Cine Salon to Feature a Starlet From a Bygone Hollywood

Published: 8/8/2016 10:22:23 AM
Modified: 3/14/2015 12:00:00 AM
Roberta Haynes is Old Hollywood. Not a big star, she wasn’t just an extra, either. Haynes had substantive roles in pictures with Gary Cooper and Lee J. Cobb and rubbed elbows with Lee Marvin, Marlon Brando and Yul Brynner, directors John Huston and Raoul Walsh and avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger in a screen career that spanned the 1940s and 1950s. She acted on stage in New York before going to Hollywood and, after retiring as an actor, became a producer and writer in television.

There aren’t many left from that era who can still recall, in Technicolor vibrancy, what it was like to be in New York and Hollywood from the 1940s through the 1960s. But Haynes does.

“I was a kind of an observer. I would sit and just watch all these people,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Delray Beach, Fla.

Now 87, Hanes will be interviewed by telephone as part of the monthly Ciné Salon series at the Howe Library in Hanover on Monday evening at 7. The series, which is held in the library’s Mayer Room, and is free-of-charge to the public, is programmed by Bruce Posner, a film historian and preservationist.

Posner will show clips from a number of Haynes’ films, which include a Huston film about Cuba in the 1930s, We Were Strangers , the 1953 film Return to Paradise with Cooper, and the 1954 Western Gun Fury , directed by Walsh , one of Hollywood’s most respected craftsmen.

“The fact that we can talk to somebody from that period and can glean something is the whole reason for doing this enterprise,” Posner said.

Haynes was born Roberta Schack in Wichita Falls, Texas. but grew up in Toronto and then California. As a child, she studied dance, read voraciously and wanted, more than anything else, to act, she said.

Her old cheesecake publicity stills show a curvaceous brunette with doe eyes and olive skin, who was trumpeted by a Hollywood gossip columnist as possessing “a rare acting power ... a glamour that doesn’t come from the Hollywood assembly line, that combine to spell STAR in blazing letters.”

Haynes’s first big break came when she landed the role of an ingenue in the 1950 Broadway production of Jean Anouilh’s The Madwoman of Chaillot , opposite Martita Hunt, John Carradine and Estelle Winwood.

From there she made the trip to California, and got parts in big movies that were then cut — Fred Zinneman’s 1950 Western, High Noon with Cooper — a nd lost out on parts in big movies, like Zinneman’s 1953 movie From Here to Eternity , when she auditioned for the part of Montgomery Clift’s girlfriend, which eventually went to Donna Reed.

In 1953 she landed a significant role as a young Samoan woman who is Cooper’s love interest in Return to Paradise , based on stories by James Michener.

Cooper “was wonderful, he was so kind,” Haynes said. “He knew the camera; I didn’t very well because I hadn’t worked in that many films. He would say to me they’ve put the close-up lens on,” Haynes said. She didn’t get along with the director, Mark Robson, she said. But she adored Cooper, although he was in ill health and on medication at the time. “Don’t feel bad if I don’t make a pass at you,” he told her.

Return to Paradise was a groundbreaking film, said Posner, because it was shot on location and used Polynesians in many of the parts, rather than, as was the custom then, assigning white actors in make-up to play Pacific islanders — although Haynes was cast as a Samoan.

Playing the parts of Native American, Polynesian and Mexican women, who, in the racism of the era, were beaten up, died or killed on-screen, came to be her stock-in-trade. Haynes tired of not getting the big roles. And she wasn’t always enamored of the people she worked with. She was cast in Gun Fury , which starred Rock Hudson, Donna Reed and, in a smaller role, Lee Marvin.

“Rock Hudson was kind of boring and so was Donna Reed. So I hung out with Lee Marvin,” she said. “I basically made friends with the writers and some of the producers because that’s what I really wanted to do.”

So she left Hollywood and traveled extensively, living in Paris and Rome, and returning to Los Angeles to work in television as a vice president at Fox, working with writers. Now ensconced in Florida, to be near her son and grandchildren, she continues to write film and TV scripts, including a mini-series she’d like to see produced about Robert Louis Stevenson, who, of course, spent years in Samoa.

In May, Haynes returns to Samoa for a 60th anniversary screening of Return to Paradise , which has been digitally remastered. There, she will be reunited with six surviving Samoan cast members. A news release says she would be coming down the beach in a stretch limousine, and stepping onto a Samoan red carpet: a pathway strewn with petals from the red teuila, the Samoan national flower.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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