HELEN HAYES: “The Play is Over”

………Watching Helen Hayes as the Dowager Empress in ANASTASIA, I was reminded this is an actress I hardly know. It is well into the film before she makes her first appearance, but like any great performer, she commands the screen.

I hadn’t watched this film in a while and enjoyed seeing it again. Twentieth Century Fox spared no expense in dramatising the story that one of the  Tsar’s  children escaped death in the 1918 Russian Revolution.

ANASTASIA (1956 ) is the mystery melodrama which brought Ingrid Bergman back to Hollywood and won her a  second Oscar.

She and Yul Brynner are perfectly cast .
Helen Hayes is probably only in about a third of the film but it is she who has the final line of dialogue at the film’s end and although it is only a few lines, she says them with such style.

Anastasia and Bounine (Brynner) have left the palace just before the Dowager Empress  is due to announce to the assembled guests the engagement of Anastasia and her nephew,Prince Paul (Ivan Desny) .

The Empress  has accepted that Anastasia and Bounine should be together. As she and Prince Paul are about to descend the grand staircase, Paul says, “But what will you say?”

Taking his arm, she says, “Say? Oh, I will say the play is over. Go home.”

Helen Hayes says the line with such dignity and class. Audiences possibly felt cheated not seeing the two stars at the end, but it just seemed so appropriate to give the final scene to this wonderful actress. 


Helen Hayes, Ivan Desny.




Helen Hayes, Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman.



The Empress  does not want to believe that this woman could be her granddaughter. 


Helen Hayes (1900-1993) only made ten films between 1931 and 1935 before returning to the stage where she was a big star. In between her stage roles, she did a lot of TV from the 1950s on, and made only  a few more films.

Yet she managed to win two Oscars – Best Actress in 1931 for The Sin Of Madeline Claudet , Best Supporting for Airport in 1970.

With her Oscar in 1931.


With Jean Seberg and Burt Lancaster. AIRPORT.



Her 1930s films included Arrowsmith and A Farewell To Arms. 

Can anyone recommend any of the films she made in the 30s?

The White Sister with Clark Gable.


With Gary Cooper. A FAREWELL TO ARMS.


With Ronald Colman.ARROWSMITH


Helen was married to writer Charles MacArthur from 1928 till his death in 1956. MacArthur co-wrote The Front Page and Twentieth Century – with Ben Hecht. They also wrote the screenplay for “Wuthering Heights.”

With Charles  MacArthur.




The Helen Hayes Awards began in 1983 in Washington D.C., Helen’s home town. (Washington having the most number of theatres outside of New York.)


Having seen her performance in Anastasia, I wish more dramatic film roles could have come her way in the 50s or 60s. Her film roles in later years seemed to be comedies most of the time,  and if course she was adept in these roles. 


Visiting Mae West, Wesley Ruggles. “I’m No Angel.”


Helen’s adopted son, James MacArthur. 
Helen’s daughter,Mary died aged 19 of polio.



By the way, I loved Martita Hunt in Anastasia. She is excellent as the lady-in-waiting to the Empress. She gives a much needed levity to the proceedings . 

Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes, Martita Hunt



11 responses »

  1. The casting of Helen Hayes came as the result of a mistake. The distinguished British character actress HELEN HAYE had the success of her career as the dowager empress in the London stage version. She was supposed to have done the film but a confusion over the similar names resulted in Ms Hayes ending up with the role.

  2. They had their ups and downs (due to MacArthur’s drinking ,and the tragic death of their daughter, Mary), but they had one of the happiest marraiges in the history of the American Theater.

  3. The annual Helen Hayes Awards, which have recognized excellence in professional theatre in greater Washington, DC, since 1984, are her namesake. In 1955, the former Fulton Theatre on h Street in New York City’s Broadway Theater District was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre. When that venue was torn down in 1982, the nearby Little Theatre was renamed in her honor. Helen Hayes is regarded as one of the greatest leading ladies of the h-century theatre.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s