Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Edition

Top Three Fascinating Facts About
Sterling Hayden

Sterling Hayden (1916 -1986)
Back when men were men, 
Hayden stood a head above
the others....literally

Some of you may be scratching your heads and saying, "Sterling who...?" 

Others may be wondering what the hell I'm on about.

Well, bear with me.

You see, Sterling Hayden not only influenced me as a writer, but as an artist, as well. I always hold my words up to his, wondering if I'm good enough. 

And his love of sailing vessels - pure sailing ships that never had an engine - rubbed off on me with my paintings. You can see a good example at the top of this page.


A recent article on Huffington Post wanted to remind everyone on the greatness of Ernest Hemingway....and this is fine. Hemingway wrote many fantastic books, having lived the experiences first hand. In many ways, Hemingway has no equal.

Hemingway had a huge impact on me too, and should be remembered as a great writer and a great but somewhat flawed man.

But in the past century, there have been other great-but-flawed men as well.

And Sterling Hayden was one of them. Perhaps the only man that can go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hemingway.

A leading man in Hollywood for years, Hayden was considered one of the 'Best Looking Men In The World'. At 6'5", and a background of decades at sea, he certainly looked the part. 

I can't tell you anything about his films, though, as they were way before my time. 

Besides, Hayden's secondary life was far more interesting than his career as a movie star.

Hayden often played a world-worn 
police detective, like here in The Asphalt 
Jungle, made by MGM in 1950.

Hayden destroying his film career at 
the Senate Hearings for Un-American
Activities. He deeply regretted 
sympathizing with the Communist 
Party for the rest of his life.

Top Three Fascinating 
Facts About Sterling Hayden

3. Hayden was a world-class sailor

Sterling Hayden was born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1916. He quit high school to join the crew of the sailing vessel Puritan, and spent the next nine years at sea. Nine. Years.

It takes a certain type of young man to do something like that.

And it certainly takes perseverance, because life at sea is in no way fun. It may sound like a life of adventure, but the reality is drudgery and hard work for very little reward.

He always owned some type of ship. Not small day-sailors, either. The Wanderer was 101-feet long, a straight-rigged schooner that could be taken into deep water.

If you are a landlubber, allow me to put it simply. Hayden sailed his boats into places that would scare even the toughest of sailors. 

The Wanderer had no engine, and it was said Hayden could put her gently up against the dock using wind only - backwards - simply using his skills as a master mariner. Hell, I have a hard time parking at Walmart.

Hayden always claimed that acting was just a way to pay for ships and voyages. In 1958 he proved that. He was awarded custody of his children - Christian, Gretchen, Dana and Matthew - after a bitter divorce from Betty Ann de Noon.

Hayden packed his schooner Wanderer up with provisions and children, defying court orders with a two-year trip to Tahiti.

Below is a painting that I complete a few years ago. There are no good photos of Hayden's Wanderer, so I used the British schooner Adela as a stand-in. The painting is actually called Adela, but now you know the influence behind the art.

2. Hayden was a better writer than he was an actor

Hayden wrote Wanderer, his biography, three years before I was born, way back in 1963. 

It is the stunning story that takes the reader behind the scenes of a rather hard, uncompromising man that just didn't give a shit. 

A man that grew up at sea, fought for America when she was at war, and had a career in the most cynical of industries...Hollywood.

Allow me to clarify that.

Hayden loved his children, of that there was no doubt. Wanderer takes you through his trials and tribulations as Hayden navigated Hollywood, with two failed marriages under his belt - and a court order to keep his kids in California. Hayden despised Hollywood, and always had the urge to travel.

Did he drink too much? Probably.

Was he an asshole to deal with? Probably. 

The reader only gets Hayden's side of the story in Wanderer, not the people he may have hurt along the way of his life. But that really isn't the point. 

The man was a born story-teller in his writing. If he had put his mind to fiction, I believe he would be remembered as Hemingway is. 

A great writer.

1. Hayden was a genuine spy

Hayden only made two films before being called up for military service in World War Two. 

He joined the OSS - the forerunner of the CIA - under Director Donovan and excelled at his training in Scotland. His luck ran out at Parachute School in Mancester, however, after ten jumps. 

Landing off-target in a quarry, Hayden suffered a broken ankle and spinal injuries.

After healing from his injuries, Hayden re-entered the service with the Marines and hooked back up with the OSS, this time in Cairo.

He commanded a flotilla of rag-tag supply vessels delivering much-needed provisions to the Partisan-held island of Vis, effectively evading the German blockade.

His luck turned around for good in January 1944, after the engine froze up in his motor-yacht, causing him to capture a German patrol boat with the help of his Bosnian and Croatian buddies.

I believe this is where Hayden started to develop sympathy for the Communist cause later in life, which in effect got him black-balled from Hollywood.

No matter, Hayden had many adventures during the rest of the war in Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. He seemed to make friends easily and was well-trusted among the more dubious of the American allies.

Hayden returned home with a silver star for valor and a deep understanding of the Balkan nations.

I think there was a lot more to Sterling Hayden that met the eye when he came home from war....and I also think he kept much of of whatever he felt bottled up inside.

His life, in many ways, mirrored Ernest Hemingway's.

Unlike Hemingway, Hayden never sought fame. It found him.

And who could blame him? Hollywood wanted his face in magazine ads and his acting abilities...and Hayden wanted money so he could go sailing.

For a few years, at least, it was a win-win.


Hayden's first and last love was the sea and the old type of sailing vessels that disappeared with the introduction of steam.

Perhaps he was born a century too late. It doesn't matter now.

As for the ladies that are reading this, those who have been taught that Hemingway was a chauvinistic ass...well, maybe he was. Hayden may have been, also. I don't know. I do know that these men came up in a different era than we did. I am not condoning their behavior, or excusing it. It was simply a different time, with a different set of rules.

I highly encourage anyone reading this to delve into Sterling Hayden's life. He defied the government, he defied a promising Hollywood career....his children, and the sea - were more important to him in the long run.

As a writer he should be explored by all. As a sailor and a good father he should be remembered.

But most of all, he should be recognized as a guy that didn't take shit from anyone.


Martha said...

I think you've focused a right person. Though I haven't read any of Sterling Hayden but I'm interested to do it soon after read out the post as he is very interesting to me. Thanks for the contribution.
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Anonymous said...

His expression, demeanor tells you that there is much more to this Man. I love this type of Man. He is truth in the rawest sense. I will read his books. To find someone like him would be so fantastic. I've got some exploring to do...