure Of Susan Hayward’s Marriage

She had been in hiding for the few days after the story of their startlingly sudden separation broke. When she came in, I noticed she was trying to keep one side of her face away from me.

“Susie, darling, don’t do that,” I said, “I already know about that black eye Jess gave you. Don’t you know, by now, that you don’t have to keep anything from me? I’m your friend.”

Suddenly, she was in my arms, not crying or sobbing, but holding me tight, just as she used to do when she was one of my little starlets on our stage road tour and someone had hurt her feelings.

No, she was not crying as I patted her shoulder, because she was past that stage. The tears had dried up long before this, or else they were dropping back inside instead of spilling down her, face.

That poor eye. So discolored and swollen. The whole side of her face was puffed, distorting one of the loveliest faces in the world. It was as though an artist with a misplaced sense of drama had made one side of a woman’s face perfect and the other bruised and discolored.

The girl I have known and been fond of for so many years sat down and started talking almost in the middle of her story, as though the deep hurt were crowding to come out.

“We had been quarreling, and I saw he was going to slap me. He had slapped me many times, but this time I could tell it was going to be worse.

“His face was so distorted with rage I knew he had lost control of himself. I knew I was in great physical danger.

“I was brought up in a tough section of Brooklyn and I’ve seen men get drunk on their pay nights and beat up their wives, but it was nothing like this.

“He went after my face and I kept running from him, first all over the house and then down by the swimming pool where he caught me.”

In a voice so low I had to lean close to hear her, she told me how he beat her unmercifully, blacking both eyes and bruising her body. Susan’s screams brought the police to the house. Neighbors had telephoned them. My mind went back many years to that time when Susan was pregnant with her twins. She and Jess had a battle royal in front of the Tom May home, following a party. It was a secret she had asked me to keep, and I had.

At that time, as now, she had come to see me; but then she had been forgiving of Jess. She said she was not going to divorce him.

“Jess is miserably unhappy,” she had said. “Only I know how miserable. His work has gone against him; there don’t seem to be any parts for him in pictures. I don’t know why; he’s really a good actor.

“Maybe being my husband, sort of a Mr. Susan Hayward, has affected his career. If that’s true, I am sorry. The least I can be is understanding.

“I don’t believe in divorce. I’m going to fight to keep our marriage together, not only for ourselves, but for the babies we expect. I took a vow when we were married—for better, for worse—and I’m sticking to Jess. I hope for the better from here on in.”

I was pleased, after the twin boys were born, that things really seemed much better between Jess and Susan. In the early years of their nine-year marriage, Susan would often see the question in my eyes and she would always assure me, “Things are all right, Louella. Honest!”

Of course, the very big obstacle of Jess’ not working was still a large factor and a problem. Always it was Susan who comforted him and sympathized, although it became increasingly difficult, for her own career was zooming. She was one of the most important stars on the 20th lot and was being given outstanding pictures and fine roles.

Now the end was here, and there was no more strength in Susan to keep trying.

Her lovely red hair was moist against her forehead as she sat talking with me across a table in my playroom. I had ordered coffee, and she sipped it gratefully. This girl, I realized, was exhausted, not only physically, after the beating she’d taken, but emotionally and spiritually as well.

Her voice was calmer as she said, “I don’t have to tell you that Jess has never contributed any money to my support or to the support of Timothy and Gregory. You know all about that.

“And I know you realize that I was deeply sympathetic with him, at first. I believed him when he said he was an actor and couldn’t do anything else. But there must come an end to the unnatural way of living in which the woman is the wage earner and the man sits home with the children.

“The little boys couldn’t understand why I got up early every morning and went to work and Daddy stayed home. It was not that way in the homes of the children they played with. Children can be cruel. I’m sure their playmates often taunted Greg and Timmy about their father’s going to the market and driving them to school, when in their homes it vas the mother who did these tasks.

“A mother can give her children love and tenderness, but she cannot set the example of a father, a leader—a man who is head of his home. Boys need to respect their fathers, and Jess was letting things slide to the point where he didn’t even try to get work—as an actor or anything else.

“We began to quarrel about this more and more bitterly. Jess would be angry. But this last time it was blind rage.

“I was not only terrified when I saw Jess’ fury, but I realized he was trying to ruin my face—the very means by which I earn my living.

“Well, I’ve already told you what happened: the nightmarish scene at the swimming pool, the police. Then I sneaked away. I had to be by myself for a few days. I knew they were saying I was hiding because of a black eye, but I didn’t care. The end has finally come, Louella. There is no turning back.”

And what a heartbreaking ending, I thought, to the love story of the gallant, spirited, redheaded little Susie, who was born Edith Marriner in Brooklyn and who came to Hollywood as one of the original contestants for the role Vivien Leigh played in Gone With The Wind.

Of course she did not get the role, but there was to be much glory and success for Susie in Hollywood. Not at first, however. She almost died out as a perennial ingénue and milktoast heroine in many Paramount pictures.

Just about that time, I asked Susan to join some other young starlets for a Hollywood stage act I was going to take on tour for eight weeks, playing all the key cities.

She was delighted to join Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan, June Preisser, Arleen Whelan and Joy Hodges, and she was her cute, completely honest self when she told me right to my face that she thought being associated with me “will help my career”.

You come to know people well when you travel with them, and I was surprised that with all of Susan’s luscious, sexy beauty that she was at heart a real Miss Prim, easily shocked by the backstage “stories”, even when they were mild. And her feelings were so easily hurt she dissolved into tears if anyone even looked at her crossly.

She seldom went out, even when we hit such big towns as Philadelphia and New York. If she did go, it was usually with a relative or friend from Brooklyn.

She was an ultra moral and conventional little thing, a quality which endeared her to me fully as much as her loveliness and sweetness. Many years have passed since then. I brought myself back to the present and to the heartbroken girl who had once again come to me with her troubles.

She said, “My reputation is highly valuable to me, or I would not be telling these things against the man I have loved for sO many years.

“But I am shocked to my soul about some of the terrible stories being circulated about why we separated. What I have told you is the truth.

“Since I first met Jess there has never been any other man for me, and I really believe there has never been any other woman in his life.”

A little sigh escaped Susan; she leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes as though she were consciously remembering Jess as he was when they first met and fell in love.

Ge had known Jess when they were both on the Paramount lot, he playing young leads just about as important and lasting as Susie’s ingénue parts.

It wasn’t a case of love at first sight—but they had much in common, particularly their being on just about the same rung of the ladder of fame.

They began to see more and more of one another and discovered their tastes were delightfully similar. Neither liked the nightclub circuit, both liked to save money and they spent hours driving up the beach roads talking about their careers.

Jess was really more ambitious than Susan. He was (and is) a sensitive actor and he had had a greater sampling of real drama at that time than she.

In 1944, they were married, and to all outer appearances, very happy. They continued their simple manner of life, invested their money and continued to keep abreast in their careers. Then, gradually, so gradually that it was hardly important—Susan began to forge ahead. Success wasn’t a blinding thing, in her case. It came, picture by picture, year by year, until today she is one of the most important stars on the 20th lot.

And, picture by picture, year by year, until there were few and then no offers, Jess’ career moved backward.

A resentment he must really have felt against fate and himself, Jess began to take out on Susan. They fought frequently and he became very unreasonable about how she spent her money.

“But even then,” went on Susan, “there were many wonderful times of happiness between us, particularly after the boys were born.

“Jess can be so charming. He is handsome and young and no one has insisted louder than I that he has real ability as an actor.

“Recently, he has been getting some offers. I hope they keep coming for him. If so, I’m sure Jess will be himself again. He is easily discouraged and he had only three days’ work in his new picture.”

“If Jess does change, is there any chance of your taking him back, Susan?” I asked. “Perhaps he has learned his lesson.”

“No, no”, she cried, “Never. It’s too late. There have been too many ‘lessons,’ too many ‘new’ starts, too many times to forgive. When I could keep things to myself and no one else knew about it, I could take it. But this time there were not only the police, but we had a houseguest, Martha Little, staying with us. She is the sister of one of my old schoolmates from Brooklyn.

“Soon—just as soon as Jess signs the property settlement—I shall take the children to a ranch in Nevada and file for my divorce,” she said. And I knew she meant it. “Now that the end has come, I want it over as soon as possible.”

She picked up her bag and prepared to leave. She had talked as fully and as much as she could. The wounds were literally so fresh that she could go no further.

But as she rose she said, “There’s just one thing, Louella. Despite the sad memory of what brought on our final break, don’t be too bitter against Jess in the future. In every marriage breakup there are two sides, and I’m not pretending to paint myself as an angel and Jess as a devil.

“I have a temper and a hot tongue, and I work so hard I’m frequently tired and almost sick with nerves. Movie stars are never easy to live with, and no one knows that better than I.”

I said, “I suppose a psychiatrist might say that Jess’ sudden violence was a defense mechanism against living in a set of circumstances intolerable to a man’s pride, or perhaps a guilt complex from doing nothing about the situation.

“Perhaps, Susie,” I added as I walked with her to the door, “Jess’ violence was not really directed so much against you as it was against himself.”

“Maybe,” she replied softly, “I don’t know. I just know that my marriage is finished and done with—a sorry, shabby ending to many moments of happiness. My heart aches very much, but it is closed forever on the past.”



(Susan Hayward can be seen in 20th Century-Fox’s CinemaScope, Demetrius And The Gladiators.)



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