They Called Him a Wanderer

Mr. and Mrs. Sterling HaydenEven though today is the date that 59 years ago Lana Turner married Bob Topping, we have another fascinating marriage to look into from yesterday, April 25th.  Sixty years ago, actor Sterling Hayden married Betty Ann de Noon, and it was to be the beginning of a tempestuous relationship in the life of the already intense thespian/soldier/seaman and inveterate wanderer, a word he himself used — and what he named his beloved schooner — when he wrote his acclaimed and still relevant autobiography back in 1963.

Like someone out of a 19th century seafaring adventure story, young Sterling hung around ships and sailors at the port near his Maine boyhood home, soon deciding that life at sea suited him and so he was off.  After making a name for himselfas a stalwart officer and getting command before he hit twenty, the handsome Hayden was lured to Hollywood where he signed up with Paramount and found himself cast in pair of movies, one of which co-starred the beautiful Madeleine Carroll, whom he married in 1942.  Just before the U.S. entered WWII, Sterling, obviously craving some genuine excitement and danger again instead of the synthetic Hollywood variety, turned his back on acting, enlisted under a pseudonym and went to work for the Coordinator of Information agency, later renamed the OSS.  His assignments took him into the European Theater, where his intelligence and daring served him well.  It was his work and friendship with Yugoslavian Communist rebels and his subsequent minor involvement in the Communist Party, which would lead to the episode he came to regret.

Hayden and Madeleine split up in 1946.  During the post-war HUAC hearings, Sterling Hayden came forward as a friendly witness, decrying his former Communist ties, testimony which he later recanted and regretted.  He resumed his Hollywood career in 1947, appearing in a steady stream of westerns and assorted action pictures, a reliable tough guy character actor just short of a genuine star.  As we mentioned before, 1947 was also the year he married the former Betty Ann de Noon, a classy blonde with movie-star looks who would eventually give him four children.  Betty would also give him nothing but trouble as it turned out, their on-again off-again relationship generating gossipy headlines as the pair divorced in 1953, remarried in 1954, divorced again in 1955, remarried again in 1956, and finally divorced for good in 1958. 

It’s pretty clear that Hayden’s real love was the sea; he was fond of saying that he only made movies to get enough money to buy boats, which he did, and then he sailed away on them.  Sterling and Betty not only actually lived on a boat for a time – and later he lived on a barge in Europe — but one of their nastiest times was the bitter custody struggle in which a boat was implicated.  After their final separation and divorce, Sterling outfitted his schooner Wanderer for a long around the world cruise, announcing his intention to take their four children with him on the The Not-So-Happy Sterling Haydensextended voyage.  Betty heard about it and took him to court; her legal victory to prevent the kids from going with him notwithstanding, Hayden loaded up the kids and the boat in January 1959 and headed to Tahiti, now essentially an outlaw.  Crew desertions, money troubles and other frustrated ambitions – he had planned to write about and make a documentary about the trip – forced Hayden to give up and return to the U.S. for more court battles. 

Sterling Hayden would marry again in 1960, but this time the marriage stuck, lasting until his death.  Professionally Hayden continued his movie career, appearing in over 70 movies all told and in a handful of unforgettable true classics, including John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, director Nicholas Ray’s audacious Joan Crawford vehicle Johnny Guitar, a pair of Kubrick vehicles, the first of which was 1956’s The Killing.  His second film for the director was the scathing satire Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb from 1964.  Hayden’s starring role as the dangerously paranoid and eccentric General Jack D. Ripper is one of the most memorable in all of modern cinema, and if there is any doubt whether the rugged and sometimes troubled (reports of hard drinking frequently surfaced) Sterling Hayden was a terrific actor, well, wonder no more. 

The intelligent and feisty Hayden also turned out to be, no surprise, an excellent author, his aforementioned autobiography still in print and a favorite today, and he also penned a novel in 1976.  Though he may not be quite as much of a household name today as other actors of his generation, Sterling Hayden was one of the most unique and genuine personalities to ever appear on screen.  He died in 1986 of cancer.

There are some fabulous Sterling Hayden materials on the web.  I highly recommend this terrific interview by Gerald Peary, this well-written appreciation of Hayden’s life by Chris J. Robinson, Sterling Hayden’s FBI Records, and author Jordan Hoffman’s suggestions for creating a Sterling Hayden Film Festival in your own home.  Plus his book Wanderer is definitely available to buy.

8 Responses They Called Him a Wanderer
Posted By Brockmeyer’s Girl : April 28, 2007 11:40 am

Thanks for this!  I bought "Wanderer" last year to read after seeing a snippet from it on the internet.  It was a great book, very well written and fascinating besides.  He has a very easy style of writing that is a joy to read, and his love of the sea comes through in every word.  Definitely recommended.

Posted By Brockmeyer’s Girl : April 28, 2007 11:40 am

Thanks for this!  I bought "Wanderer" last year to read after seeing a snippet from it on the internet.  It was a great book, very well written and fascinating besides.  He has a very easy style of writing that is a joy to read, and his love of the sea comes through in every word.  Definitely recommended.

Posted By Art H. : April 28, 2007 5:46 pm

My first encounter with Sterling Hayden was in a neat little B movie with Ruth Roman called "5 Steps to Danger". I thought he was pretty cool at the time – I was in high school – but I had no awareness of the really great films he had already made – "The Killing," "The Asphalt Jungle", the wildly over-the-top "Johnny Guitar." There weren't many male actors who could hold their own with divas like Joan Crawford and Ruth Roman but Hayden could. I was disappointed to learn later about his behavior during the McCarthy period but who knows what they would have done if they were living then? It's easy to be judgmental and brave from a safe distance. He got through all that but at a price I'm sure. Still, he went on to make some more movies that will stand the test of time – "Dr. Strangelove," Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye", "The Godfather", the highly underrated "Winter Kills"….and just for fun, "Zero Hour" which inspired "Airplane!"

Posted By Art H. : April 28, 2007 5:46 pm

My first encounter with Sterling Hayden was in a neat little B movie with Ruth Roman called "5 Steps to Danger". I thought he was pretty cool at the time – I was in high school – but I had no awareness of the really great films he had already made – "The Killing," "The Asphalt Jungle", the wildly over-the-top "Johnny Guitar." There weren't many male actors who could hold their own with divas like Joan Crawford and Ruth Roman but Hayden could. I was disappointed to learn later about his behavior during the McCarthy period but who knows what they would have done if they were living then? It's easy to be judgmental and brave from a safe distance. He got through all that but at a price I'm sure. Still, he went on to make some more movies that will stand the test of time – "Dr. Strangelove," Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye", "The Godfather", the highly underrated "Winter Kills"….and just for fun, "Zero Hour" which inspired "Airplane!"

Posted By Kasumii : February 25, 2009 12:01 pm

Is anyone researching Sterling Hayden’s TV career? I am working on a number of appearances. Contact me at:

kasumii_kenshirou@yahoo.com

Here is what I am looking for:

Films:

Sweet Hunters AKA Doux Chasseurs, Tendre Chasseurs (1969) Ruy Guerra
Le Grand Départ (1972) Martial Raysse
Leuchtturm Des Chaos AKA Pharos/Lighthouse of Chaos (1983) Wolf-Eckart Bühler
Documentary
Der Havarist AKA The Wanderer (1984) Wolf-Eckart Bühler Biographical Film

TV:

Celebrity Playhouse – Girl at Large (06/19/1956)
General Electric Theater – The Iron Horse (11/24/1957)
Playhouse 90 – A Sound of Different Drummers (10/03/1957)
Playhouse 90 – Topaze (09/27/1958) (Host)
Playhouse 90 – The Last Man (01/09/1958)
Playhouse 90 – The Day of Wine and Roses (10/02/1958) (Host)
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars – East of the Moon (02/14/1958)
Playhouse 90 – The Long March (10/16/1958)
Playhouse 90 – Old Man (11/20/1958)
Spotlight Playhouse – The Iron Horse (07/14/1959)
The DuPont Show of the Month – Ethan Frome (02/18/1960)

Interviews:

We The People (10/21/1941)
The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar (12/02/1959)
NBC Lee Phillips Daytime Talk Show (11/29/1963)
The Tommorrow Show (03/25/1977)
The Stanley Siegel Show (03/26/1977)
The Tomorrow Show (1980)
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (10/25/1963)
The Tonight Show with Guest Host David Brenner (04/14/1977)

Thanks.

Posted By Kasumii : February 25, 2009 12:01 pm

Is anyone researching Sterling Hayden’s TV career? I am working on a number of appearances. Contact me at:

kasumii_kenshirou@yahoo.com

Here is what I am looking for:

Films:

Sweet Hunters AKA Doux Chasseurs, Tendre Chasseurs (1969) Ruy Guerra
Le Grand Départ (1972) Martial Raysse
Leuchtturm Des Chaos AKA Pharos/Lighthouse of Chaos (1983) Wolf-Eckart Bühler
Documentary
Der Havarist AKA The Wanderer (1984) Wolf-Eckart Bühler Biographical Film

TV:

Celebrity Playhouse – Girl at Large (06/19/1956)
General Electric Theater – The Iron Horse (11/24/1957)
Playhouse 90 – A Sound of Different Drummers (10/03/1957)
Playhouse 90 – Topaze (09/27/1958) (Host)
Playhouse 90 – The Last Man (01/09/1958)
Playhouse 90 – The Day of Wine and Roses (10/02/1958) (Host)
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars – East of the Moon (02/14/1958)
Playhouse 90 – The Long March (10/16/1958)
Playhouse 90 – Old Man (11/20/1958)
Spotlight Playhouse – The Iron Horse (07/14/1959)
The DuPont Show of the Month – Ethan Frome (02/18/1960)

Interviews:

We The People (10/21/1941)
The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar (12/02/1959)
NBC Lee Phillips Daytime Talk Show (11/29/1963)
The Tommorrow Show (03/25/1977)
The Stanley Siegel Show (03/26/1977)
The Tomorrow Show (1980)
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (10/25/1963)
The Tonight Show with Guest Host David Brenner (04/14/1977)

Thanks.

Posted By R Niemi : February 27, 2009 2:16 pm

I am looking for a DVD or VHS copy (if one exists) of Manfred Blank’s extremely rare documentary on Sterling Hayden: ‘Leuchtturm Des Chaos’ AKA Pharos/Lighthouse of Chaos (1983).

Can anyone out there help me?

rniemi@charter.net

Posted By R Niemi : February 27, 2009 2:16 pm

I am looking for a DVD or VHS copy (if one exists) of Manfred Blank’s extremely rare documentary on Sterling Hayden: ‘Leuchtturm Des Chaos’ AKA Pharos/Lighthouse of Chaos (1983).

Can anyone out there help me?

rniemi@charter.net

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