Actress. Remembered as the first wife of actor Henry Fonda, she was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of wealthy stockbroker Cornelius Hancock and heiress Garland Council Sullavan, She attended numerous private schools while growing up, studying drama. She performed with the Harvard University Players and began her acting career with the Broadway play "A Modern Virgin" (1931). After meeting aspiring actor Henry Fonda in the Harvard University Players, she married him on Christmas Day, 1931, but their marriage only lasted a few of months, ending in divorce. Her later marriages to director William Wyler (1934 to 1936) and to movie agent Leland Hayward (1936 to 1947) were also stormy, although she appeared to have found love with Kenneth Wagg, who she married in 1950. She became making films in 1933, with "Only Yesterday" and played opposite her ex-husband Henry Fonda in the 1936 film, "The Moon's Our Home." She earned an Oscar nomination in "Three Comrades" (1938), playing the role of Patricia Hollmann against screen star Robert Taylor, her only Oscar nomination. She would make several movies with Jimmy Stewart, with whom she had some chemistry, including "Next Time We Love" (1936), "The Shopworn Angel" (1938), "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), and "The Mortal Storm" (1940). Considered the epitome of grace and charm on screen, she was angry and self-destructive off screen. After the film "Cry Havoc" (1943), she was unable to find work and she turned to alcohol to sooth herself. Her only film after 1943 was the role of Mary Scott in "No Sad Songs for Me" (1950). She was able to appear in a number of television roles in the early 1950s, but most producers wanted no part of her. She also discovered that she was becoming deaf in her later years, and committed suicide with an overdose of pills (barbiturates), although the county coroner ruled the death was accidental. Her daughter, Brooke Hayward, would later write a harrowing memoir of the family's life together, "Haywire, " which became a television movie in 1980.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson