Sterling Hayden

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Sterling Hayden
Sterling Hayden 1953.jpg
Hayden in 1953
Sterling Relyea Walter

(1916-03-26)March 26, 1916
DiedMay 23, 1986(1986-05-23) (aged 70)
Other namesSterling Walter Hayden
John Hamilton
Years active1941–1982
Height6 ft 5 in (196 cm)
Spouse(s)Madeleine Carroll (1942–1946)
Betty Ann de Noon (1947–1958)
Catherine Devine McConnell (1960–1986)
RelativesScott McConnell (stepson)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service1941-45
RankUS Marine O3 shoulderboard.svg Captain
UnitOffice of Strategic Services
Battles/warsWorld War II

Sterling Walter Hayden (born Sterling Relyea Walter; March 26, 1916 – May 23, 1986) was an American actor, author, sailor and decorated Marine Corps officer and an Office of Strategic Services' agent during World War II. A leading man for most of his career, he specialized in westerns and film noir throughout the 1950s, in films such as John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954), and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). He became noted for supporting roles in the 1960s, perhaps most memorably as General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Hayden's success continued into the New Hollywood era, with roles such as Irish-American policeman Captain McCluskey in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972), alcoholic novelist Roger Wade in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), and elderly peasant Leo Dalcò in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976). With a distinctive "rapid-fire baritone" voice and standing at 6 ft 5 in (196 cm),[2][3] he had a commanding screen presence in both leading and supporting roles.


Youth and education[edit]

Hayden was born March 26, 1916, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, to George and Frances Walter, who named him Sterling Relyea Walter.[4][5] After his father died, he was adopted at age 9 by James Hayden and renamed Sterling Walter Hayden. As a child he lived in coastal towns of New England,[6] and in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Maine. He attended Wassookeag School in Dexter, Maine.

Hayden dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and took a job as mate on a schooner.[1] His first voyage was to Newport Beach, California, from New London, Connecticut.[6] Later, he was a fisherman on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, ran a charter yacht, and served as a fireman on 11 trips to Cuba aboard a steamer.[6]

He skippered a trading schooner in the Caribbean after earning his master's license, and in 1937 he served as mate on a world cruise of the schooner Yankee.[6] After serving as sailor and fireman on larger vessels and sailing around the world several times, he was awarded his first command at age 22, skippering the square rigger Florence C. Robinson 7,700 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts, to Tahiti in 1938.[6][7][8] Hayden spoke of his nautical experiences before the monthly meeting of the Adventurers' Club of New York on March 21, 1940.[9]

Early Hollywood years[edit]

In 1938 Hayden's photo was taken during the annual Gloucester, Massachusetts, Fishermen's Race. It went on the cover of a magazine prompting Paramount Pictures to call and offer a screen test. Hayden did a test in New York with Jeanne Cagney, James Cagney's sister. Hayden:

I was completely lost, ignorant, nervous. But the next thing I knew, Paramount made me a seven-year contract beginning at $250 a week, which was astronomical. I got my lovely old mother and bought a car, and we drove to California... I was so lost then I didn't think to analyze it. I said, 'This is nuts, but, damned, it's pleasant.' I had only one plan in mind: to get $5,000. I knew where there was a schooner, and then I'd haul ass.[10]

Hayden went to Paramount in May 1940.[11]

Paramount dubbed the 6 ft 5 in (196 cm) actor "The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies" and "The Beautiful Blond Viking God".

His first film, Virginia (1941), directed by Edward H. Griffith, starred Madeleine Carroll whom he married. He, Griffith and Carroll were reunited in Bahama Passage (1941).

In December 1941, it was reported that he had quit Hollywood saying "I'm no actor! I'm a sailor."[12]

War service[edit]

After two film roles, he left Hollywood to fight in World War II. He enlisted in the Army and was sent to Scotland for training, but broke his ankle and was discharged.[13]

He returned to the US and tried to buy a half-interest in a schooner but could not raise the money. He joined the United States Marine Corps as a private, under the name John Hamilton, an alias he never used otherwise. While at Parris Island, he was recommended for Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After graduation from OCS, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and was transferred to service as an undercover agent with William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan's Office of the Coordinator of Information. He remained there after it became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).[14][15][16]

As OSS agent John Hamilton, his World War II service included sailing with supplies from Italy to Yugoslav partisans and parachuting into fascist Croatia. Hayden, who also participated in the Naples–Foggia campaign and established air crew rescue teams in enemy-occupied territory, became a first lieutenant on September 13, 1944, and a captain on February 14, 1945.

He received the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the Balkans and Mediterranean (according to his citation, "Lt. Hamilton displayed great courage in making hazardous sea voyages in enemy-infested waters and reconnaissance through enemy-held areas"), a Bronze Arrowhead device for parachuting behind enemy lines, and a commendation from Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito. He left active duty on December 24, 1945.[16] Tito awarded him the Order of Merit.[17]

Return to Hollywood[edit]

He returned to the US and told the press "I feel a real obligation to make this a better country – and I believe the movies are the place to do it."[18]

Hayden returned to Paramount and was cast as one of several brothers in an aviation film, Blaze of Noon (1947). The studio suspended him when he turned down a role in The Sainted Sisters.[19]

Hayden made two films for Pine Thomas Productions who distributed through Paramount: a western, El Paso (1949), supporting John Payne; and Manhandled (1949), a thriller with Dorothy Lamour.

The Red Scare[edit]

Hayden's admiration for the Communist partisans he had fought alongside during World War II led him into a brief membership in the Communist Party from 1946.[13]

He was apparently active in supporting an effort by the Communist-controlled motion picture painters union to absorb other film industry unions.[20] As the Red Scare deepened in the US, he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about his brief Communist Party membership and "named names".[4]

He later said "the FBI made it very clear to me that, if I became an 'unfriendly witness', I could damn well forget the custody of my children. I didn't want to go to jail, that was the other thing."[10]

Hayden testified that joining the Party was "the stupidest and most ignorant thing I have ever done in my life".[13] He added that he had quit the party but been persuaded to return by Karen Morley.[13]

His wife at that time, Betty de Noon (m 1947),[21] insisted that the names Hayden provided were already in the hands of the committee, which had a copy of the party's membership list.[citation needed]

Hayden expressed remorse, however, over his testimony before, stating in his autobiography, "I don't think you have the foggiest notion of the contempt I have had for myself since the day I did that thing."[4]

Film career[edit]

Hayden's career received a boost when cast by John Huston in the starring role in MGM's heist thriller, The Asphalt Jungle (1950). It was only a minor hit but was highly regarded critically and established Hayden as a leading man.

He played a minister who doubts his faith in Journey into Light (1951), then supported Bette Davis in The Star (1952). It was not a large success but Flaming Feather (1952), a Western, did well.

He followed it with a series of action films: Denver and Rio Grande (1952), a Western, for Paramount; Hellgate (1952), another Western; The Golden Hawk (1952), a pirate swashbuckler for producer Sam Katzman; Flat Top (1952), a Korean War drama; Fighter Attack (1953), a World War II film.[22]

In 1952, while divorcing his second wife, the court heard Hayden made $100,000 the previous year.[23]

Hayden then starred in So Big (1953), a melodrama from an Edna Ferber novel starring Jane Wyman, then it was back to medium budget action films: Take Me to Town (1953), a Western with Ann Sheridan; Kansas Pacific (1953), a Western for Walter Mirisch; Crime Wave (1954), a film noir.[24]

He had a support role in a big studio picture, Prince Valiant (1954), playing Sir Gawain, then returned to more conventional material with Arrow in the Dust (1954). Johnny Guitar (1954) was another Western, but this one starred Joan Crawford and was directed by Nick Ray; it was a box office hit and became a cult favorite. It was financed by Republic Pictures, which used Hayden on several occasions.[25]

There were some film noirs: Naked Alibi (1954) with Gloria Grahame and Suddenly (1954) with Frank Sinatra. Then it was action: Battle Taxi (1954), a Korean War movie; Timberjack (1955), a Western for Republic; Shotgun (1955), a Western with Yvonne de Carlo; The Eternal Sea (1955), a World War II naval story; Top Gun (1955), a Western for producer Edward Small.

The Last Command (1955) was the story of the Alamo for Republic, with Hayden as Jim Bowie. The Come On (1956) was a film noir with Anne Baxter. Hayden also began appearing on TV shows such as Celebrity Playhouse.

The Killing[edit]

Hayden was cast in a heist film which turned out to be a classic: The Killing (1956), an early work from director Stanley Kubrick.

He remained a "B picture" star though: Crime of Passion (1957), a noir; 5 Steps to Danger (1957), a mystery film; Valerie (1957), a Western "noir"; Zero Hour! (1957), a disaster film; Gun Battle at Monterey (1957), a Western; The Iron Sheriff (1957), a Western for Edward Small; Ten Days to Tulara (1958), an adventure film; Terror in a Texas Town (1958), a Western.[26]

He also worked frequently on television, appearing on shows such as Zane Grey Theater, Wagon Train, General Electric Theater, Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Goodyear Theatre, and The DuPont Show of the Month.


Hayden often professed distaste for film acting, saying he did it mainly to pay for his ships and voyages. In 1958, after a bitter divorce from Betty Ann de Noon, Hayden was awarded custody of his children.[27] He defied a court order and sailed to Tahiti with all four children, Christian, Dana, Gretchen and Matthew.[28]

"I'd had it", he said. "One way or another, I felt that I had sold out – or failed – at almost everything in my whole life. It was either turn things around or hang myself."[29]

The crew sailed from San Francisco Bay to Tahiti, where Hayden had planned to film a movie. Hayden also invited well-known photographer Dody Weston Thompson along to document the trip and to help shoot location choices. Her South Seas folio contains photographs of Hayden's schooner, The Wanderer; on-deck photos of life aboard the ship; colorful prints of his children, Tahitian women and children; and unique artifacts on shore. The film never materialized; however, according to Dody's notes, U.S. Camera and Travel printed her photographs of paradise in 1961. Marin County Superior Court Judge Harold Haley later ordered Hayden to repay Republic Pictures nearly $50,000 to recover the cost of financing the trip.[30]

In 1960, he married Catherine Devine McConnell. They had two sons, Andrew and David, and were married until his death in 1986. McConnell also had a son (Scott McConnell) from her first marriage to Neil McConnell, an heir to Avon's founding family.

In November 1960 he said he was a "sailor or writer" rather than an actor.[31]

In the early 1960s, Hayden rented one of the pilot houses of the retired ferryboat Berkeley, docked in Sausalito, California, where he lived while writing his autobiography Wanderer, which was first published in 1963.[4]

Later career[edit]

In 1964, Hayden appeared in A Carol for Another Christmas on television. The same year he played one of his best-known characters, the deranged General Jack D. Ripper in the Kubrick-directed Dr. Strangelove.

Hayden bought a canal barge in the Netherlands in 1969, eventually moving it to the heart of Paris and living on it part of the time. He also shared a home in Wilton, Connecticut, with his family and had an apartment in Sausalito.

He returned to filmmaking with Hard Contract (1969), supporting James Coburn and Loving (1970), co-starring George Segal and Eva Marie Saint.

"I'll go back to Hollywood to pick up a dollar, but that's all", he said. "Everything is wrong with that city."[32]

Hayden went to Europe where he appeared in Ternos Caçadores (1970), Angel's Leap (1971) and Le grand départ (1972). He had small but important roles in The Godfather (1972) and The Long Goodbye (1973).

He made some films in Europe: The Final Programme (1973), Deadly Strangers (1975), Cipolla Colt (1975) and 1900 (1975). He was offered the role of "Quint" in Jaws (1975) but turned it down.[33]

In the 1970s, after his appearance in The Godfather, he appeared several times on NBC's Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, where he talked about his career resurgence and how it had funded his travels and adventures around the world. He also appeared on the Canadian sci-fi TV series The Starlost, and the U.S. detective show Banacek.

He returned to Hollywood for King of the Gypsies (1978), Winter Kills (1979), The Outsider (1980), 9 to 5 (1980), Gas (1981), Venom (1981) and The Blue and the Gray (1982).

In 1981, he was arrested for possession of hashish at Toronto International Airport.[34]

Hayden wrote two acclaimed books: an autobiography, Wanderer (1962), and a novel, Voyage (1976). He said they made him "a lot of money" but he lost most of it to taxes.[35]

In 1983, he appeared in a documentary of his life, Pharos of Chaos.[36]


Hayden was married three times.

  • Madeleine Carroll, 1942–1946.
  • Betty Ann de Noon, 1947–1958. They had four children, Christian, Dana, Gretchen and Matthew.
  • Catherine Devine McConnell, 1960–1986. They had two children, Andrew and David.


Hayden died of prostate cancer in Sausalito in 1986, age 70.[1]

Military awards[edit]

Hayden received the following awards during World War II:

Silver Star Medal
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Arrowhead Device and 1 bronze service star
World War II Victory Medal

References in popular culture[edit]

In the film Three Days of the Condor (Sydney Pollack, 1975), two veteran CIA officers were reminiscing about their past. Higgins (Cliff Robertson) asked Mr. Wabash, "You served with Col. Donovan in the OSS, didn't you, sir?" Wabash (John Houseman) replies, "I sailed the Adriatic with a movie star at the helm. It doesn't seem like much of a war now, but it was."

In 2011 the American singer-songwriter Tom Russell released the song "Sterling Hayden" on his album Mesabi.

Hayden, under his nom de guerre Lieutenant John Hamilton, and his role as an OSS agent play a secondary part in the 2012 novel Death's Door: A Billy Boyle World War II mystery by author James R. Benn. Hayden/Hamilton assists in getting protagonist Billy Boyle through German-occupied Italy.[37]



  • Wanderer. New York: Knopf. 1963. ISBN 1-57409-048-8.
  • Voyage: A Novel of 1896. New York: Putnam. 1976. ISBN 0-399-11665-6.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Krebs, Albin (May 24, 1986). "Sterling Hayden Dead at 70; an Actor, Writer and Sailor". The New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2017.
  2. ^ Rutz, Paul X. (April 17, 2017). "Troubled Waters". HistoryNet.
  3. ^ Hayden 1977, p. 224
  4. ^ a b c d Hayden 1998, pp. 65–66, 76, 354
  5. ^ United States Census for 1920, Montclair Town, Essex County, New Jersey, p. Sheet 6B
  6. ^ a b c d e "Sterling Hayden Gives Up Sailing, Settles For Movie Career, Family". Toledo Blade. January 14, 1951. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  7. ^ Hayden 1977, pp. 225–227
  8. ^ "New in the News", Boys' Life, Feb 1939, p. 25
  9. ^ "Report of the March Meeting." The Adventurer, April 1940.
  10. ^ a b Peary, Gerald (February 3, 1984). "Sterling Hayden's a seadog at heart". The Globe and Mail. p. E.3.
  11. ^ "Mariner to Sail Film Seas". The Christian Science Monitor. May 9, 1940. p. 14.
  12. ^ "The Real Reason Why Sterling Hayden Quit Hollywood". Photoplay. 1941. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d "Sterling Hayden Was a Red; 'Stupidest Thing I Ever Did'". -New York Times. April 11, 1951. p. 1.
  14. ^ "Chef Julia Child, others, part of World War II spy network". Associated Press. August 14, 2008. Archived from the original on August 22, 2008.
  15. ^ Schlesinger, Robert (August 20, 2008). "Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Not-So-Secret Career as a Spy". US News and World Report. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  16. ^ a b Schuon, Karl (1963). U. S. Marine Corps Biographical Dictionary. Watts. pp. 99–100. OCLC 1360534.
  17. ^ "Yugoslavs Reward Sterling Hayden in Toting Guns to Tito". The Washington Post. Associated Press. February 16, 1946. p. 9.
  18. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (April 21, 1946). "Sterling Hayden Returns From War With New Ideal". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  19. ^ Schallert, Edwin (October 9, 1947). "DRAMA AND FILM: Sterling Hayden Joins Suspended Star List". Los Angeles Times. p. A9.
  20. ^ Meroney, John, "Left in the Past", Los Angeles Times Magazine, February 2012.
  21. ^ "Sterling Hayden Weds on Coast". The New York Times. April 26, 1947. p. 10.
  22. ^ "Sterling Hayden In Prison Film". The Christian Science Monitor. November 21, 1952. p. 9.
  23. ^ "Sterling Hayden Sued by Wife for 4 Children". Los Angeles Times. November 27, 1952. p. 4.
  24. ^ "Drama: 'Kansas Pacific' Will Star Sterling Hayden". Los Angeles Times. June 11, 1952. p. A10.
  25. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR (July 6, 1954). "TO DO A WESTERN: Film, to Be Made Next Year, Will End His Commitments With Allied Artists". The New York Times. p. 19.
  26. ^ Schallert, Edwin (April 11, 1957). "Sterling Hayden to Do Dual Starring; Pavlowa Proposed for Charisse". Los Angeles Times. p. A13.
  27. ^ "Actor Sterling Hayden to Keep Four Children"; Los Angeles Times; January 16, 1959: 26.
  28. ^ "HOLLYWOOD: To Break Out". Time. New York. February 9, 1959. Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  29. ^ Thackrey, Ted, Jr (May 24, 1986). "Former OSS Agent, Sea Captain Actor Sterling Hayden Dies at 70". Los Angeles Times (Home ed.). p. 1.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ "Film Actor Handed $49,518 Judgment". Reading Eagle. Reading, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. August 6, 1961. p. 12. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  31. ^ "Blue Book Upsets Sterling Hayden". Los Angeles Times. November 24, 1960. p. 7.
  32. ^ "Obituaries: 'Strangelove' star Sterling Hayden, 70". Chicago Tribune. May 24, 1986. p. A12.
  33. ^ Base, Ron (February 1, 1981). "Movies: Sterling Hayden: Still afloat after stormy seas". Chicago Tribune. p. d13.
  34. ^ "Sterling Hayden faces drug count". The Globe and Mail. April 17, 1981. p. 4.
  35. ^ Roderick Mann (December 26, 1978). "Sterling Hayden: The Beard Must Remain". Los Angeles Times. p. g10.
  36. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 13, 1983). "A Profile of Sterling Hayden". The New York Times. p. C.13.
  37. ^ Benn, James R. (2012). Deaths Door: A Billy Boyle World War II mystery. New York City: Soho Press. ISBN 978-1-61695-185-6.


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