Hayden, Sterling


Hayden, Sterling
(1916–1986)
   Sterling Hayden was born in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1916, and would become a Hollywood leading man in the 1940s and 1950s. As a youngster he served as a mate on a schooner, and rose to become a ship’s captain by 1938. Blond, rugged, handsome, and six feet, five inches tall, Hayden was a model before making his film debut in Virginia (1941). The studio publicity department worked overtime in billing him as the “blond Viking god” of the movies. He gained further attention by marrying his costar in Virginia, Madeleine Carroll; the marriage lasted four years. Hayden enlisted in the marines in 1942 and subsequently became an undercover agent for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) behind enemy lines in Greece and Yugoslavia. (The OSS was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. ) Out of sympathy for the Yugoslav Communists with whom he was associated in the OSS, he joined the Communist Party after the war for six months. He returned in 1947 to Hollywood, where he used part of his earnings to buy his own sailing vessel. Three years later, he got his first really significant role, in John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle (1950), as a hard-nosed hoodlum. Because of his brief membership in the Communist Party in 1946, he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951. He avoided being blacklisted in Hollywood be serving as a “friendly witness,” that is, one who informed on associates in the film industry who he thought to be “fellow travelers” (Communist sympathizers). Hayden is quoted by Paul Boyer as expressing remorse for turning state’s evidence before HUAC, admitting that he had done so in order to “remove the cloud over my name,” and to avoid being consigned to oblivion by the film industry, as were other actors like Larry Parks (The Jolson Story). Becoming a member of the party, he confessed, was “the stupidest, most ignorant thing I have ever done in my life. I was the only person to buy a yacht and join the Communist Party in the same week. ” “The way to loyalty to one’s country,” he added sardonically at the time, was “down the muddy informer’s trail. ” His career hit another high point with his appearance in STANLEY KUBRICK’s THE KILLING (1956), about a racetrack heist, in which his role of the hardboiled gang leader had definite resonances of his similar part in The Asphalt Jungle. After that film and before The Killing, he played mostly second leads and made some cheap westerns which United Artists (UA) peddled to exhibitors for a flat rental fee of $100 apiece. So he was pleased when JAMES B. HARRIS, who was coproducing The Killing with Kubrick, offered him the lead in that film. Hayden’s agent, Bill Schifrin, was not so enthusiastic; not surprisingly, he had not heard of Stanley Kubrick at this early period in Kubrick’s career and inquired of Harris if it was Stanley Kramer (Not as a Stranger, 1955) who was directing the picture. Still, Hayden signed on. UA, which was releasing the movie, was equally unenthusiastic about Hayden, who was not considered a box-office draw by the studio moguls. In addition, his appearance before HUAC had discredited him in the film community, as much for “naming names” as for admitting that he once belonged to the Communist Party. UA declined to invest more than $200,000 in the film, because, in its view, that was all a Sterling Hayden movie was worth. Max Youngstein, UA’s production chief, informed Kubrick and Harris that they would have to find the rest of the financing on their own. Youngstein even suggested that they cut costs by replacing Hayden with an actor who was willing to do the picture for less than Hayden’s asking price of $40,000. “Nobody will know the difference,” he assured them, as JOHN BAXTER records in his Kubrick biography. Possibly because Kubrick remembered Hayden from The Asphalt Jungle, he was determined to keep Hayden. In addition, Harris believed enough in the project to invest $130,000 of his own money in the film. “It was the first time,” Kubrick told Gene Phillips, “that I could afford really good actors, like Sterling Hayden. ” The Killing is a caper film—a movie dealing with the planning and execution of a bigtime robbery. In this film, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) masterminds a robbery with a gang of down-at-the-heels losers, who are all desperately in need of cash and hope to make a pile of money by holding up a San Francisco racetrack.
   Kubrick portrays the holdup by means of fragmented flashbacks, as each member of the gang car-Elisha Cook Jr. , Sterling Hayden, and Jay C. Flippen in The Killing (1956) (Author’s collection) ries out his assigned role in the heist. From this point onward, Kubrick follows each separate strand of the robbery plot through to its completion, cutting from one gang member to another and doubling back each time to show how each of the elaborate plan’s elements is implemented simultaneously with all the others. Kubrick repeats the shots from the credit sequence of the horses getting into starting position for the seventh race each time he turns back the clock to develop a different step in the complex robbery plan, thereby situating the viewer temporally. Through a series of sudden and unforeseen mishaps, the members of Johnny’s gang are all killed in a shootout with a rival mob, who attempt to make off with the loot from the heist. Johnny, the only survivor of the caper, and his girl endeavor to make their getaway with the stolen money in a valise at San Francisco airport. But the rickety suitcase falls from a baggage truck, and they watch in dismay as the $2 million take is winnowed in aircraft slipstream. As the film ends, the stunned Johnny helplessly gives himself up to the two armed police detectives advancing toward him.
   Watching the rushes of the previous day’s shooting each night, Kubrick said, “I haven’t seen rushes like these since The Asphalt Jungle. ”Although Hayden personally found Kubrick at times cold and detached, he noted, “I have worked with few directors that good. He’s like the Russian documentarians, who could put the same footage together five different ways, so it really didn’t matter what the actors did—Stanley would know what to do with it. ” Nevertheless, Hayden’s confidence in the film was shaken when Bill Schifrin saw it at an early private screening. Schifrin complained to Kubrick that the fragmentary structure of the flashbacks made hash of his client’s performance, and ruefully warned that the film, if released in its present form, would damage Hayden’s career. Because Schifrin’s remarks implied a threat of litigation, Kubrick re-edited the picture in strict chronological order, with no flashbacks, in order to present the events as a conventional narrative, and thus allow the viewer to follow the action more easily. After viewing the results, however, Kubrick was more convinced than ever that it was the handling of the time sequence that made the original version of the film “more than just a good crime film. ” So he delivered the film to UA exactly as he had originally made it.
   The Killing has since earned the reputation of a classic film noir and, quite contrary to Schifrin’s warnings, gained positive praise for Hayden’s performance. Nevertheless, Hayden’s career did not flourish after the release of The Killing. Disappointed with some of the mediocre roles he was subsequently offered in minor films, he abandoned the screen in 1958 and returned to the sea, sailing to Tahiti with the four children from his second marriage aboard his schooner, The Wanderer. Asked why he left the screen, he remarks laconically in James Howard’s book on Kubrick’s films that there is nothing wrong with being an actor, “but there is everything wrong with achieving exalted status because one photographs well and can handle dialogue. ” His agent added that Hayden was born in the wrong century: “he should have been a sea captain in the 1800s. ” In the early 1960s, he lived on a houseboat in Paris, where he wrote an account of his voyage to the South Seas entitled The Wanderer, after his schooner. Kubrick had not forgotten Hayden, however, and offered him a key part in DR. STRANGELOVE (1964). Hayden played the deranged general, Jack D. Ripper, who orders a group of B-52 bombers to launch an aerial attack inside the Soviet Union. According to history professor Paul Boyer, Hayden’s character was based on the head of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) during the 1950s: “The cigar-chewing Curtis LeMay provided an easily recognizable prototype for the film’s fanatical General Jack D. Ripper. LeMay never met a bombing plan he didn’t like. ” In 1957 he declared to a congressional committee charged with investigating U. S. military policy that, if a Soviet attack ever seemed likely, he planned to “knock the shit out of them before they ever got off the ground,” according to Boyer. Reminded by the committee members that a preemptive first strike was not official government policy, he retorted,“No, it’s not official policy; but it’s my policy. ” (In addition, in Roger Donaldson’s film Thirteen Days [2000], which focuses on the Cuban missile crisis, General LeMay is correctly portrayed by Kevin O’Connor as advising President Kennedy to make a preemptive air strike on the missile sites in Cuba, followed by an invasion of the island. ) Hayden’s dialogue in the film, says Boyer, “caught the lingo” of the general.
   As Dr. Strangelove begins, Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake (PETER SELLERS), a British officer, is taking a telephone call from his immediate superior, General Ripper. Hayden appears in long shot, sitting at his desk with only a fluorescent lamp overhead to pierce the darkness. “The base is being put on Condition Red,” he informs Mandrake. “This is not an exercise. It looks like we are in a shooting war. My orders are to seal the base tight. ”Trapped in his office, Ripper resembles nothing so much as Adolf Hitler in his bunker during the last days of the Third Reich. Hayden, says one critic, plays this scene with exquisite conviction.
   This gripping scene continues as the guards and enlisted men at Burpelson stand in little groups around the base, tensely listening to Ripper’s proclamation of the red alert over the public-address system. In several of these shots, the SAC motto can be seen posted prominently in the background: “Peace is our profession. ” This banner appears on the wall behind General Ripper as he sits at his desk making his speech, grasping a cigar in one hand and a slender hand microphone in the other. Ripper, who we shall shortly learn has severe sexual problems, is here shown sporting a phallic symbol in each hand. “Your Commie has no regard for human life, not even for his own,” Ripper announces with foreboding. “The enemy may even come in the uniform of our own troops. ” Later on, when President Merkin Muffley (also played by Peter Sellers) orders U. S. troops to break into Burpelson Air Force Base and put Ripper in immediate telephone communication with him, this is precisely what the general assumes has happened.
   Mandrake desperately attempts to dissuade Ripper from initiating the bombing attack, but to no avail. “A decision is being made by the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the War Room of the Pentagon,” Ripper says to Mandrake,” and when they realize that there is no possibility of recalling the wing, there will be only one course of action open: total commitment. ” Ripper condescends to reveal to Mandrake some of his reasons for putting Plan R (the red alert) into action. “Clemenceau once said that war was too important to be left to the generals. But today war is too important to be left to the politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination,Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. ”
   As Ripper, Hayden is grimly realistic as he goes on to describe in this and later scenes his fears about preserving his male potency, to which he refers as his “precious bodily fluids” or his “bodily essence. ” Kubrick photographs him in close-up from below, with a huge phallic cigar between his teeth all the while he is talking. As we stare at close range at his face,we almost feel that Kubrick is taking us into the twisted mind of this man.
   Kubrick himself states in Phillips’s book that the serious threat remains that a psychotic figure somewhere in the command structure could start a war. Even if it involved only a limited exchange of nuclear weapons, he believed that it could devastate large areas. “I’m not entirely assured that somewhere in the Pentagon’s . . . upper echelons there does not exist the real-life prototype of General Jack D. Ripper. ” President Muffley orders a detachment of soldiers to invade Burpelson Air Force Base and force General Ripper to phone him. Meanwhile, back at the base, Ripper sits forlornly listening to the approaching gunfire outside his citadel, which is proving more and more pregnable by the minute, and talking to Mandrake, who is at a loss to know how to reach his commanding officer, sunk as he is in the depths of his psychosis. Mandrake adopts a tentative, patronizing manner, seeking to ingratiate himself with Ripper to the point where the general will confide to him the secret code prefix that will enable him to recall the wing. Instead Ripper begins to reveal to him the full range of his paranoid psychosexual complex. Ripper launches into an extended, complicated monologue. Sterling Hayden remembered experiencing Kubrick’s abiding respect for good actors while he was filming this scene. His first day of filming was torture; he found that he could not handle the technical jargon in his lines, as he states in Phillips’s book. “I was nervous, scared, did forty-eight takes,” he continues. “I was utterly humiliated. ” He expected Kubrick to explode at him; instead,Kubrick was gentle and calmed him. “He told me,‘The terror on your face may yield just the quality we want, and if it doesn’t, the hell with it. We’ll shoot the thing over. ’ He was beautiful. A lot of directors like to see an actor wallow. Stanley wasn’t one of them. ” Throughout this scene Hayden clearly overshadows Sellers, who is really just a straight man feeding him cues. Hayden’s monologue represents not only one of his finest moments on the screen, but also one of the most memorable scenes in the entire movie. Consequently it deserves to be presented here in some detail:
   “Mandrake, do you realize that the Commies drink vodka but never water? Yet water is the source of all life. Seventy percent of you is water, and we need fresh water to replenish our bodily fluids. I drink only distilled water or grain alcohol of rainwater. Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived Communist plot we’ve ever had to face. ”
   Ripper is interrupted by a volley from the soldiers who are fighting their way into the building. He is fearless, unstoppable, as he grabs a machine gun and an ammunition belt which are hidden in his golf bag. “Mandrake, in the name of his majesty and the Continental Congress, come here and feed me this belt, boy!” he shouts, excited about being in a shooting war. “Come on, Mandrake, the Redcoats are coming,” he yells with the logic of a lunatic. He blasts away with a few rounds of ammunition at the advancing troops which he thinks are Communist soldiers disguised in American uniforms. Ripper then continues explaining his decision to launch a nuclear attack, all the while sucking on a cigar: “Do you realize that there are studies under way to fluoridate salt, flour, milk, even children’s ice cream, Mandrake?” Ripper first became aware that there was an international Communist conspiracy to poison the drinking water “during the physical act of love. A profound sense of fatigue, a great sense of emptiness followed. Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly as a loss of essence. ” In other words, in his frantic effort to explain away his impotency, Ripper has applied his ongoing paranoid suspicions of Russian conspiracies to his situation and convinced himself that the blame even for his sexual inadequacy can be laid at the door of the Russians.
   By now Burpelson’s defense force has surrendered. “My boys have let me down,” Ripper moans disconsolately, sitting in the middle of the chaos that was once his office. His cigar, which has, significantly, gone out, wilts limply between his tight lips; his sickly face is covered with perspiration. “They are going to be in here soon,” he mumbles. “I don’t know how I would stand up under torture. They might force the code out of me. ”“Give me the code and I’ll keep it from them,” says Mandrake spiritedly, snatching at any possibility of getting Ripper to confide in him.
   But the general only lumbers on, in the grip of his madness. “I believe in a life hereafter, and I know I can answer for what I have done. ” Having relinquished his cigar, Ripper takes yet another phallic symbol in hand, a loaded pistol, and retreats into the bathroom, where he blows his brains out—as if he were unconsciously aping Adolf Hitler to the last. As with The Killing, Hayden drew excellent notices for his performance in Dr. Strangelove. Robert Brustein sums up Hayden’s performance by commenting that it is deliciously mad: “his eyes fanatically narrowed, his teeth clenched on a huge cigar, as he drawls to his aide” his motivation for his irrational actions.
   Biographers Morgan and Perry write that Hayden’s “two finest performances were for Stanley Kubrick in the pulp thriller The Killing and in the dark satire Dr. Strangelove. ” He was at his best in unsavory roles, as in The Asphalt Jungle and his two Kubrick films.
   Hayden again dropped out of circulation after Dr. Strangelove and returned to the sea. He staged a comeback in the 1970s with his sterling performances as a corrupt cop assassinated over pasta in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather (1972) and as an alcoholic writer modeled after Ernest Hemingway in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973). Still, these two films were the exceptions to the rule that good parts did not come his way in his later years. John Huston, according to James Howard, said that he considered Hayden “one of the few actors I know who continued to grow over the years. ” Hayden’s seasoned performances in his two Kubrick films and in his two later movies for Coppola and Altman certainly bear out Huston’s observation.
   References
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997), pp. 70–89;
   ■ Boyer, Paul, “Dr. Strangelove,” in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, ed. Mark Carnes (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), pp. 266–269;
   ■ Brustein, Robert,“Out of This World,” in Perspectives on Stanley Kubrick, ed. Mario Falsetto (New York: G. K. Hall, 1996), pp. 136–139;
   ■ Howard, James, Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999), pp. 43–51, pp. 87–98;
   ■ Morgan, Robin, and George Perry, eds. , “Sterling Hayden,” in The Book of Film Biographies (New York: Fromm, 1997), pp. 80–81;
   ■ Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick:A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1977), pp. 29–38, pp. 107–126.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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  • Sterling Hayden — (* 26. März 1916 in Upper Montclair, New Jersey als Sterling Relyea Walter; † 23. Mai 1986 in Sausalito, Kalifornien) war ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler, der mehr als 50 Filme drehte, sowie ein Segelabenteurer und Autor. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Sterling Hayden — Infobox actor name = Sterling Hayden imagesize = 170px caption = Hayden in The Killing (1956) birthname = Sterling Relyea Walter birthdate = March 26, 1916 birthplace = Upper Montclair, New Jersey, United States deathdate = May 23, 1986 (age 70)… …   Wikipedia

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  • Sterling — may refer to: * Sterling College (Kansas), a college in Sterling, Kansas, USA * Sterling College (Vermont), a small college in northern Vermont, USA * Sterling silver, a grade of silver * Pound sterling, the currency of the United Kingdom *… …   Wikipedia

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