From David Thomson‘s “New Biographical Dictionary of Film (Sixth Edition)“: “Sterling Hayden always looked shy of glossy stardom, more his own master than the smile-flexing Flynns and Powers. At his best, Hayden was solid, weathered and fatalistic: a taciturn, gangling John Hamilton, as calm as a Melville sailor who had seen great sights and was puzzled by the need to talk of them.
“Three times that placid strength was invoked: as the horse-loving perfectionist in The Asphalt Jungle (’50, John Huston); as the stranger in Johnny Guitar (’53, Nicholas Ray), deliberating over the operatic dialogue of that film; as the organizer in The Killing (’56, Stanley Kubrick), finally dismayed by the dollar bills winnowed in aircraft slipstream.”
Originally posted on 11.14.10: “A Wiltonian whom I came to know in the late ’70s, Hayden was a fascinating, hungry, obviously vulnerable fellow, insecure and ridden with guilt about naming names in the ’50s, jolly or surly depending on the time of day, very singular, a great contentious bear of a man, always the thinker, certainly a poet or a man trying all the time to be one, a man of the sea and a boy in some ways.
“There are the rote facts of life, the plain material truth of things, and then there are the currents within. The singing angels, the demons, the fireflies, the banshees, the echoes, the dreams…the vague sense of a continuing infinite scheme and how we fit into that.
Possibly the best sentence I’ve ever written: “We all define our lives as a constant mixing of these two aspects, but the charm and final value of a person, for me, is about how much he/she seems to be dealing with the interior world, and how much he/she comments and refers to those currents and laughs about them, and basically lives on the flow of that realm. “Some go there more frequently or deeply than others, and some are just matter-of-fact types who let their spiritual side leak out in small little droplets from time to time, but Hayden, by my sights, was almost entirely about those currents.”
“Hayden never just said, ‘I’d like a little sugar in my coffee’ and let it go at that. Well, he would…but if you asked him to expand upon that notion he would just take off and you’d just sit back and marvel. Hayden knew various coffees and coffee growers and had walked through coffee plantations in the Caribbean at dawn, and he knew all about how sugar was refined and would speak metaphorically about the sweetness of sugar being the enticement but coffee being the reality of it all, the bean from the earth, the bean that needed to turn brown and then be ground down and prepared just so, and then he’d be off on some tangent that took the coffee-vs.-sugar metaphor and ran with it, or took it and jumped off a cliff as it were.
“We were once speaking about his role as the farmer in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1900 and he started to talk about his final line in the film, which he wrote. I said it before he did — ‘I’ve always loved the wind’ — and he loved that. He chuckled and patted my knee and said ‘God love ya.'”