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Life Magazine (January 1956)

"A Grand Night for Helen"

Supershiny assemblage of stage notables celebrates Miss Hayes's 50 theater years

The most resplendent assemblage of stage notables in the history of Broadway met two weeks ago to throw a party for the American theater's most celebrated star, Helen Hayes. Honoring her 50 years as an actress, the big party overflowed the ballroom of New York's Waldorf-Astoria. Tickets were $50 apiece and the $30,000 profit went to the American Theater Wing to help support its school and public services. But in everybody's mind it was Helen's show, triumphantly, from its jazzy hymn of homage at the start to it surprising and sentimental finish.

The peak of the evening was a glorified vaudeville, with noted actors impersonating older stars and doing short interludes from famous plays that had been put on in the U.S. during Miss Hayes's half-century reign. Altogether the fine tragic actors, slapstick comedians and musical comedy queens made a living history of American theater. After watching the performance unfold like pages in a memory book, happy Helen said, "I would like to go into a dark cave for a month just to relive it all. I'm so afraid it may get lost."

The biggest surprise, which almost floored Helen, was the famous shaving scene from her biggest success, Victoria Regina (1935). Her role of Queen Victoria was taken by Mary Martin's daughter Heller and Prince Albert was played by Helen's son Jamie. This was the only scene in which Helen herself was impersonated. The act concluded the show at 2:30 a.m. Jamie at 18 is still in school, has acted in summer theater and on TV. He wants to carry on the theatrical tradition of his mother and father, playwright Charles MacArthur, and has not decided whether to be an actor, director, or producer.

Photographs copyright Eileen Darby of Graphic House (James MacArthur and Heller Halliday); and Lisa Larsen (James MacArthur and Helen Hayes).

Helen Hayes, James MacArthur

Heller Halliday, James MacArthur

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