In a new documentary about his life, called World By The Tail: The Bill Hayes Story, DAYS’s Bill Hayes takes a look back at his 70 years in showbiz. The passion project, which was conceived by his grandson, David Samuel, was an emotional experience for the performer. “It’s a thrill,” he beams. “It makes me cry. It’s just wonderful. It talks about things that are close to me.”
Samuel first approached his grandfather about the film four years ago. “David wanted to do some kind of a documentary and looked around and found a producer/director named Lee Levin,” Hayes recalls. “Lee and I met at Du-par’s [in Los Angeles], had a pancake breakfast, and we talked about me and my life and he just took notes and started from there. We got some family films from my early life and he put everything on his computer and started from scratch. It’s just been an exciting time for me. We kind of book-ended the documentary with me writing this song called ‘World By The Tail’, which I feel I have. It’s just been great.”
Hayes’s professional career began seven decades ago, in 1947, after he graduated from DePauw University and realized he had to earn a living. A career in showbiz wasn’t something he had considered seriously at first, until the Illinois native heard about a musical audition in nearby Chicago. “Carousel had just left New York and was starting its national tour in Chicago, and my young brother Phil had written to the stage manager of Carousel and said, ‘If you need a tenor, I’d like to audition,’ ” Hayes begins. “Well, he had a card that said, ‘Come to the Shubert Theater at 2 o’clock on Tuesday and sing a song.’ When I got home after college, Phil had strep throat and couldn’t make a sound, so I took his card and I scratched Phil off and I put Bill on and went down to Shubert Theater at 2 o’clock on Tuesday and sang a song and I got on the show. I was in the singing chorus, and I thought, ‘Holy mackerel, you can get paid for singing? Acting? Doing stage work?’ I had no idea.”
In order to secure more significant roles going forward, Hayes went back to school to work on his voice. “I went to the music school at Northwestern and I studied voice for a year-and-a-half,” he says. After, he hit the audition circuit and ultimately landed on a new series, YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, in 1950. “I’ve been told that I’m the longest- running person who’s been appearing on national television,” Hayes marvels. “I don’t know if that’s true, but the first television show I did was in 1948. It was a series in Chicago called THE ADVENTURES OF HOMER HERK. Wikipedia doesn’t know about that one.”
Hayes was a regular on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, then found himself in an even bigger spotlight in 1955 after he recorded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”. “Archie Bleyer was the head of Cadence Records, and he called me in the morning of December 16, 1954, and he said, ‘Are you able to record a song with me?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ ” Hayes went to Bleyer’s office that day and recorded the familiar Disney tune that went on to become a No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts. “He wrote the arrangement and I studied the song and we met at 10 o’clock that night, recorded it in one take, and we were on the way. It’s a gold record and it’s on my wall and I’m looking at it now.”
Hayes then toured the country in a coonskin cap and buckskin jacket, wowing the crowds. “It was incredible,” he raves. “Everybody in the audience would know every word in the song. It’s just that good a song! Everybody in the country today still knows it. If I start singing, they’ll sing along with me. It was quite a magic ride. It just took off like a skyrocket.”
Off the success of “Davy Crockett”, Hayes booked various musicals and did the talk show circuit — appearing on THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON multiple times — but in 1969, following the dissolution of his marriage to Mary Hobbs, the singer needed to put down roots. “One day she left, and that was a huge, huge disappointment to me,” he admits. “I thought, ‘Surely, we can work it out,’ but it didn’t happen. She just had too much. We had five kids and it was too much for her. Show business is a traveling business. You do theater, you travel. You work on a film, you travel. You work in clubs, you travel. Show business was too much for her and she just left, and suddenly I needed a job where I stayed home. My kids needed me here, and so I’ve been in this house I’m sitting in ever since.”
That’s when he joined the cast of DAYS, another move that would change his life in ways he never could have imagined. “At that point, I’d never seen a soap,” he reveals. “I didn’t know anything about soaps at all, and it took me two minutes to realize how fabulous they were. The actors on DAYS OF OUR LIVES were so incredible. We had MacDonald Carey [ex-Tom] and Frances Reid [ex-Alice] and Edward Mallory [ex-Bill] and John Clarke [ex-Mickey] and Susan Flannery [ex-Laura] and Susan Seaforth [Julie] and Denise Alexander [ex-Susan] — they were so good, I just couldn’t believe it! I thought maybe I could last a year and I’ve done just under 2,100 episodes.”
Hayes also never expected to find the love of his life on the set in the form of Seaforth Hayes. “How about that?” he muses. “Every once and a while, Susan and I pay dues to [then-Head Writer] Bill Bell, who cast her in 1968 and then cast me in 1970, and then put us together in plots, and then wrote flirty scenes, and then wrote love scenes, and then wrote marriage. It’s all so woven together and interconnected. Susan and I married in 1974. Doug and Julie married three years later using exactly the same words. That means a lot to me. From 16 people in the living room to 16 million people — the whole thing was just overwhelming. I’ve been so blessed. Very fortunately, I’m still on it. I loved my time there and still do, and it’s very exciting.”
While watching the finished product of the documentary was a thrill for Hayes, his takeaway from it is far more personal than professional. “I’ve had quite a varied career, which started in one direction for a long time and then suddenly stopped and started in another direction,” he reflects. “I’m very proud of it. I was on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, which was one of the best television series of all time. I played on Broadway. I have a hit record. I’ve been on DAYS OF OUR LIVES all these years. I’ve done wonderful things in my career, but what I’m happiest about is my family. I have four children left, I have 12 grandchildren, I have 24 great-grandchildren and that’s my treasure.”
Hayes’s wife, Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie), offers her thoughts on the film. “I think it allows the viewer of his biography to see who Bill Hayes is, and meet the man I fell in love with and that his co-worker fell in love with that perhaps they don’t know,” she says. “I understand that there has to be terrible conflict and violence for there to be drama, and nowadays, there has to be a good deal of spice in order to attract any audience at all. Bill is perhaps one of the last truly good guys, and this kind of shines through everyone’s impression of him, from the time he was a young performer to now, where we are sort of the matriarch, patriarch still surviving on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. There’s a sweep to his story that’s rather uplifting. I mean, he’s an uplifting guy to be around and he’s an angel to be married to, and it comes through in a new way through this film.”
Just The Facts:
Birthday: June 5
Hails From: Harvey, IL
She’s Mine: Married Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie, DAYS) on October 12, 1974.
Record This: Hayes’s 1955 version of “The Ballad Of Davy Crockett” hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
Through The Looking Glass: Hayes’s documentary, World By The Tail: The Bill Hayes Story, can be viewed for free at bill hayesmovie.com. “They had to decide whether we were going to put it out as a commercial movie, in which case they would need to pay for all the music bits in it and get clearing for photos. If they just put it out on the Internet, people could view it free and it doesn’t cost that much.”
Who’s Who: A slew of stars appear in the documentary, including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, the late Florence Henderson, Shirley MacLaine, Shirley Jones (ex-Colleen, DAYS) and DAYS stars Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Jim Reynolds (Abe), Drake Hogestyn (John), Deidre Hall (Marlena), Patrick Muldoon (ex-Austin), Matt Ashford (ex-Jack) and Robert Clary (ex-Robert).