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Lillian Roth was a star of stage musicals who had appeared in several successful films in the early sound era, including The Love Parade (1929), and the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers (1930). But her career was ruined by alcoholism and disastrous marriages. Alcoholics Anonymous saved her life, and Roth told the whole sordid story in her 1954 best-selling autobiography, I'll Cry Tomorrow.
Every female star in Hollywood wanted to play Roth in MGM's film version of I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) -- among those in the running were Jane Russell, Jane Wyman, Janet Leigh, Jean Simmons, Piper Laurie, and Grace Kelly. June Allyson seemed to have the inside track, until another actress took matters into her own hands. Susan Hayward wrote to studio head Dore Schary that the story "combines the best elements of my two favorite films, Smash-Up  and With a Song in My Heart ." Both films had earned the actress Academy Award nominations for her performances. Hayward also lobbied to get Lillian Roth on her side, studying Roth's performances in Las Vegas, and later visiting Roth in Beverly Hills, and talking with her for hours. Roth was convinced Hayward was the woman for the role. "We were both so emotional about things that when we faced each other it was almost like looking into a mirror. I was looking at Lillian and she was looking at Susan." Not only did Hayward get the part, she also got the script re-written for her, and the director of her choice, Daniel Mann.
But just before production began on I'll Cry Tomorrow, the pressures of Hayward's private life, along with the demands of the role, overwhelmed her. She was going through a messy divorce from actor Jess Barker, and a nasty custody battle for their twin sons. One night, Hayward took an overdose of sleeping pills. Before she blacked out, Hayward called her mother, who called police. Hayward barely survived. She never spoke publicly about why she tried to kill herself, but her own experience must have informed the harrowing scene she filmed a few weeks later, in which Roth attempts suicide.
In fact, enacting Roth's agony seems to have been cathartic for Hayward, and the sensitive direction she received from Mann resulted in a performance of great intensity from her. Together, they had visited jails, hospitals, and AA meetings to prepare. Before they shot a scene, star and director talked quietly about its emotions. If anger was needed, Hayward would work herself into a rage; if the emotion was grief, she was ready once she began sobbing. She held nothing back. And she let go of movie star vanity as well. "Danny Mann checked every detail," Hayward said later. "He wouldn't let me cheat with lipstick or even a curl. If he thought my hair wasn't mussed enough, he put water on his hands and mashed it down."
I'll Cry Tomorrow was realistic in another area as well. Hayward expected her singing to be dubbed by Roth, as she had been by Jane Froman when she starred in her life story, With a Song in My Heart. But before dubbing could take place, Hayward had to record the tracks so whoever dubbed her voice could duplicate her manner. Hayward's recordings showed that she had a fine, if untrained voice, and she did her own singing...much to Lillian Roth's disappointment. Roth, however, was deeply moved by Hayward's acting.
"Filmed on location...inside a woman's soul," the ads for I'll Cry Tomorrow proclaimed, and for once it wasn't much of an exaggeration. Susan Hayward received some of the best reviews of her career. Look Magazine called it "a shattering, intense performance that may win her the Academy Award" "Gut-wrenching," said Time. The performance earned Hayward her fourth Oscar nomination. But the Oscar that year went to Anna Magnani, for another Daniel Mann-directed performance, in The Rose Tattoo (1955). Hayward would finally win it for I Want to Live! (1958.)
Director: Daniel Mann
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Screenplay: Helen Deutsch & Jay Richard Kennedy, based on the book by Lillian Roth
Editor: Harold F. Kress
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Alex North
Principal Cast: Susan Hayward (Lillian Roth), Richard Conte (Tony Bardeman), Eddie Albert (Burt McGuire), Jo Van Fleet (Katie Roth), Don Taylor (Wallie), Ray Danton (David Tredman), Margo (Selma), Carole Ann Campbell (Lillian as a child).
BW-119m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri