Alfred A. Knopf 1963 (reprint Sheridan House 2000) 434 pages
In January 1959 Sterling Hayden set sail from San Francisco to Tahiti taking his four children in violation of a court order. The lack of respect he showed toward the judge’s order as well as reneging on a film commitment were indicative of Hayden’s irreverence to a structured life. That voyage aboard Hayden’s ship, the Wanderer, became the genesis for the autobiography he wrote upon his return. Hayden has a novelist touch in describing his sea adventures but the book can become confusing at times as he switches from first to third party narratives.
As an actor, Sterling Hayden was a prominent part of film noir. His leading roles
in a half dozen noirs including The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, two of the very
best of noirs, forever link him to the genre. But if you’re expecting an inclusive
look at Hayden’s film career you likely will be disappointed. Hayden’s disdain
for Hollywood and acting was well known and it’s quite evident whenever he discusses
that part of his life. He refers to most of his films as “noxious ballyhoo.” But
beyond his film career was a complex and most interesting individual whose life was
far more adventurous than most of the characters he ever played on the big screen.
At age 16 he left home to work as a deckhand on a Grand Banks fishing boat and from
their his lifelong bond with the sea was forged. A year later he worked on a crew
that sailed a yacht from Connecticut to Los Angeles. Little did he know what future
this city would play in his life. He returned home to Boston riding the rails with
the hobos and displaced men of the Depression era. By age 22 Hayden was a certified
Master and sailed and excursion on an around the world voyage.
With his All-
Always restless, Hayden joined the Marine Corps after WWII broke out. He subsequently became an agent for the O.S.S. and parachuted behind enemy lines where he worked with the Yugoslavia underground. His service during WWII would earn him a Silver Star and would probably make an interesting book unto itself. But like his acting career, Hayden doesn’t dwell on his wartime exploits for it was his love of the sea that he enjoys describing in rich detail. Hayden does become more circumspect when he discusses his flirtation with Communism and involvement with the HUAC investigation of Hollywood. He seems to wallow in guilt by what he describes as being a “rat of the first order.” Hayden’s film career did not suffer as a result of his testimony to the HUAC as no one wanted to disparage a bona fide war hero.
Hayden wrote this book when he was in his late 40s, so his life and film career were
far from over. Unfortunately Hayden’s post Wanderer life weakened the credibility
of what he expresses in his book. He did become somewhat of a recluse living aboard
a barge in Paris but much of his exile had to do with the unpaid taxes he owed in
the U.S. After that issue was resolved and for the rest of his life Hayden would
return to Hollywood ffor an acting job anytime he needed income. When Wanderer
was reprinted in 1977 Hayden wrote a short addendum in which he more or less reflects
on the virtues of the non-