Academy Award-nominated actress Martha Hyer dies at 89
Martha Hyer and Frank Sinatra in Some Came Running.
Martha Hyer, one of the last studio glamour girls of the Golden Age of Hollywood, died May 31, 2014 at her Santa Fe home. She was 89 and had lived in Santa Fe since the mid-1980s.
A striking blonde who once turned down a date request from the young Sen. John F. Kennedy, she was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her work in 1958’s Some Came Running, an MGM film starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. She lost to Wendy Hiller, for her role in Separate Tables. Although she put on a good face during the remainder of the Oscars show, Martha Hyer later recalled that she went home and cried all night.
The Oscar nod did not help her career though, which started with a three-year contract at RKO in the early 1940s and ended with a series of forgettable cheap films made in both America and Europe.
She was born Aug. 10, 1924, in Fort Worth, Texas.. In her 1990 autobiography, Finding My Way, she described her childhood desire to be an actress and her love of film. “Movies were magic, our passport to outside,” she wrote.
For several years, she was unable to secure a toehold in Hollywood, although she worked in everything from Abbott and Costello Go To Mars to the B-adventure Yukon Gold and the African safari film The Scarlet Spear. She married the latter’s director, C. Ray Stahl, but the marriage quickly ended in divorce.
Her first big break came when she was cast as William Holden’s fiancée in Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. In her autobiography, she recalled Bogart as being helpful and selfless in his scenes with her.
However roles in pictures like Red Sundown, opposite Rory Calhoun, and Francis in The Navy, opposite Donald O’Connor and a talking mule, again stalled her career. She worked with Rock Hudson — whom she said was shallow and self-centered — in 1956’s Battle Hymn. In quick succession, she found herself playing straight woman to the likes of David Niven, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis in films that spotlighted their characters, not hers. She liked David Niven and Bob Hope, but not Jerry Lewis.
Some Came Running brought her critical acclaim. She wrote fondly of the experience, noting that MacLaine was “brilliant,” Sinatra “never better” and Martin “marvelous.” MacLaine received a best actress nomination for her work on the film.
Mostof Martha Hyer’s 1960s films were weak, including Bikini Beach, House of 1,000 Dolls and Picture Mommy Dead — “all ones I’d rather forget,” she wrote. She did secure a supporting role in Hal Wallis’ 1965 production The Sons of Katie Elder, but she again played second — or in this case, fifth — fiddle to a cast topped by John Wayne and Dean Martin.
She married Hal Wallis in December 1966. In her autobiography, she reflected on both his strong points and his weaknesses, including his tight-fisted approach to spending.
By her own admission, she became caught up in the high-living culture of the Hollywood lifestyle and began overspending. Shortly after she penned a first-person account of her lifestyle in a 1959 Life magazine article, she came home to find her Hollywood home robbed of all its goods. She later managed to pay ransom money to get some of her paintings back.
Worse was to come. By the early 1980s, Martha Hyer was in debt to loan sharks, to the tune of several million dollars. With her career behind her — her last film roles were in the early 1970s — she turned to God for help and found immediate solace and peace. In her memoir, she wrote: “God poured through me.”
Hal Wallis, as well as some lawyers and the FBI, helped Hyer work her way out of her financial mess.
She had visited New Mexico when Hal Wallis was here filming Red Sky at Morning, the 1971 movie version of Richard Bradford’s 1968 novel. “The Indians say Santa Fe is sacred ground. I believe it,” she wrote.
Hal Wallis died in 1986, and Martha then moved to Santa Fe shortly thereafter. “This country casts a spell and it never lets go,” she wrote.
She did become somewhat of a recluse in her later days, preferring to paint, hike and spend time with close friends.
“When you live with fame as a day-to-day reality, the allure of privacy and anonymity is as strong as the desire for fame for those who never had it,” she said. A film I like very much and Made in England at that is First Men In The Moon 1964 starring Lionel Jeffries, Martha Hyer and Edward Judd. Martha Hyer in a publicity still from the film.