She clawed her way from poverty to become an Academy Award winning actress. Dubbed the Brooklyn Bombshell, she made her mark on Hollywood playing gutsy, determined women.
Born Edythe Marrener in Brooklyn the year the First World War ended, she was bullied at school on account of her striking red hair. Recovering from a motor accident aged only six, she began her career as a photographer’s model whilst still in high school.
Like many other starlets of the period, she flocked to the open auditions which were held in Hollywood, in 1937, for the role of Scarlet O’Hara in David O. Selznick’s 'Gone With the Wind'. Whilst losing to Vivien Leigh, the distinctive redhead managed to land a steady job as a studio contract player, starting out in very small roles.
Her first break came with the lead in the huge hit, 'Beau Geste', in 1939, and her role in 'Among the Living', in 1941. Echoing the part she lost out on in 1937, she played a Southern belle, in 'Reap the Wild Wind', in 1942.
Hayward finally established herself, and her characteristic type, that of a strong-willed, courageous woman fighting against adversity, in 'Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman', in 1947. It won her an Academy Award nomination, the first of five during her career.
She followed it with Oscar nominations for 'My Foolish Heart' in 1950, 'With a Song in My Heart' in 1952, and 1956’s 'I'll Cry Tomorrow'. Hayward finally won Best Actress for her critically lauded portrayal of condemned murderess, Barbara Graham, in the classic 'I Want to Live'.
In 1954, an acrimonious custody battle marked the end of her ten-year marriage to actor Jess Barker.
A solid star, she nonetheless drifted into mediocre material during the early 1960s, and she effectively retired from films in 1964.
After being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1973, Hayward died two years later, aged 56.