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A New Chapter

At home with the Hollywood legend Brooke Hayward on the republication of Haywire.



Brooke Hayward

She grew up a child of privilege.

Her parents were the toast of New York and Hollywood—a dynamic theatrical producer and his superb actress wife. Shuttling from coast to coast, she lived in a world most of us would envy—a life of wealth, multiple houses, and a circle of celebrity friends. But observing Brooke Hayward curled up in a comfortable chair in the corner of her living room, her dog Lulu at her feet, it is hard to imagine her more content than she is in her peaceful Connecticut home.

Leland Hayward and Margaret Sullavan had three children, of whom Brooke is the eldest. She was raised in New York and Hollywood—a place her mother loathed. Despite her fame, Sullavan longed for peace and quiet and a simple life. At one point she even bought a farm in Connecticut so she and her children could escape the nightmare of Tinseltown. Leland Hayward loved the excitement of the theater and making deals for his clients. Eventually the couple divorced, which had a terrible effect on their children. Sullavan wound up committing suicide. Six months later, Brooke’s younger sister, Bridget, did the same thing. And almost two years ago, Brooke’s brother, Bill, also took his own life.

Brooke went on to have a career as a model and actress, got married, had two children, and was divorced by the time she was 23. In 1977, her memoir, Haywire, was published. As she tells it, “One night, while having a drink with a New York Times reporter, he asked a personal question and I related this long story. He said, ‘You’ve got to write this down.’ I said I’m not a writer. ‘I don’t care,’ he said. ‘You write me three pages and I’ll tell you if you should continue.’ And I did it because I was amused. After reading what I had written he said you absolutely have to go forward with this idea.”

And so for the next three years, with the encouragement of her friend, Johanna Mankiewicz, she spent five hours a day writing. Mankiewicz edited and passed the work on to her agent, Lynn Nesbit, who in turn showed it to Robert Gottlieb, then head of Alfred A. Knopf. A few weeks later, Brooke got the thrilling news her book was going to be published. Then, in the midst of the project, tragedy struck when Mankiewicz was killed by a taxi in front of her two children. Gottlieb insisted Brooke come to New York and meet with him. When she did, she was able to continue writing. Through countless interviews, she recreated the environment in which she was raised and how it all fell apart. It took her three years to complete the book.

Haywire went on to be a bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, selling over a million copies. The book is an overlapping series of chapters dealing with Hayward’s mother, father, siblings, and growing up in the world of celebrity. It is now being reissued by Vintage paperbacks, with a preface by Buck Henry and a new afterword by Hayward.

Brooke Hayward has never written another book, although Gottlieb wanted her to write about the Hollywood years when she was married to Dennis Hopper—her second husband with whom she has a daughter. He hoped to hear her tell of those tumultuous times, the drugs, the making of Easy Rider. With Hopper’s recent death from cancer, perhaps Hayward will get around to telling those stories.

In 1985 Hayward married bandleader Peter Duchin. Together they have shared a loft in Manhattan and a country house situated at the edge of New Preston’s main street. The property, once a cider mill with a huge orchard, includes a winding stream as well as elaborate gardens Hayward cultivated. “This place was a bookstore when we first came here,” she says. “When the owner announced he was selling the place, Peter jumped at the chance to buy it, having only seen it once. I said absolutely not—it was a disaster. But, unbeknownst to me, Peter went ahead and bought it anyway. I spent the next nine months putting the place back together. Now, of course, I’m madly in love with it.”

The front door opens onto a large entryway with a sitting area to the left, where Hayward sat for this interview. From the large window behind her, one can observe the traffic of cars and people passing by. The furniture has a patina of being worn and comfortable; the house is a treasure trove of collections. Above the sofa is an enormous painting of a cow that Hayward purchased in London many years ago. “I love animals of every kind,” she says. And there are examples of them everywhere, from snakes (“Los Angeles was full of rattlesnakes and I was determined to love them,” she says) to dragons, insects, dinosaurs, birds, frogs (a whole tableful)—even a recycled paper dog and a pile of plush toys.

In the front hall, an open staircase leads upstairs, where a wall in the guest suite pays homage to the Hayward and Duchin heritage. Part of the wall is devoted to photographs of Duchin’s family, including his famous bandleader father, Eddie—a friend of Hayward’s before the couple married. Her half of the wall features posters from her mother’s best-loved movies, glamour shots of Hayward in her modeling days, portraits of her father, and shots of numerous movie stars she knew growing up.

Through a beaded curtain from the living room, one enters the kitchen, which overlooks the stream and the backyard. Its main feature is a long narrow table covered in brightly colored oilcloth fabric. Here, Hayward hosts dinner parties around her famous five-ingredient recipes. On my second visit, she has made lunch for me—homemade borscht, followed by tea and her favorite ginger cookies (I got to take the extras home). Across from the kitchen is a small room with a fireplace and several worn, vintage leather chairs—the perfect place to curl up before or after dinner. The library-sitting room is filled with more extraordinary photographs from Hayward’s life in Hollywood and New York, as well as stacks of books on every subject—she is an inveterate reader. A desk against the wall is piled with papers. Is this where she works? “No, this is where I would sit if I were talking to you on the phone.”

Now that she and Duchin are divorcing, it remains to be seen whether Hayward will remain in her beloved house. “I hope so, but who knows?” she ponders. Clearly, Hayward is philosophical about her life, having survived her siblings and her parents, three marriages, and a host of houses.

Meanwhile there is a whole new generation waiting to read Haywire and the rest of us who are waiting for that next book.

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