This interview was conducted by Gary Dobbs and first appeared on Gary's site, The Tainted Archive.
In comparison to the adventures they put on the page, most writers live a sedentary life. Not so for writer, actor and filmmaker Steve Hayes -- British born as Ivan Hayes, he arrived in the USA in 1949 and made straight for Hollywood. He became an actor, changing his name to Steve Hayes (Ivan, no doubt, sounding a bit too commie for the times) on the suggestion of his close friend, Steve Reeves, and worked at MGM, Warner, Paramount, Columbia, RKO and Samuel Goldwyn Mayer as well as network television and radio.
Steve has in his time counted Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Tyrone Powers, Marilyn Monroe, Alan Ladd and Clark Cable among his personal friends. His recollections of times spent with these golden stars are detailed in his two volume memoirs, Googies: Coffee Shop to the Stars.
Steve currently lives in California where he writes novels and screenplays -- he can draw detail for his all action Black Horse Westerns from the fact that he has, in his eventful life, explored the Amazon, took part in the Cuban Revolution, trekked in both the Himalayas and Tibet and been involved in many escapades that would make your hair turn grey.
Here's a snippet from an Amazon review of Steve's memoirs:
"For a decade Steve supported himself as an actor, manager of the Googies coffeeshop adjacent to Schwab's Pharmacy, and by taking jobs as they were offered. Along the way he met and often befriended many of Hollywood's popular stars. His insight into these personalities goes against the grain of what you'll normally encounter in books where the allure relates directly to the geek fan base salivating for more celebrity gossip. What Steve Hayes has accomplished is the creation of a memoir lacking in egotism and animosity. What I appreciate is this man's honesty when talking about his successes and failures, and his unabashed look back at an era he knew was ending even as he experienced it. There is an underlying tone of sadness, but without being maudlin. I was particularly taken by his sensitivity when talking about his marriages, girlfriends and friendship with the stars he encountered. For example, his view on Clark Gable is right on, and ultimately heartbreaking. Ditto with Flynn, Ladd and others."
So where does one start interviewing a man like Steve Hayes? I started off by asking him if he was a hellraiser himself in his younger days? After all, he hung around with all these hard-drinking, hard-living stars.
"No, despite having a great adventurous life and being in wars and revolutions (Congo and Cuban), I never considered myself a hellraiser. I was never much of a drinker. I was always with heavy drinkers (Flynn, and others like him) and usually ended up looking after them, so had to be sober. Also, I can handle one drink. But two drinks brings out the violence in me. It can be directed at anyone, including friends, so long long ago I stopped any drinking sprees as it always landed me in trouble or jail.
"However, I was constantly fighting because as a young man -- 16-40 -- I was extraordinarily good looking (the beautiful or pretty boy type, not ruggedly handsome) and was extremely defensive and sensitive about it. I had lots of blond hair, blue eyes and was/am 6' 2", and with my British accent was a mark for older gay men. In Hollywood and around the world I was constantly being hit on. My older sister, being a ballerina, had lots of gay friends, and from my teens I was always ready to fight to prove I wasn’t like that.
"As for Errol Flynn, I was a house guest of his for a while and hung out with him. We used to go to all the big Hollywood nightclubs (Ciro's, Mocambo, Earl Carroll's, Cocoanut Grove, etc) together and have a great time. But since he was an alcoholic, and I was his pal, I felt obligated to keep him out of trouble -- which, by the way, he usually didn't initiate; it just came to him -- and to get him back home in one piece. I did the same thing for several other big stars like Sterling Hayden and Ty Power. That kept me on my toes and usually sober.
"I went out with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner on occasion, and was a friend of Marilyn Monroe's (we spent time together during her wild relationship with DiMaggio) and I would have one drink during dinner; but again, because of my innate violence, seldom had more than one drink. Not sure where that violence stems from; if you met me you'd never dream it existed. But all my wives saw it frequently whenever I was challenged in some way. And all made a point of telling me to stay sober. Today, I am loved by my wife, Robbin (she's 29 years my junior) and her partygoer buds because I am the official designated driver!!
"I knew Bob Mitchum, but I was not a 'friend.' Our paths didn't cross that often. When I arrived in Hollywood in 1949 he had recently been arrested for pot smoking (1948, I think) and because I knew Lila Leeds, who was with Bob the night he got arrested, I met him several times. He was a good guy and always treated me, and most everyone else, well. Most of the stars at that time drank and smoked heavily. So it wasn't that unusual. Flynn was not a good drunk; had a tendency to be mean and troublesome. Sober, which he seldom was, he was a delight. I had lunch recently with one of his daughters, Rory, and she and I grumbled about how the world always loved Flynn being a hellraiser but as we both knew, he also was a great father and a homebody who loved peace and quiet and loved to write more than anything.
"The guy who I did occasionally let my hair down with was Rory Calhoun -- who was a hellraiser and loved the women. He was also a bow and arrow hunter. He, myself, and our mutual buddy Guy Madison often went hunting together -- sometimes with Howard Hill, the famous archer who taught Flynn how to shoot. We'd go to Catalina or in the High Sierras to hunt and on occasion to Santa Cruz Island to hunt wild boar."
Steve also took part in the Cuban revolution. I asked him about this.
"When Castro first started the revolution he had most of the world on his side -- including many people in the US government. He was considered a Robin Hood trying to get rid of the Sheriff of Nottingham (the dictator, Batista). I decided to go fight alongside him and left Hollywood in Feb 1958, I think it was. I also intended to write a Cuban version of For Whom the Bell Tolls -- which is why I went and saw Hemingway at his finca outside Havana before going to see Castro. I had lunch with Hemingway (he left Cuba shortly afterward and went to Ketchum, Idaho where he soon died), who warned me not to get mixed up in the fight. He didn't trust Castro, or his brother, and as it turned out he was right. I trekked through the Sierra Maestra mountains for several days, trying to find the rebels, and eventually word reached Fidel and he sent some of his men to round me up and bring me to him. I told him what I wanted to do and he wasn’t that thrilled to have me around -- and Raul and Che were even less thrilled. I think they would have shot me, rather than risk my being a spy, but Castro knew a dead Englishman (I had not yet become a naturalized American) would not help his cause. I was blindfolded and led back to Holguin. From there I met two Australian newspaper writers who had interviewed Castro's former military advisor, William Morgan, an American army deserter who was fighting a sort of Second Front in the Escambray Mtns in central Cuba. I used their name to meet Morgan and he agreed to let me join them. But after a raid on a sugar mill, and some unpleasant butchering of Batista soldiers in surrounding villages, I realized these guys were like Quantrill's Raiders after the Civil War, out for themselves -- and took off for Havana. While there I did bump into Flynn and Beverly Aadland, his teenage girlfriend, while they were filming a dreadful movie called Cuban Rebel Girls. Flynn was debauched and barely remembered me. (Back in Hollywood in '59 I spent time with him again at the famous Garden of Allah hotel on the Sunset Strip -- and he was a pathetic drunk by then. He died shortly afterward while trying to sell his yacht in Seattle.) I wrote the novel, calling it The Wrong Revolution, but no one would touch it. By then Castro was hated by the US and no one wanted to be associated with him."
Enough spills and thrills for one man but Steve was no stranger to an unconvetional life and he even worked as a private investigator. I prompted him to spill the beans on this period.
"In 1954-59 while the manager of Googie's, I worked occasionally for Fred Otash, an ex-Hollywood cop turned PI. He became famous for his movie star cases. He cleaned up after Monroe was found dead. I and another detective, Norman Placey, who used to take photos for the gossip mag Confidential, worked about a dozen cases for Freddy. The most famous was the one involving Michael Rennie and Anita Eckberg. We caught them screwing and when it hit the mags, it caused no end of grief. I think he was still married then. I hated the job and as my writing progressed, I gave up PI work. I found it sleazy."
These days Steve's main efforts are put into his novels, despite the fact that screenwriting can prove much more profitable. I asked him about his novels.
"I write novels only because I enjoy the challenge. I can make five times more writing a 30-minute animation than a novel. And the latter take only a weekend to write. But nothing beats the concision and beauty of a well-written, well-structured novel. If you read any of my work you'll see the style is very succinct and understated. I learned that from doing short shorts (one page short stories) for the slicks. Can't remember if it was Look or Colliers that always pushed them, but whichever it was they were extremely difficult to do. Any idiot can write a story when the page count is unlimited. To make sense and create characters on one page -- whew! I also learned to write short, as they say, writing scripts for episodic TV. An hour had to be 54-56 pages with commercial breaks; a thirty minute drama, 24 pages. So every word counted."
So is it the novels that give Steve the most enjoyment?
" Which do I enjoy writing most? I like all writing. It is why I am here and when I'm not writing, I'm pretty much thinking about writing. When I was writing episodic TV (age prevents that now as there is great discrimination in TV, where the producers are often in their 20s), I'd often write on three series at once. I've always gotten up about 3am to write, and I'd work on one show till before lunch; one show till before dinner, and one show after dinner. Maybe that's why I've been married so many times!!!!!"
The Archive is a big classic Hollywood fan and will all these big names going about I am feeling rather starstruck. I asked Steve what John Wayne was like.
" I did not know John Wayne. He was one of the few big stars I didn't know. I met him twice. Once when I auditioned for a minor role on one of his movies (a stinker with Betty Bacall, can't recall the name) and another time when Louis L'Amour, who was a good friend, introduced me to him. Both times Wayne was really friendly. No stuck up star was he. I would have loved to have been on one of his movies with Ford, though; man, that must have been a doozy. "
As a screenwriter, Steve worked on many of the classic TV westerns. I asked him if he has any anecdotes for Archive readers.
"I worked on High Chaparral but unfortunately, the script ran into character problems (network interference) and did not get past the second draft stage. Don't know if you know, but you used to go pitch three ideas to the story editor; if he liked one he'd tell you to write a treatment (for which you were paid). If he liked that, you went to first draft (for which you were paid). If they liked that, you did second draft and occasionally a final "polish." That meant you got all the money, whatever the WGA scale was, and it usually made it on the air. But you could be cut off any time and only be paid for what you wrote.
"I knew a couple of the cast (Gilbert Roland; and Henry Darrow in particular) who came into Googie's, but never had much contact with the show. So no anecdotes. Gunsmoke, when I came aboard, was being produced by John Mantley, who I got to know very well on that show and others. Ron Bishop, Bill Kelley (both of whom I co-wrote with for a spell) and Paul Savage (I think Cal Clements, too) were among the writers then. We used to have a blast toward the end of the afternoon, most of the writers getting together for drinks and tall tales. A lot of pranks were played, all in good fun. I was never taken too seriously because I was still doing modeling occasionally and was, to quote Jim Arness (whom I later wrote for on How the West Was Won), "Prettier than goddamn Miss Kitty!") It was a bit irksome, but I knew it was said in good fun -- and besides, Arness was six-five and weighed 250 pounds! And was the star, so what was I going to do, pout or belt him? I don't think so. One amusing incident happened late one day: Kelley hired a stripper to sneak into Arness' trailer while all of us stood around watching to see what would happen. We heard Jim protesting and telling her to leave (he thought she was a fan), then she stripped and he came running out and we all took pictures of him in his long johns. He wasn't as amused as we'd hoped; and Mantley warned everyone to cut it out or else. (Jim had a bad limp and to move quickly was not easy for him).
HTWWW was a mini-series, with each episode two hours, so the writers were pretty serious about their work -- including Ron and me. We wrote three episodes, two of which were filmed -- The Enemy and The Gunfighter -- and one of them won us the Buckle Award (a beautiful buckle that I still have). Jim Arness once invited everyone to his home in San Clemente (he lived next to Richard Nixon's Western White House). And folks in general were friendly and we all got along. Very few pranks and drinking didn't start until shooting was over.
I co-wrote with Sam Peckinpaugh one espisode for The Westerner, starring Brian Keith. Sam was a wild ass and drank like a maniac. (I still email one of his relatives). He was pals with Lee Marvin, another huge drinker, and I once tried to teach both of them how to shoot a bow and arrow and Lee, bombed out of his skull, almost shot one of the extras. Sam thought it was funny and wanted me to shoot an apple off one of the girl's heads -- a no-no if there ever was one. He got pissed at me when I refused, and threw the script out. I was enraged and we almost got to blows but the crew pulled us apart. Obviously, I did not work for Sam again. But I knew Lee well from his early days (I drove him out to Malibu when he starred in the cheapo Shack Out on 101, written and produced by my pal Eddie Dein and Millie Dein), and he promised to get me work on his next movie. Never materialized, but that's because Lee probably woke up next day, and once sober never remembered promising me."
With such a wealth of experience in the western genre, I wonder what Steve feels the future holds for the oaters.
"I sense it will survive. I hear they're going to do a remake of Butch and Sundance (Travolta and Cruise), and other westerns are slated. But will it ever be as big as in the 60s? Never. There was a time when Warners had six western TV series going at once, and Louis was selling 20,000 books a month!"
What future project does this remarkable man have up his sleeve?
"I have countless projects always going on at once. I still write all day, seven days a week. I'm considering writing the last book of my BHW Gabriel Moonlight series; I've been asked to write a screenplay for an indie producer (my wife and I -- Sixgold Productions -- exec produced a small film called God's Ears some years back and someone who saw it called me and wondered if I would be interested in writing something for him); and I have a PI series for TV that would translate well into paperbacks; BHW writer David Whitehead and I have co-written several books, and finally I have finished a play called Wife Five, which a director is interested in. My wife and I met her at a writer's house in Malibu. She had read my Edgar Allen Poe play and liked it and then liked this comedy. No money in plays -- unless it reaches Broadway -- but it's still great fun to write them and see your words actually performed."
And so, interview over, I realise I have enough material for several more features on this remarkable man. His westerns are exceptional and Hollywood fans will love both volumes of his memoirs.
GARY DOBBS is an actor and writer whose work has appeared under his own name and the pseudonyms 'Jack Martin' and 'Vincent Stark'.