Virginia Barton

First lady of theatre

Catholic Herald, 12 April 1991


 Review: My Life in Three Acts by Helen Hayes (Peter Owen, £16.95)


Over 80,000 copies of this ghosted autobiography have been sold in the States. Like the Queen Mother, Helen Hayes, First Lady of the American stage, was born in 1900.

Here, she is probably best known for two memorable film cameo roles: as the grandmother Mrs. Quonsett, who stows away in Airport, and as the dowager empress in Anastasia.

Helen-Hayes-in-her-Hanna-Theatre-role-of-a-young-Queen-Victoria-during-the-1937-production-of-Victoria-Regina_Older readers will recall her very successful portrayal of the Queen in Victoria Regina, a play  that ran for years in the States, and enjoyed acclaim in London.

Helen Hayes was thrust upon the stage at the age of five by a difficult mother who lived vicariously through Helen’s success.

Everyone in the show-biz world makes a brief appearance in this book, from Chaplin and the Barrymores, to Joan Crawford and Ingrid Bergman. But they remain as insubstantial as celluloid and the anecdotes as fleeting as shadows; for there is no depth to a book that reads more like an engagement diary.

Rare moments of real feeling, as when her daughter Mary dies of polio, and a certain down to earthiness, redeem the tinsel and gossip. Helen Hayes’s career was crowned with honours and she worked like a dray horse. She is still at it,* actively promoting many different charities.


* Helen Hayes died in 1993.


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