From left, Hayes; her theater.Photos: Getty Images
When the Marriott Marquis hotel was jammed into Times Square in 1983, the cost to the urban landscape was three Broadway theaters. At the time, the loss was sad but vaguely understandable; the business of Broadway was withering away, and the Morosco, Helen Hayes, and Bijou were perceived as graceful but stodgy, not nearly worth saving. Maybe the saddest part of it all was that Helen Hayes herself was still alive at the time. The silent-film star and First Lady of the American Theater was able to watch the wrecking ball crunch into her own name on the marquee. (Ouch.) Another playhouse on 44th Street was renamed in her honor, softening the blow.
Well, we don’t tear down Broadway theaters anymore, thank heavens. (In fact, there’s a shortage of them now, and producers often find themselves jockeying for an available house.) Yet Ms. Hayes, who died in 1993, is about to lose her marquee again.
Second Stage Theater, the excellent Off Broadway company, has just bought the Helen Hayes, allowing it easy transfers for its successful shows. And hidden in the Times story announcing the sale was this sad sentence: “The Helen Hayes is likely to be renamed.”
Second Stage! C’mon, folks! We know you’ll get a big check toward renovating the place if you call it Chipotle Second Stage, or the Sbarro Center, or the Katz’s Pastrami Theater. (Actually, we’d enjoy that last one, particularly because the intermission snack bar would probably offer a nice knish.) But think of Helen. Even though she died in 1993, the most beloved actress of her era shouldn’t have to watch from showbiz heaven as her name is jackhammered off a building again. —Christopher BonanosPoor Helen Hayes, Screwed Over Again