World of Westfahl | Encyclopedia Introduction | All Entries | Acknowledgements
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

H Entries
  John Hamilton
  Earl Hamner, Jr.
  Tom Hanks
  Jonathan Harris
  George Harrison
  Ray Harryhausen
  Byron Haskin
  Howard Hawks
  Ben Hecht
  David Hedison
  Robert A. Heinlein
  Charlton Heston
  Sir Alfred Hitchcock
  Inoshiro Honda
  Ron Howard
  Rock Hudson
  Gale Anne Hurd
  Martha Hyer
(1924–2014). American actress.

Acted in: Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (Charles Lamont 1953); Riders to the Stars (Richard CARLSON 1954); Francis in the Navy (Arthur Lubin 1955); The Big Fisherman (Frank Borzage 1959); Mistress of the World (William Dieterle and Richard Angst, uncredited 1960); First Men in the Moon (Nathan JURAN 1964); 'The Cat's Meow' (1965), episode of Bewitched; Picture Mommy Dead (Bert I. GORDON 1966).
Undoubtedly, Martha Hyer's heart lay in the American frontier, the setting for the many westerns that launched her career, perhaps a result of her upbringing in Fort Worth, Texas. But like Steve IHNAT and Glenn STRANGE, such individuals sometimes found themselves in outer space instead, as the personnel of the western B-movie and the science fiction B-movie tended to intermingle due to their shared social class. Her performances in that milieu can be quickly summarized: when given a part that offered no real creative opportunities, she was competent but unremarkable; but allowed to play a character with interesting nuances, she could make herself a dominating presence.

In the former category, surely, lies her role in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars as secretary to the man whose carefully planned space flight is hijacked by the film's titular idiots. One barely notices she is there. But Riders to the Stars offers a stunning contrast: as scientist Jane Flynn, helping to plan and monitor a pioneering space flight, she is one of the few beautiful scientists in science fiction films who is actually convincing as an educated professional (and one must remember she earned a college degree at Northwestern University), and in the scenes where she expresses her passionate desire to fly into space herself, and her growing affection for astronaut William LUNDIGAN, she provides the characteristically stoic spacesuit film with a rare emotional impact. Watching the film, you will definitely notice she is there—and for those uninterested in realistic space adventures, she represents the major reason to watch the film. As for her other genre film of the era, she presumably did the best she could in Francis in the Navy as the romantic lead in a film about a talking mule, but it is understandably hard to motivate oneself to watch such a film.

However, having demonstrated some genuine talent, Hyer was able to move away from science fiction film to bigger and better things, and she was briefly considered a major star, appearing alongside celebrated figures as Jerry LEWIS, Bob Hope, David Niven, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine, earning an Oscar nomination for her role in Some Came Running, and almost getting the role of Marion Crane in Alfred HITCHCOCK's Psycho. During this time, her nearest approach to a genre film was her one-dimensional performance as King Herod's wife in the reverent Biblical epic The Big Fisherman.

Approaching the age of forty, however, Hyer found herself drifting back into television roles, first in the many westerns of the early 1960s, later in more contemporary dramas; she also ventured abroad for some foreign films, beginning with the West German technothriller Mistress of the World. More significantly, in First Men in the Moon, she was initially lively and assertive as the fiancée of the ne'er-do-well Arnold Bedford (Edward JUDD); but once they got to the Moon, Bedford morphed into a conventional hero and Hyer's Kate Callender became a typically helpless damsel in distress. She was also nicely unsympathetic in the horror film Picture Mommy Dead.

It was in the year that she made that film, however, that Hyer took on what became her most important role: as the wife of influential producer Hal Wallis. After continuing to perform for several years, she asked her husband for a new challenge, and he happily hired her to write the screenplay for a new movie he was producing, Rooster Cogburn  (1975), starring none other than John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn. Perhaps starting her writing career with a major motion picture was not a wise move, though, since the film was so widely panned as to drive both Wallis and his wife into retirement. For the final forty years of her life, then, Hyer  remained out of sight, comfortably supported first by the once-prominent Wallis and later, after his death in 1986, by his estate. As it happens, none of her obituaries mentioned Riders to the Stars, but for a few eccentric critics, it will always remain her most memorable performance.

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2018 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art