Here’s another reposted book review. I originally wrote it for Epinions.com on January 9, 2012. It was reposted on my old blog exactly six years later. And now, I’m reposting it again, almost three years after the last repost. As this was written in 2012, please bear in mind that some things in my life have changed since then.
Television has certainly changed since I was a child. Back when I was still at a tender age, movies of the week were very common on the big three networks. I remember back in 1980, there was a movie of the week starring Lee Remick and Jason Robards called Haywire. Though my memories of the actual film are hazy, I did remember the movie was high on drama and based on a book by the same name written by Brooke Hayward. When I recently got the urge to read something new, I went looking for Haywire. To my delight, it was available on Amazon.com, both in print form and for the Kindle. I downloaded a copy and spent the next week reading all about how Brooke Hayward’s family went “haywire”.
Who is Brooke Hayward?
Being a child of the 70s, I haven’t seen that many classic movies. Consequently, I am not all that familiar with Brooke Hayward’s mother, Margaret Sullavan, who was a successful actress and film star. I’m also not familiar with Brooke Hayward’s father, Leland Hayward, a reknowned Broadway and Hollywood agent. But the two were at one time a couple and their marriage produced three children: Brooke, Bridget, and Bill. Besides her turn as an author, Brooke Hayward is known for being Dennis Hopper’s first wife and a model and actress.
Brooke Hayward has also had many famous stepparents. Her father was also married to Nancy “Slim” Keith and Pamela Harriman. His first wife was Lola Gibbs. They divorced, remarried, and divorced again before Brooke was born. Also before Brooke was born, her mother had a brief marriage to Henry Fonda and a slightly longer marriage to Hollywood director and screenwriter, William Wyler. At the time of her early death, Margaret Sullavan was married to Kenneth Wagg, an investment banker.
How things went “haywire”
Haywire is, at its core, a book about growing up with Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward as parents. But at a deeper level, this book is also about being a child of divorce and an innocent bystander to mental illness. This book was written in 1977, before people talked about how divorce affects children. Indeed, when Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward split up, divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. It was a source of shame.
In her elegant writing style, Hayward describes how Leland Hayward and Margaret Sullavan grew up and eventually came together, even though they were very different people. Leland Hayward liked to live a fancy life, while Margaret Sullavan was more grounded and determined not to let their children grow up spoiled. Hayward liked the city, while Sullavan preferred the country. Hayward was a sophisticated jetsetter, while Sullavan remained faithful to her Virginia roots. They were a mismatched couple, even though their marriage lasted a somewhat respectable (by Hollywood standards, anyway) eleven years.
When Brooke Hayward’s parents split up, she and her brother and sister were asked to take sides. By Hayward’s account, Margaret Sullavan was very possessive of her children and would manipulate them through guilt. When they had disagreements with her, Margaret Sullavan would suggest they go live with their father, suggesting that it was somehow a punishment. One day, Bridget and Bill Hayward agreed that, yes, they would prefer living with their dad. Apparently, that revelation drove Margaret Sullavan to a nervous breakdown.
Aside from problems stemming from their parents’ divorce, Bridget and Bill Hayward had significant mental health issues. Both committed suicide. Bridget died of a drug overdose in 1960 at age 21, just months after Margaret Sullavan’s own suicidal overdose. Bill Hayward died in 2008 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Both Bridget and Bill spent a great deal of time in mental hospitals.
Interspersed with her ruminations about life with two world famous but troubled parents, Hayward injects plenty of tales about her contemporaries. Peter and Jane Fonda were contemporaries and Brooke, Bridget, and Bill spent a lot of time with them. She describes the elegant lifestyle she enjoyed, despite her mother’s determinations to prevent her children from being spoiled by excess.
This book was updated in 2010 and has a new epilogue, which updates readers on how Brooke and Bill turned out. There are also pictures which looked great on the Kindle.
I am not a child of divorce, but I am a stepmother to my husband’s two very alienated young adult daughters. I have only met my husband’s daughters once and they haven’t spoken to my husband since 2004. Like Brooke Hayward, I have had an up close and personal look at the way divorce can screw up children. On ther other hand, divorce can be a lifesaver when two people don’t get along. And if it’s done correctly and the parents put their kids first, it can be a good thing for a dysfunctional family. Naturally, it works best when parents can cooperate with each other.
As I read Haywire, it appeared to me that Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward did, on some level, try to co-parent. Sullavan didn’t like sending her kids to see their dad, but she did at least allow them to maintain that relationship. However, Brooke Hayward’s account is very telling in that Sullavan was adept at emotionally blackmailing her children. She made disparaging remarks about Leland Hayward and, though she might not have done it on purpose, asked her kids to take sides. Clearly, this kind of manipulation eventually took a toll on all three children. While most children of divorce do grow up without having to do time in a mental hospital or prematurely ending their lives, Hayward’s account of how she missed out on time with her father is very revealing.
Leland Hayward was not blameless either. He was somewhat guilty of being a “Disney Dad”, lavishing gifts and money on the children in order to assauge his guilt over not being around. He was not faithful to Sullavan and that was one of the reasons they split. I’m sure there was guilt stemming from that as well.
One thing I was glad to see is that Brooke, Bridget, and Bill seemed to get along with all of their stepparents. I did notice that they seemed to like some of their parents’ choices more than others. For instance, Brooke really seemed to like her first stepmother, Nancy, more than she liked socialite and future U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman, who was married to Leland Hayward at the time of his death. Of course, Pamela Harriman is a fascinating subject all on her own!
While I can’t claim to be a fan of Margaret Sullavan as an actress, nor did I ever follow Brooke Hayward’s acting career, I will admit to liking Haywire. It’s a fascinating read on so many levels. It’s entertaining for people who enjoy reading about classic film stars. It’s also great for people who like to read about family systems. And now I’d like to re-watch the film that prompted me to read this book.
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