Never what you would call a subtle actress, Susan Hayward had an energy and charisma that served her well for more than 30 years on screen.
Hayward always seemed to be aware of the goofiness just under the surface of some of her most serious dramas — she’d give the most over-heated lines a campy spin that is simply irresistible.
Who can forget the way her Ethel Merman-like character in “Valley of the Dolls” levels a much younger movie star rival, just out of rehab — “So you’ve come crawling back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope!”
Born in working class Brooklyn, Hayward quickly passed through a brief career as a New York City model. She became a major glamour puss soon after she arrived in Hollywood for the legendary open auditions for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.”
David O.Selznick turned down Hayward, but within a few years she rose from minor roles to big ones, and her down-to-earth manner (even in refined ladies roles) made her an audience favorite. The visible tug between the star’s Flatbush Brooklyn roots and her Hollywood sophistication makes her lots of fun to watch despite the fact that she rarely appeared in good movies.
Warner Archive put out a DVD-on-demand version of the 1961 Hayward picture, “Ada,” which is, by any rational measure, a terrible movie, but the star brings so much energy to her role — and plays so well opposite Dean Martin — that she lightened my spirits on a very dark night.
Based on a long-forgotten novel — “Ada Dallas” by Wirt Williams — the movie follows the rise of singer-turned-politician Bo Dallas (Martin), who gets elected governor of an unnamed Southern state despite having just married a prostitute (Hayward).
Although the costumes and hairstyles are pure early 1960s, we find out about halfway through that the movie is actually set during the Depression.
Why no reporter exposes Ada’s secret in a highly contested governor’s race is one of the biggest mysteries in this bizarre political soap opera. Especially since Ada goes around saying things like, “I never thought I’d be a lady, let alone a first lady!”
The plot keeps getting more and more preposterous, with Ada assuming the position of lieutenant governor (!) and then the state’s top job when Bo is hospitalized after an assassination attempt. It’s a Preston Sturges screwball comedy disguised as a political expose and I loved every minute of it.