Actor, Author, Adventurer. Born Sterling Relyea Walter, at 6 foot, 5 inches, he was known as one of the tallest Hollywood actors. His father died when he was young and his mother remarried. His stepfather adopted him at 9 and renamed him Sterling Walter Hayden. He left home at 15 to go to sea and ended up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he worked as a Grand Banks fisherman and learned the art of sailing. He was mate on Irving Johnson's Yankee on its noted circumnavigation in 1937. He was navigator on the Essex-built schooner Gertrude L. Thebaud under Captain Ben Pine in the 1938 Fisherman's Cup races vs the Canadian schooner Bluenose. Partly due to the intense media coverage of those races, he was discovered by the press: his photo in the Boston Post captioned "Thebaud Sailor Like Movie Idol" led to modeling opportunities in New York and a call from Paramount Pictures. After captaining a voyage to Tahiti, he signed with Paramount in 1941. He met his first wife, actress Madeleine Carroll on the set of his first picture, "Virginia" (1941), and they married in 1942. After filming a second picture, he enlisted in the Marine Corps using the pseudonym John Hamilton, attended OCS, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. He served as an undercover agent in the OSS in Croatia and Italy and was awarded the Silver Star among other medals. Leaving active duty in 1946 as a Captain, he returned to Hollywood where he quickly became a leading man in Westerns and film noir movies such as "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), "Johnny Guitar" (1954), and "The Killing" (1956) and also made multiple TV appearances on "Playhouse 90", in particular a live adaptation of William Faukner's "The Old Man". He appeared in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, confessing a brief fling with the Communist Party due to his admiration for Tito's partisans, but later repudiated his cooperation. A custody battle with his second wife caused him to flee Hollywood in 1959, sailing with his 4 children to the South Seas. This story was at the heart of his controversial but well-received autobiography "The Wanderer" (1963). Returning to Hollywood, but now as a character actor rather than a leading man, he gave what is probably his most notable performance as General Jack D. Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove" (1964), for which he was nominated by BAFTA as "Best Foreign Actor". Other noted roles were a corrupt cop in "The Godfather" (1972), Roger Wade in "The Long Goodbye" (1973), Leo Dalco in Bertolucci's "Novecento" (1976), and a comedic turn as the CEO in "Nine to Five" (1980). He often expressed his dislike for acting, stating that he only acted to pay for his sailing. Utilizing his love for the sea and knowledge of sailing, he also authored the best-selling 1976 work "Voyage: A Novel of 1896". He was married three times with six children, and died of prostate cancer.
Bio by: Kenneth Gilbert
1906–1987 (m. 1942)