Helen Hayes' career in entertainment surpasses most others in years as well as in achievements. She began acting at the age of five and didn't stop until she was 85. Helen is one of only two women to receive all four prestigious entertainment awards: a Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy. In 1983, the Helen Hayes Awards were established, encouraging other aspiring actors and actresses to reach for their goals as she had done.
Helen's childhood was a whirlwind of emotion. Her mother, Essie, was an aspiring actress who was happiest when she was in the midst of theater excitement. She would go on tour for weeks and come home with lively stories, but days later she turned to drinking to suppress her boredom with life at home. In her autobiography, On Reflection, Helen says her mother told hilarious stories about her life on the road. "She found humor everywhere - except in the tiny world where her drab marriage and dreary motherhood had trapped her." Essie found her daughter to be an outlet for her lack of success on stage, busily pushing Helen toward a career that would make her famous.
Helen's father, Frank Brown, was Essie's opposite. He was laid-back and easily satisfied, happy with a family and a home. He could be the reason for Helen's unconventional attitude. Most women who starred alongside her were pretentious and grandiose, while Helen was more natural and sincere. Helen wrote about her father in On Reflection: "In harmony with the world, he was in perpetual discord with his restless wife. He was dear and I adored him, but I can quite understand how enraging his passivity must have been to the seething woman who was my mother."
Essie decided that her daughter would go to Holy Cross Academy, not because she was devout, but because they did not require her daughter to have the smallpox vaccination that would "mutilate" her. Luckily for Helen, the nuns at school greatly appreciated theater. Helen's first role was Peaseblossom in the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.