Real name: Edythe Marrenner
Birthdate: June 30, 1918
Partner: Floyd Eaton Chalkley
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Hayward was born Edythe Marrenner in Brooklyn, New York to Walter Marrenner and Ellen Pearson. Her maternal grandparents were from Sweden. She began her career as a photographer's model. She went to Hollywood in 1937, aiming to secure the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Her screen name was chosen by her management because it was "as close to Rita Hayworth as we can get away with."
Although she was not given the role, Hayward found employment playing bit parts until she was cast in Beau Geste (1939) opposite Gary Cooper. During the war years, she played leading lady to John Wayne twice, in Reap the Wild Wind (1942) and The Fighting Seabees (1944). She also starred in the film version of The Hairy Ape (1944). Later in 1955, she was cast by Howard Hughes to play Bortai in the historical epic The Conqueror, again opposite John Wayne.
After the war, she established herself as one of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies in films such as Tap Roots (1948), My Foolish Heart (1949), David and Bathsheba (1951), and With a Song in My Heart (1952).
In 1947, she received the first of her five Academy Award nominations for her role of the alcoholic and fast-rising night-club singer in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman.
She received good reviews for her performance in a Las Vegas production of Mame, but left the production because she felt unprepared for the demands the role made on her voice. She blamed herself for not wanting to spend the money on voice lessons that might have allowed her to keep the role. She was replaced by the talented, but prickly Oscar-winning actress and singer Celeste Holm. Hayward warned Holm that if she mistreated the "great" company she was joining, then she (Hayward) would "kick your a** back to Toledo" (though Holm was not a Toledo native).
Hayward died at age 57 on March 14, 1975, of pneumonia-related complications of her brain cancer, having survived considerably longer than doctors had originally predicted. She was cremated and buried next to her second and final husband, Eaton Chalkley, with whom she had converted to Roman Catholicism, in Carrollton, Georgia. She was survived by her two sons. Chalkley was by all accounts the love of Hayward's life, and they had lived together happily in Carrollton for years before his death in 1966.
Some theorize that Hayward’s cancer was a result of having been exposed to nuclear fallout during the filming of The Conqueror (1956) near St. George, Utah. Fellow cast members John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead also died of cancer. During the 13 weeks of filming in the summer of 1955, the cast and crew were probably dusted with the fallout from the Zucchini test (May 15, 1955) and possibly the Tesla test (March 1, 1955). By this time, St. George had already received most of the fallout that would later make it the most famous of the "downwinder" cities (see DOE/NV 374).
However, the number of cases of cancer detected (91) and the number of deaths from cancer (46) in the cast and crew (220) are in line with the average lifetime risk of cancer in whites (around 40%) and the average lifetime risk of dying of cancer for whites (around 20%), as published by the National Cancer Institute SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2001.