Allison Hayes (1930-1977) was an American actor who owed her fame to her powerfully sensual looks and an alien with a magical growth ray. Though her career lasted only a few years, she achieved immortality of a kind with her portrayal of the wronged giantess in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
She was born in Charleston, West Virginia, on March 6, 1930; her parents called her Mary Jane Hayes. Her father was Chief Engineer at the Navy Department's Bureau of Ordnance. The family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was still a small child, and she attended St. Gabriel's Parochial School, Holy Cross Academy, and Calvin Coolidge High School, graduating in 1948.
She was very beautiful in her youth, winning the title Miss Washington, D.C. in 1949, and competing in Miss America later that year when she played classical piano as her special talent (she had considered the piano as a career). Her looks allowed her to break into television, working in Washington initially as a model on color television test transmissions and later hosting a daily program. In 1953 Hayes decided to head west to Hollywood to try to make her name in feature films. Her first roles were under contract at Universal-International who gave her the name Allison. She had a silent part in Douglas Sirk's Sign of the Pagan. Her first speaking (and screaming) film role was alongside a talking mule in the unremembered comedy Francis Joins the Wacs (1954).
After a short spell at U-I, she moved to Columbia, where her films included post-American Civil War drama Count Three And Pray (1955), which was her favourite of all her films. The film stars Van Heflin and Joanna Woodward in her first role, and Hayes plays a southern belle who falls on hard times. Following that, she moved to Warner Brothers and then into independents.
She was greatly in demand in the late 1950s, making a mixture of B-movies and the occasional more prestigious production. Although she also made westerns and crime films, she is best known for her work in science fiction and horror pictures such as mad scientist drama The Unearthly (1957) (later to crop up on Mystery Science Theater 3000), and voodoo horror The Disembodied (1957). She worked with Roger Corman's company twice, as an evil saloon-owner in the western The Gunslinger (1956) and as a witch in the past-life hypnotic regression drama The Undead (1957). Also in the sci-fi horror genre she made The Hypnotic Eye (1960) and most famously Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).
Most of the films from this period are dismissed by critics and even by science fiction fans as being of little interest, sometimes not even awful enough to enjoy sarcastically (despite the presence of terrible B-movie icon Tor Johnson in The Unearthly.) Attack of the 50-Foot Woman is perhaps the standout, with a plot that holds the attention, and a strong performance by Hayes.
In that film she plays a spoilt rich girl, who is betrayed by her husband, and is grown to giant size by an alien ray. She takes a terrible revenge on the faithless man, tearing apart the bar where he hides and seizing him in her giant hands. The fact that she takes this revenge whilst clad in a scanty bikini apparently made from bedsheets only adds to the allure of her performance. The film is sometimes praised for its feminist message - Hayes plays a strong, powerful character far from the norm of shrieking, fainting females in similar films.
She also did a lot of television at the same time, appearing in Western series Bat Masterton as well as several episodes of Perry Mason - she was friends with the show's star Raymond Burr. Following this burst of activity, Hayes career went into a slide in the 1960s due to ill health. Her last feature role was a small part as a drunk in the Elvis-starring slapstick comedy Tickle Me (1965). She was also a regular in the first series of television soap opera General Hospital (1963-1964).
Allison Hayes died on February 27, 1977 in La Jolla, California, USA. Her death is variously attributed to leukemia or blood poisoning, probably exacerbated by a lead- and calcium-laden dietary supplement. Hayes believed her symptoms were consistent with lead poisoning from the health food product. She campaigned for years for greater regulation of dietary supplements and the FDA changed their rules in 1977.
Hayes never achieved greatness as an actress, but made at least one film that is still popular today, and projects her sensuality through many more. She was tough on screen, but tougher in real life struggling against her illness; she was in her early 30s when she first took ill, and if bad health had not stripped her of her gorgeous looks and ultimately taken her life, she might have gone on to far greater things. As it is, her tragic life stands contrary to her powerful, forthright performances.
This is a list of her more important film roles; there were also a few early films in which she did little or nothing, not even scream.
- Bendit Chenier, "Allison Hayes: Dossier Scream Queens", AstroneF Magazine, http://afm.infinit.net/chro/queens/hayes.htm, accessed December 27, 2002.
- Jack Randall Earls, "The Real Allison Hayes", Archives from the Crypt, http://www.horror-wood.com/allison.htm, accessed December 27, 2002.
- Josie Hayes, "Allison Hayes: Bigger Than Life", http://members.tgforum.com/corafmnoir/AllisonHayes.html, accessed December 27, 2002.
- Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/, accessed December 27, 2002.
- Brian J. Walker, "Allison Hayes", Brian's Drive-In Theater, December 20, 2002, http://www.briansdriveintheater.com/allisonhayes.html, accessed December 27, 2002.