Filled Under: Sterling Hayden
Sterling Hayden (March 26, 1916 – May 23, 1986) was an American actor, author, sailor, and WWII marine and commando. During his career as a Hollywood leading man Hayden specialized in westerns and film noir.
Sterling Hayden was born Sterling Relyea Walter on March 26, 1916 in Montclair, New Jersey, to George and Frances Walter. After his parents died, he was adopted at age nine by James Hayden and renamed Sterling Walter Hayden. He grew up in coastal towns of New England, and as a child lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Maine. Hayden dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen and took a job as mate on a schooner. He worked as a fisherman, seaman, and fireman on numerous vessels before earning his first command at age twenty-two, skippering the square rigger Florence C. Robinson. He sailed around the world a number of times, becoming a well-known and highly respected ship’s captain. Hayden had become a print model when at the urging of friends he met with producer Edward H. Griffith who signed him to a Paramount contract in 1940. After signing Paramount dubbed Hayden “The Most Beautiful Man in the Movies” and “The Beautiful Blond Viking God.” His first film with the studio was “Virginia” in 1941 which also starred Madeleine Carroll and Fred MacMurray.
After two film roles Hayden left Hollywood and joined the U.S. Marine Corps as a private, under the name John Hamilton. While at Parris Island, he was recommended for Officer Candidate School and after graduation was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was transferred to service as an undercover agent in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His World War II service included running guns and supplies to Yugoslav partisans through the German blockade of the Adriatic, as well as parachuting into Croatia for guerrilla activities, and establishing air crew rescue teams in enemy-occupied territory. He received the Silver Star for gallantry in action in the Balkans and Mediterranean, a Bronze Arrowhead device for parachuting behind enemy lines, and a commendation from Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito. Hayden left active duty on December 24, 1945.
After the war, Hayden returned to Hollywood and for most of his career as a leading man he specialized in westerns and film noir such as “El Paso” (1949), “Manhandled” (1949), “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), “Denver & Rio Grande” (1952), “Flaming Feather” (1952), “Johnny Guitar” (1954), “Naked Alibi” (1954), and “The Killing” (1956). Late in his career Hayden became noted as a character actor for such roles as Gen. Jack D. Ripper in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964); the Irish American policeman, Captain McCluskey, in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972); and the novelist Roger Wade in “The Long Goodbye” (1973).
Hayden never lost his love of the sea and spent much of his time sailing the world between making movies. He often professed a distaste for film acting, claiming he did it mainly to pay for his ships and voyages. In 1969 Hayden bought a canal barge in the Netherlands, 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, California. After his appearance in “The Godfather”, Hayden 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. Sterling Hayden also wrote two highly acclaimed books, an autobiography, Wanderer in 1962, and a novel Voyage in 1976.
Hayden was married five times. His first marriage was to actress Madeleine Carroll after the couple met and fell in love while filming “Virginia” in 1941. They were married on February 14, 1942 and divorced May 8, 1946. His next three marriages were to the same woman, Betty Ann de Noon. From 1947 to 1958 the couple were married and divorced three times. They had four children together. His last marriage was to Catherine Devine McConnell on March 9, 1960. Hayden and McConnell had two children together and remained married until his death in 1986.
Sterling Hayden died of prostate cancer in Sausalito, California in 1986, age 70.