Invading one's own privacy has become a popular and profitable literary gambit, but Brooke Hayward's autobiographical horror story, "Haywire," seemed more than self-confessional calisthenics. The book touched nerves.
Now it has been turned into a totally absorbing and attentively produced three-hour CBS movie; "Haywire" will be broadcast at 8 tonight on Channel 9, and it earns its air space thoughtfully and with considerable impact.
Though streamlined, spruced up and slicked down somewhat for television, "Haywire" remains the haunting story of a family's capsizing -- of misspent gifts, wasted days and how the bloom can fade from even the most charmed of lives.
Hayward's parents were the beautiful and disturbed actress Margaret Sullavan, played here with convincing shifts from stamina to fragility by Lee Remick; and agent-turned-producer Leland Hayward, whom Jason Robards turns into a magnificent soft-hearted monster.
Deborah Raffin, who looks as much like a rich girl as any rich girl ever did, plays Brooke and narrates the story, which jumps around from the present to various stages of the past. And yet, as adapted by Ivan Davis and Frank Pierson and directed by Michael Tuchner, the story remains coherent and affectingly tender.
They have all been able to grasp and communicate the terrible sadness of this story and make it meaningful as more than a case study of, in Hayward's phrase, "carelessness and guilt." The Hayward family seemed to veer between playing out F. Scott Fitzgerald and Eugene O'Neill in real life. "Haywire" brings into question whether these lives ever had a chance to be very real at all.
But the film is by no means unremittingly gloomy. Many of the flashbacks euphorically depict the family at its happier moments -- as when, scrunched into a small private airplace darting around above the Earth, Sullavan turns to her husband and says, "This is heaven."
Earlier, as they live the glamorous life in Beverly Hills and are spied in formal wear by a passing tour bus, the couple break into a waltz on the front lawn for the benefit of the passers-by, as if to tell them that the glamorous life was all they imagined. It's a sensationally attractive piece of imagery. l
William Hayward, depicted in "Haywire" as a child and a grown-up, produced the film from his sister's book, making the effort additionally cathartic and, one would like to assume, authentic. Although the story is not told chornologically, the filmmakers are adept at depicting and communicating a sense of gradual calamity, of everything so right going irretrievably wrong.
In time, the perfect couple will divorce, while the children are still young enough to be devastated by the news. One sister spends time in mental institutions, the brother breaks out of a clinic after his father has him confined there, Margaret Sullavan commits suicide, and Brooke finds herself married twice, divorced twice and "making the same mistakes my parents had made."
Remick and Robards make the big moments count. Remick plays Sullavan as an actress who thinks of wife and mother as two more roles she is assigned to play, and when there are turns for the worse, she is ill-prepared for them. She recites those immortal empty promises, "I'll change, I'll change, everything will be different," as her son angrily leaves home, telling the chauffeur to get moving even as mot her grabs onto the car.
Robards is, once more, a formidability against which there is really no defense, and he makes the brilliant Hayward's volleys from warmth to ferocity believable and understandable. In a hospital bed, dying, he looks up at his long-haired son and growls, "Damn hippie! I think I liked him better when he was a lunatic." No one could read the line better.
In the last analysis, there is no last analysis about why fame and fortune proved no insurance for the Haywards against anguish and tragedy. The public will never tire of stories about how miserable the rich are, but "Haywire" is much better than most.