Hayes Gordon OBE AO 1920-1999

Hayes Gordon

Hayes Gordon

Hayes Gordon was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 25 February 1920.

While he studied pharmacy he participated in local variety broadcasts and, at the age of 20, presented his own weekly 60-minute television show, Hayes Gordon Presents.

In 1951, he found himself caught up in the McCarthy campaign to root out ‘reds’.

It was J.C. Williamson’s offer of the leading role in Kiss Me, Kate in Australia that rescued his career.

 

Dedication, inspiration and imagination

‘The stage was where Hayes Gordon lived,’ wrote Reg Livermore, who trained with Gordon and acted in many of his early Ensemble productions. ‘Everything he did had a sharp and thrilling edge to it. For those of us already in the thrall of what was happening in the theatre in America, he was the horse’s mouth, providing practising actors the opportunity to hone their skills, to seriously stretch themselves; it was an opportunity not to be missed. Even if you were only moderately curious you could pick up a few tips. Hayes, of course, offered more than just a few tips, he truly spoke another sort of language. The information Hayes shared amounted to a revelation. It didn’t take long to realise there was more to acting than nice, rounded vowels sounds, and coming on from the wings on the upstage foot; he was opening doors to a more particular understanding of our craft and would kick-start the imaginations of many. Off the stage, Hayes was quietly spoken and mesmerising; his authority, intelligence and range of interests went far beyond the norm.’

Hayes Gordon was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 25 February 1920. He had his first stage roles in amateur Gilbert and Sullivan productions when he was still at high school. While he studied pharmacy he participated in local variety broadcasts and, at the age of 20, presented his own weekly 60-minute television show, Hayes Gordon Presents. His graduation with a Bachelor of Science was followed by a stint entertaining guests at a smart New Hampshire hotel. He gravitated to New York where he had voice training and, in 1942, scored a place in the chorus of the Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, New Jersey, which had a fortnightly-change repertoire of vintage musicals. His first was Naughty Marietta.

Gordon’s performance in Paper Mill’s The Desert Song resulted in a meeting with its lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein, and a small part in the premiere of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in March 1943. He received his draft papers a few months later. His first service assignment was Moss Hart’s musical play Winged Victory, a tribute to the US Air Force. With Hart’s co-operation, Gordon set up a theatre education program for the 350 members of the company. At the same time he started to study acting with Sanford Meisner at his Neighbourhood Playhouse. Winged Victory toured the country, including a spell in Santa Monica, where the show was filmed. Gordon’s later Broadway appearances were small roles in the 1946 revival of Show Boat, Brigadoon, a flop called Sleepy Hollow and the revues Small Wonder and Along Fifth Avenue.

It was during the run of Brigadoon that Gordon began taking acting lessons from the director and teacher Lee Strasberg, the legendary exponent of ‘The Method’ technique of acting. Gordon was in an early TV ‘soap’ called Fashion Story, had a radio show called Music in the Air, and did night club work. Then, in 1951, he found himself caught up in the McCarthy campaign to root out ‘reds’. He had always been an active supporter of theatrical unions, but Gordon was no communist. Nevertheless, on principle, he refused to sign what was known as ‘the loyalty oath’. Suddenly, for the first time, he was out of work. It was J.C. Williamson’s offer of the leading role in Kiss Me, Kate in Australia that rescued his career.

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Biographical references

Lawrence Durrant: Hayes Gordon – The Man and His Dream, Hale and Iremonger, 1997
Reg Livermore: Chapters and Chances, Hardie Grant, 2003
Don Reid: ‘Hayes Gordon’ and ‘Ensemble Theatre Company’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995