19 June 2017

Imported from the USA: Martha Hyer

Placid blonde American actress Martha Hyer (1924-2014) was once labelled 'Universal's answer to Grace Kelly'. She appeared in many well known Hollywood movies of the 1950s. During the 1960s, she also appeared in several European films.

Martha Hyer
Italian postcard by Bromofoto, no. 1398. Photo: Paramount.

Martha Hyer
French postcard by P.I., no. 701. Photo: H.P.S.

Martha Hyer in The Carpetbaggers (1964)
Dutch postcard by P. Moorlag, Heerlen, Sort. 17/6. Photo: publicity still for The Carpetbaggers (Edward Dmytryk, 1964).

Stellar role

Martha Hyer was born Mary Lou Spring in 1924 in Fort Worth, Texas. Her parents were Julien Capers Hyer, an attorney and judge, and Agnes Rebecca née Barnhart.

Martha majored in drama and speech at Northwestern University. Once she finished her formal schooling, she moved to California to study at the Pasadena Playhouse. Soon she was discovered by an RKO talent agent.

Martha played an uncredited speaking part in The Locket (John Brahm, 1946) starring Robert Mitchum. For the next few years, she appeared in more uncredited and bit roles in B-movies, occasionally working on television as well. Slowly, she began picking up roles with more and more substance.

The best years for the beautiful actress began in 1954. She played Elizabeth Tyson, a socialite who almost loses her fiancé (William Holden) to Audrey Hepburn in the Oscar-winning film Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954).

Then she played in films such as Down Three Dark Streets (Arnold Laven, 1954) with Broderick Crawford, the comedy Francis in the Navy (Arthur Lubin, 1955) opposite Donald O. Connor, and Showdown at Abilene (Charles F. Haas, 1956).

In the war film Battle Hymn (Douglas Sirk, 1957) she appeared with Rock Hudson, in the drama Mister Cory (Blake Edwards, 1957) with Tony Curtis, and in Houseboat (Melville Shavelson, 1958) with Cary Grant.

Perhaps the best role of her long career was as Gwen French, the prim small schoolteacher in the romantic drama Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958) in which she starred opposite Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine. As a result of her stellar role, Martha received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress, but she lost out to Wendy Hiller in Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958).

Soon after, she had supporting roles in the Oscar-nominated films The Big Fisherman (Frank Borzage, 1959) and The Best of Everything (Jean Negulesco, 1959), starring Joan Crawford.

Martha Hyer
Yugoslavian postcard by Studio Sombor, no. 217.

Martha Hyer
Yugoslavian postcard by ZK, no. 2180.

Martha Hyer
Yugoslavian postcard by Nas Glas, Smederevo, no. 139. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Mistress of the World

During the 1960s, Martha Hyer's stint on the US silver screen's trailed off some. She moved to Europe and starred in the German adventure film Herrin der Welt/Mistress of the World (William Dieterle, 1960) opposite Carlos Thompson.

She returned to appear in the US from time to time, and appeared in such films as the drama Ice Palace (Vincent Sherman, 1960), with Richard Burton, and The Last Time I Saw Archie (Jack Webb, 1961), a comedy with Robert Mitchum.

Next she was in A Girl Named Tamiko (John Sturges, 1962) with Laurence Harvey, the Oscar-nominated film Wives and Lovers (John Rich, 1963), and the box-office hit The Carpetbaggers (Edward Dmytryk, 1964), based upon the best-selling novel of the same name by Harold Robbins.

By 1964, Hyer had turned 40 and after a decade of success, she began having trouble finding good roles. She did appear in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, A Piece Of Action (1962) and Crimson Witness (1965).

Also in 1965, she was in the Western The Sons of Katie Elder (Henry Hathaway, 1965) with John Wayne. Opposite Marlon Brando, she appeared in The Chase (Arthur Penn, 1966). On television, she guest-starred in such popular series as Bewitched (1965) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1966).

In 1967, she starred in the film drama Some May Live (Vernon Sewell, 1967), and in the crime comedy The Happening (Elliot Silverstein, 1967) as the wife of a kidnapped mobster played by Anthony Quinn.

In Europe, she appeared in the German-Spanish thriller La casa de las mil muñecas/House of 1000 Dolls (Jeremy Summers, Hans Billian, 1967) with Vincent Price and George Nader, the Spanish drama La mujer de otro/Another Man's Wife (Rafael Gil, 1967), and in the Italian comedy Lo scatenato/The Unchained (Franco Indovina, 1968) opposite Vittorio Gassman.

Then followed the thriller Crossplot (Alvin Rakoff, 1969) with Roger Moore. Her last film was The Day of the Wolves (Ferde Grofé Jr., 1971). Her final television role was in an episode of McCloud (1974).

At age 50, she retired from acting. Martha Hyer was married twice, first to producer C. Ray Stahl. In 1966, she married producer Hal B. Wallis and remained with him until his death in 1986. Her autobiography, Finding My Way: A Hollywood Memoir, was published in 1990. Martha Hyer died in 2014 at age 89. She had no children.

Trailer for Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958). Source: Warnervoduk (YouTube).

Trailer for The Carpetbaggers (Edward Dmytryk, 1964). Source: YouTube Movies (YouTube).

Trailer La casa de las mil muñecas/House of 1000 Dolls (Jeremy Summers, Hans Billian, 1967). Source: The Sound of Vincent Price (YouTube).

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Denny Jackson (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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