Helen Hayes talks about theater, aging, and her role as Miss Marple
Helen Hayes plays TV's new Miss Marple of the Agatha Christie novels, but she prefers the original Miss Marple, the late Margaret Rutherford. (Miss Hayes stars in A Caribbean Mystery - CBS, Saturday, 9-11 p.m.)Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
''I adored her,'' explains Miss Hayes at a studio on West 57th Street where I interrupt her as she is recording her daily syndicated radio commentary, ''The Best Years'' (check local radio listings). She is a trim and tiny woman, her straightforwardly gray hair pulled back simply.
''At first I refused to accept the role because I adored her so, and I didn't want to follow Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple because I can't be that funny and, anyway, I'm not that kind of funny.'' She took the role, she added, because of her friendship with Warner Bros. TV head Alan Shayne.
''Did you know that Agatha Christie's sister and the solicitor in charge of her estate did not like Margaret Rutherford in the role? When they saw me in a mercifully small part recently (I was killed off quickly) in a TV version of ''Murder Is Easy'' they said, 'That's our Miss Marple.'
''Well, I don't care. Margaret Rutherford is my Miss Marple and the world's Miss Marple.''
The interviewer explains that he has previewed the show and found Miss Hayes a very different, but still delightful, Miss Marple. Although it is a trivial entertainment - the show does not pretend to be anything else - it is filled with Christie's marvelously misleading clues and is chock-full of valid suspects. It appeared to this viewer that Miss Hayes enjoyed playing the role.
She laughs, as she does often during the interview. ''Well, that shows I haven't lost my art. Boy, was I glad when it was finished. We worked 10 hours a day, six days a week in Santa Barbara, Calif.
''It was freezing cold, and since it was supposed to be taking place in the Caribbean, I had to wear light clothes. But under those light clothes I was wearing thermal underwear and shivering. At the end of the day I was too tired to eat - I'd just fall into bed and cuddle up under many covers. It was hardship. That's the way television is.''
Does she expect to do any more television?
''I doubt it.''
That's not a definite no. What if another friend approaches her with still another project?
''Oh, dear, I'm just going to have to keep away from friends,'' she giggles. But it is as difficult to imagine Miss Hayes keeping away from friends as it is to imagine her totally retired from acting. And there's still cinema.
''I never enjoyed myself in the movies. I enjoyed the theater because I could have my own dreams about what I was like on the stage and nobody could contradict what I had in my head. But when I see myself in the movies, there it is and I can't argue with it. So I don't enjoy that.''
Although the theatergoing public tends to remember her best for her role as Queen Victoria in ''Victoria Regina,'' Miss Hayes now recalls that the play ''went on a little too long for me - I don't like to get mired in a role for four years.
''The one that was just right in time and in the role itself was 'What Every Woman Knows,' that lovely Barrie play. I played it for almost a year and enjoyed every moment of it.''
''The Best Years'' is Miss Hayes's syndicated radio show. (If it is not listed in your area, you can call your favorite local station and let it know it's syndicated by Independent Radio Network, Greenwich, Conn.) The program seems to mean a great deal to her now that she is limiting her work.