The First Lady of the American Theatre. That’s quite a moniker for any actress, but Helen Hayes MacArthur earned it. Hayes’ whopping 80 year career started when she was five years old. The diminutive actress was a major presence on Broadway from 1909 to 1970 and was one of the true American theatre stars. She had a film career, picking up two Oscars (one for The Sin of Madelon Claudet, the other for a comic supporting turn in Airport), but it is her work on stage for which she is so greatly remembered. She had a huge triumph in Victoria Regina that made two Broadway return engagements, and also played Mary Stuart in Maxwell Anderson’s Mary of Scotland. She received three Tonys: two for acting (Happy Birthday and Time Remembered), and one for lifetime achievement. Her final appearance on Broadway was as the long-suffering Veta in the 1970 revival of Harvey starring Jimmy Stewart, which they recreated for television.
I am fascinated with this clip, yet another from my “What’s My Line” obsession, because of the voracious response she receives from the audience – the sort of recognition even the most recognizable theatre stars of today would not receive (with the probable exception of beloved superstars like Angela Lansbury). She is also one of the few mystery guests to avoid simple yes and no answers, and assumes a character for her appearance. On top of it all, she’s also just so endearing and gracious. Enjoy.