Helen Hayes' career in entertainment surpasses
most others in years as well as in achievements. She began acting
at the age of five and didn't stop until she was 85. Helen is
one of only two women to receive all four prestigious entertainment
awards: a Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy. In 1983, the Helen Hayes
Awards were established, encouraging other aspiring actors and
actresses to reach for their goals as she had done.
Helen's childhood was a whirlwind of emotion. Her mother, Essie,
was an aspiring actress who was happiest when she was in the midst
of theater excitement. She would go on tour for weeks and come
home with lively stories, but days later she turned to drinking
to suppress her boredom with life at home. In her autobiography,
Helen says her mother told hilarious stories about her life on
the road. "She found humor everywhere - except in the tiny world
where her drab marriage and dreary motherhood had trapped her."
Essie found her daughter to be an outlet for her lack of success
on stage, busily pushing Helen toward a career that would make
Helen's father, Frank Brown, was Essie's opposite. He was laid-back
and easily satisfied, happy with a family and a home. He could
be the reason for Helen's unconventional attitude. Most women
who starred alongside her were pretentious and grandiose, while
Helen was more natural and sincere. Helen wrote about her father
in On Reflection:
"In harmony with the world, he was in perpetual discord with his
restless wife. He was dear and I adored him, but I can quite understand
how enraging his passivity must have been to the seething woman
who was my mother."
Essie decided that her daughter would go to Holy Cross Academy,
not because she was devout, but because they did not require her
daughter to have the smallpox vaccination that would "mutilate"
her. Luckily for Helen, the nuns at school greatly appreciated
theater. Helen's first role was Peaseblossom in the school's production
of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Helen's professional career began when Lew
Fields, of the comedy team Weber and Fields, saw her impersonation
of the Gibson Girl from Ziegfeld Follies.