John Michael Hayes - Writer

Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Worcester, Massachusetts, 11 May 1919. Education: Attended Massachusetts State College. Family: Married Mildred Hicks. Career: Newspaper and radio comedy writer in late 1930s and early 1940s: wrote for Lucille Ball's My Favorite Husband , Suspense , The Adventures of Sam Spade , and Sweeney and March ; 1952—first film as writer, Red Ball Express ; contract with Universal; 1954–57—writer for Alfred Hitchcock at Paramount: first film, Rear Window ; 1957–64—writer at 20th Century-Fox, and after 1964 at Avco Embassy (several Harold Robbins adaptations). Agent: Ned Brown Agency, West Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A.

Films as Writer:


Red Ball Express (Boetticher)


Thunder Bay (A. Mann) (co); Torch Song (Walters) (co)


War Arrow (Sherman); Rear Window (Hitchcock)


To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock); It's a Dog's Life (Hoffman)


The Trouble with Harry (Hitchcock); The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock) (co)


Peyton Place (Robson)


The Matchmaker (Anthony)


But Not for Me (W. Lang)


Butterfield 8 (Daniel Mann) (co)


The Children's Hour (Wyler)


The Chalk Garden (Neame); The Carpetbaggers (Dmytryk); Where Love Has Gone (Dmytryk)


Harlow (Douglas)


Judith (Daniel Mann); Nevada Smith (Hathaway)


Nevada Smith (Douglas)


Pancho Barnes (Heffron—for TV)


Iron Will (Haid) (co)


By HAYES: articles—

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

In Blueprint in Babylon , by J. D. Marshall, Los Angeles, 1978.

Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), vol. 21, Winter 1996.

Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), vol. 22, 1996.

On HAYES: articles—

Carroll, Willard, in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.

Postscript (Commerce, Texas), vol. 9, nos. 1–2, Fall/Winter 1989–90.

Creative Screenwriting (Washington), Winter 1997.

* * *

Although John Michael Hayes will probably be best remembered for his association with Alfred Hitchcock in the middle 1950s, he also wrote a number of significant literary adaptations of such popular works as Peyton Place , The Matchmaker, Butterfield 8, The Children's Hour, and The Carpetbaggers. Hayes's total output has been small, but he has chosen his vehicles carefully and his work commands a healthy respect from the critical community as well as the professional film world.

After a brief stint as a radio dramatist on such shows as Suspense, The Adventures of Sam Spade, and the Lucille Ball comedy My Favorite Husband , Hayes broke into film writing in the early 1950s at Universal Studios scripting action films such as Anthony Mann's Thunder Bay and Budd Boetticher's Red Ball Express as well as star vehicles such as Torch Song for Joan Crawford and War Arrow for Jeff Chandler. Hayes's big break, however, came in 1954 when he moved to Paramount and began his partnership with Alfred Hitchcock.

The first movie they worked on was an immediate success and has been hailed as the quintessential Hitchcock film. Rear Window was taken from a story by Cornell Woolrich which Hayes expanded much in the same way that Evan Hunter would later extensively enlarge the Daphne du Maurier story of "The Birds" into another Hitchcock thriller. Hayes developed a female character Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, with whom the central character, L. B. Jefferies, played by James Stewart, could spar, and he also added a great deal of verbal byplay among the secondary characters of the nurse and the policeman, also missing in the original short story. The subtle sexual dance between the central figures literally played out against a backdrop of murder and suspense and highlighted many of Hitchcock's traditional themes in a contemporary, sophisticated setting. The multilayered screenplay which interweaves the tension of the murder plot with the indifferent personal relationship between the principals, and plays upon the voyeuristic preoccupations of the audience, is a tour de force of script writing and justly earned Hayes an Academy Award nomination.

Hayes created the same surface slickness, but with a more disarmingly romantic tone, in To Catch a Thief, his next film with Hitchcock. Partly because the star was Cary Grant rather than James Stewart, the film appears much lighter and more charming than Rear Window. Nevertheless, many of the same rather mordant attitudes towards relationships which darken the former film also shade the latter. In both cases the central female character, played to perfection by a stunningly beautiful Grace Kelly, proves to be not only a competent associate, full of pluck and daring, but also an alluring bait for a marriage entrapment the men appear to try to avoid. In both films murder, theft, marriage, and sex jockey for a proper arrangement, allowing the films to be too easily misread only as romantic comedies, the darker undertone carefully and safely hidden by the surface gloss and style. It is to the credit of the screenplay that Hayes was able to interrelate so carefully and skillfully the many tonal and stylistic layers which allow for multiple interpretations.

The next two Hitchcock/Hayes collaborations were neither as successful nor as interesting. The Trouble with Harry, a small-town murder/comedy, involved the constantly moving corpse of Harry as the various small-town figures tried to hide their own or others' culpability in Harry's demise. It is a one-joke idea, although still entertaining. The last film Hayes wrote for Hitchcock was a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, a film now best remembered for the wonderful and suspenseful set pieces, particularly the Albert Hall assassination attempt. In 1957 Hitchcock left Paramount and Hayes went to Twentieth Century-Fox where his only project was writing the script for Peyton Place. John Michael Hayes has been much praised for his adaptation of the Grace Metalious novel, bringing order and structure to what many felt was an unfilmable work. In retrospect, however, Hayes's screenplay seems less impressive. The original novel, although far too explicit sexually to be filmed without alterations, especially during the late 1950s, nevertheless was not a formless incoherent mess as many in Hollywood declared. The screen treatment, which became the basis for most of the later Peyton Place properties, greatly weakened the power and bite of the initial novel. Most of Grace Metalious's social commentary was smoothed out of recognition and the sharply feminist tone of the work was eliminated altogether. Hayes received another Academy Award nomination for the job, and the film marked him as a writer able to handle sensitive material, especially of a sexual nature, which may account for his assignments on Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, John O'Hara's Butterfield 8, and Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden.

In the middle 1960s Hayes became an executive at Avco Embassy Pictures and began a series of adaptations of Harold Robbins novels: The Carpetbaggers, Where Love Has Gone, and Nevada Smith. Since the early 1970s, Hayes has written more for television, most of his screen work having gone unrealized, and he has remained at Avco as an executive. Perhaps, as one critic has remarked, the new Hollywood film does not lean toward the stylish craftsmanship which characterizes Hayes's best work. This may be so, but many observers feel that his screenplays had been declining in quality since sometime in the late 1950s with the breakup of the Hitchcock partnership. Perhaps John Michael Hayes was one of those collaborative artists who was destined to do his finest work with a single director in a particular period.

—Charles L. P. Silet

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