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Sterling Hayden's Wars

Sterling Hayden's Wars

By Lee Mandel
Series: Hollywood Legends Series

Hardcover : 9781496816979, 368 pages, 21 b&w illustrations, May 2018

A biography of a master sailor, war hero, and one of the most unusual and troubled stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood


A master sailor when he was barely in his twenties, Sterling Hayden (1916-1986) became an overnight film star despite having no training in acting. After starring in two major films, he quit Hollywood and trained as a commando in Europe. Hayden joined the OSS and fought in the Balkans and Mediterranean, earning a Silver Star for his distinguished service. Hayden's wartime admiration for the Yugoslavian Partisans led to a brief membership in the Communist Party after the war, and this would come back to haunt him when he was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee where he became the first star to name names.

After returning to Hollywood, Hayden's film career flourished as he starred in several films including The Asphalt Jungle, Denver and Rio Grande, and The Killing. His personal life, however, descended into chaos. His bitter custody battle with his second wife led to his well-publicized and controversial kidnapping of their four children for a voyage to Tahiti. Increasing alcohol and substance abuse would take its toll, but Hayden's career would be revived as a character actor in such classics as Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather. In addition, he proved to be an excellent author, penning two international bestsellers.

Despite these achievements, his later years were characterized by depression, self-doubt, alcoholism, and substance abuse. His life was metaphorically a series of wars, including the most difficult of them all--the war that Sterling Hayden fought with himself.


"Well-written and exhaustively researched. This is the definitive biography of Sterling Hayden. "

- Irwin F. Gellman, author of The Contender: Richard Nixon, the Congress Years, 1946-1952 and The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952-1961

"Lee Mandel's Sterling Hayden's Wars is a tour de force about a famous American worthy of study. In this first-ever biography of Hayden, Mandel uses this man's life to document several interesting epochs of US history. In reading this book, one comes to appreciate the beginning of the Special Forces culture of the US Armed Forces since Hayden, as a Marine Corps officer, participated in the OSS fighting the Nazis in Europe. Furthermore, it goes into the culture of Hollywood and politics and how often these two worlds collide and influence one another. Since Hayden was caught up in the witch hunt of the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, this book shows that America unfortunately is not always the land of political freedom and ideological thought. By reading Hayden's biography, one gets into the psyche of a troubled mind and a man's journey in life that rivals those of other great 'troubled' Americans like Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ernest Hemingway. On a micro-level, Hayden's life mirrors many of these Americans just mentioned. Hayden was a sailor, warrior, tormented soul, man of action, and talented author. By studying Hayden's life, one comes to learn about the US military of World War II, Hollywood during its glorious years of growth, American society, and the story of a fascinating man. Anyone interested in popular culture, Hollywood, war, and psychology will enjoy this book. "

- Bryan Mark Rigg, author of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military