MY LIFE IN THREE ACTS by Helen with Katherine Hatch Hayes


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Sketchy, undramatic, but often vivid reminiscences from ""the First Lady of the American Theatre,"" now 90 yet far from prim or sugary. Hayes balances affection with let's-face-facts tartness in recalling her stage-struck, alcoholic, emotionally needy mother--who, while firmly pushing cute little Helen into shows in Washington and N.Y., was nonintrusive, ""anything but a typical stage mother."" She gives credit to early mentors Lew Weber and Booth Tarkington, then quickly moves on to Broadway's dashing Charlie MacArthur (The Front Page), who--along with bedridden playwright Ned Sheldon, a legendary guru--""created the mature me, the mature actress."" But, after recounting her secret affair and blissful wedlock with barely divorced Charlie circa 1929, Hayes' memoir becomes more a montage of anecdotes and vignettes than a shapely life-story. Her distaste for Hollywood gets ample play, with mixed notices for such tinseltown chums as Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, and Chadie Chaplin (who ""could be an awful bore""). The MacArthurs preferred New York pals like the Lunts and Bea Lillie, though Clifford Odets ""was the most appalling house guest."" Furthermore, Hayes preferred stage to film: she offers choice backstage tidbits from Victoria Regina (1935) to the 1970's, including her 1950's run-in with Richard Burton, who ""cared only for himself"" and had noisy dressing-room liaisons with Susan Strasberg. (""I was the unwilling voyeur--or auditeur, if that's the word--of their intermission couplings."") As for her private life, Hayes is candid about husband Charlie's alcoholism, restrained yet tender about her young daughter's death, pleasantly chatty about homes in Nyack and Mexico. Only when railing against mumbling, Method-y actors does the tone turn sour. Otherwise: by no means a bountiful or richly involving autobiography, but an agreeable grab-bag with lots of no-nonsense appeal.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1990
ISBN: 078615067X
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich