Sterling Hayden - Legendary Movie Star

An undersized, under-educated, under-loved, and under-employed young man named Sterling Relyea first gained notice by giving an interview about himself to the New York Herald Tribune in 1943. The article described him as “a movie star” and included a photograph of a handsome if not self-conscious lad with prominent cheekbones and smoldering eyes. The biography of the real Sterling Hayden was just beginning. And so was his second life as an actor. Between the ages of 19 and 31, he would take on a new name (Sterling Hayden), a new profession (actor), and a new wife.

Burdened by a Famous Name

Born in New York City in 1918, Sterling Relyea was burdened from his youth by his famous and accomplished father, businessman, and philanthropist William Relyea, and his grandfather, the inventor, and industrialist Charles E. Relyea. In his teens, Sterling was asked about his father by a curious woman at a party. He didn’t know who she was, but he replied, “I am not my father.” For the rest of his life he would say he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but a cow manure shovel. His grandfather, Charles E. Relyea, was famous for his patent medicines, the most famous of which was “Bromo-Seltzer,” which he manufactured and sold until the early 1930s. At the same time, he was widely hated as the symbol of a ruthless, exploitative capitalist. “The Rustlers of Wall Street” was the title of a book about stock manipulators who, for a time, included Charles E. Relyea. His fortune was made in the late 19th century when he acquired valuable timberlands in the Pacific Northwest, and he was a friend of the robber barons.

Marrying for Success

A few months after the New York Herald Tribune article about his movie star life, Sterling married for success. In October 1943, he married 19-year-old Virginia Doran, the daughter of the editor of the New York Times. It was a union of two rising stars. Both Doran and her father had hopes that the marriage would bring her husband fame and fortune. Doran, who had already had one failed marriage and was 19 years younger than her new husband, was by all accounts an extremely ambitious woman who was sometimes referred to as a “man-eater.” She was a bright, attractive, and socially prominent person who had been accepted to Vassar College when she was 16. She had a strong interest in politics and was an ardent Democrat who admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Hollywood Stardom

When Sterling’s father-in-law got him a job as a copyreader at the New York Times, Sterling quit after three days. He then moved to Los Angeles with his bride, determined to become a movie star. It didn’t take long for Sterling to get a job in the movie business. He was hired as a technical adviser for the movie “Wing and a Prayer,” which was being filmed at the Lockheed Aircraft plant in Burbank, California. He was hired to be a technical adviser because he had served as a Navy pilot. He had earned his wings in the Navy in 1938, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939, and was commissioned as an officer. He was a pilot in a squadron of Navy fighter planes in the South Pacific during World War II.

The Indictment and Prison Time

After being hired as a technical adviser for “Wing and a Prayer,” Sterling was asked if he would be willing to have a part in the movie. He said yes and was cast as Lieutenant Charles Bartlett, the pilot of a Navy torpedo bomber whose crew and pilot was lost at sea and miraculously rescued after spending several days adrift in the Pacific. The movie, which was released in 1943, was a huge success. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. At the same time, the FBI was investigating Sterling. He had been accused of being a member of the Communist Party and having a fake draft card. Sterling was indicted but was released on $10,000 bail. On October 27, 1943, the day before Sterling was to be tried, he was arrested on a second federal indictment. The new indictment charged that Sterling had lied about his draft card and that he had stolen the card of another man to use as his own. He was also charged with interfering with the production of “Wing and a Prayer” by having a guard throw out the film’s producer, who, Sterling said, was interfering with the production. Sterling was convicted on all counts and sentenced to five years in federal prison.

An Actor Is Born Again

Sterling spent 13 months in jail before he was released as part of a general amnesty by President Truman. He had married again while in jail, this time to a woman named Sterling had met and married while he was in jail. Upon his release from prison in 1946, Sterling began to reinvent himself. He changed his name from Sterling Relyea to Sterling Hayden and began to pursue an acting career. He was hired for several bit parts in Hollywood and New York. He played a soldier in “Bedside,” a soldier again in “The Pride of the Yankees,” and a soldier yet again in “Cry, the Beloved Country.” During this time, he and his second wife visited Paris, where they lived in a small hotel on the Left Bank. They were given a free room because there was a shortage of rooms in Paris at the time. They were given a free room because there was a shortage of rooms in Paris at the time.


Eventually, Hayden moved back to the United States and to New York City, where he made a living as an actor by doing odd jobs. He also continued to reinvent himself and his career. He took acting and dance classes, and he wrote poetry and short stories. A new life had begun for Sterling Hayden. After doing a play about a baseball player, he was recognized as a great actor and offered a film contract. He signed the contract and began to make movies, first in Hollywood and then in New York. His first movie was “ The Wild One,” which was released in 1953 when Hayden was 35 years old. He would go on to make many more movies and become one of the most famous and successful actors in the world.