Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Month: Allison Hayes

Pulchritude with attitude. That's an appropriate description for B-movie actress Allison Hayes, who portrayed larger-than-life female characters on the silver in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.

Born Mary Jane Hayes in 1930 in Charleston, West Virginia, she got her big career break when she represented Washington, DC in the 1949 Miss America Pageant. She took Allison Hayes as her professional name, worked in television, and eventually made her way to the West Coast in the early 1950s. She made her official film debut with a small part in 1954's Francis Joins the WACS. Further supporting player roles followed with costumers such as Sign of the Pagan (starring Jeff Chandler) and The Purple Mask (with Tony Curtis).

Hayes finally landed a promising role as a faded Southern belle opposite Van Heflin in the Western Count Three and Pray (1955). Unfortunately, critics focused on the film's other female star, a young Joanne Woodward. Instead of juicy parts in bigger budgeted films, Hayes got stuck in mid-grade fare like Mohawk and The Steel Jungle.

In 1956, Roger Corman provided her with a meaty role as the villain opposite gun-toting Beverly Garland in his fascinating feminist Western The Gunslinger. That same year, she played an alluring witch in another interesting Corman picture The Undead, which was filmed for $70,000 over ten days in a refurbished supermarket.

Hayes worked steadily in low-budget films and in television, often in thankless parts that capitalized on her looks. She was a promiscuous spouse who becomes a zombie in the camp classic Zombies of Mora Tau (1957).  In The Unearthly, she played alongside John Carradine as a mad scientist and Tor Johnson as his henchman (the film was later shown on MST3K).

But with her next sci fi film, Allison Hayes earned icon status as the title character in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. She plays an alcoholic, mentally unstable wife with a crappy cheating husband. However, her life changes when she encounters an alien and begins to grow into a vengeful giant. The movie was understandably panned when originally released. But it acquired a cult reputation over the years, thanks to Ms. Hayes' no holds barred performance and the fantastic concept. My only problem with the film: Even with her emotional baggage, it's hard to fathom how any husband could cheat on Hayes' character. She is way hotter than Yvette Vickers as the "other woman."

In the 1960s, Hayes worked mostly in television. She appeared on Perry Mason five times with friend Raymond Burr (who co-starred in Count Three and Pray). Health problems, possibly related to lead poisoning, caused her to retire from acting by the late 1960s. She died of leukemia in 1977; she was only 46.


  1. Interesting post, Rick. I can't say I remember Allison Hayes as anything but the 50-foot woman, but that alone earned her a place in sci-fi cult history. You are right -- she is so sexy it's crazy that her simp of a husband, Harry, would dump her for the inferior-looking other woman.

    I loved the way her clothes managed to stretch to create a perfect, form-fitting bra and mini-skirt! Gives a whole new meaning to the term "Baby got back" (and front). My other favorite memory of the movie is her voice, with an amplified echo, crying H-A-R-R-Y, H-A-R-R-Y and then the big hand reaching through the bar window. Great stuff!

    I wonder how she got lead poisoning so badly. It's a shame she was so young when she died.

  2. Rick, I have to admit I don't think I've ever seen one of her films. I'm not a big B-movie fan (I'm sure you've noticed that), so I am not familiar with any of her films. I have heard of the 50 ft. Woman, though. Nice profile piece.

  3. Great choice for UPotM, Rick. It's a shame when you see someone in a movie, and you'd like to see said person in more, but the actor either didn't have many leading roles or starred in films that are seemingly impossible to find. I can only imagine what Ms. Hayes could have done if she didn't have to retire early. Until then, I suppose we'll just have to keep watching a 50-foot version of her stomp around.

  4. I want to live in a town that boasts both Allison Hayes and Yvette Vickers as its residents, even if one of them is 50-feet tall.

  5. She is woman, hear her roar, from 50 feet above the floor!

    And she's quite lovely, too. Fun profile, Rick, and I loved the opening line: Pulchritude with attitude. Bravo!

  6. Enjoyed ALL the comments! You have an excellent point, Kevin. Nice lyrics, Toto.

  7. loved her on general hospital, and that witch movie

  8. Thanks for reminding me: I really need to add ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN to my collection.

  9. One of the great B movie actresses of all time: