Allison Hayes: The Curse of the “50 Foot Woman”

Allison Hayes (1930-1977) is best remembered today as the star of a string of low-budget horror movies: The Undead, Zombies of Mora Tau, The Unearthly, and The Disembodied (all 1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), The Hypnotic Eye (1960) and The Crawling Hand (1963). One of a million take-aways from the bizarro super-Freudian Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is that Hayes, ostensibly a frump who drives her husband into the arms of co-star Yvette Vickers, is easily as gorgeous as, and two years younger than, her rival.

Indeed, Hayes (born Mary Ann Hayes) had been a Miss America contestant in 1949 (representing the District of Columbia). Her special skill was classical piano playing! The pageant success led to work in local television, which led to Hollywood by the mid ’50s. Initially she appeared in mainstream Hollywood pictures like Francis Joins the WACs (1954), So This is Paris (1954), Sign of the Pagan (1955), The Purple Mask (1955), and Count Three and Pray (1955). She worked with top flight directors like Richard Quine and Douglas Sirk, and stars like Tony Curtis, Van Heflin, Donald O’Connor, Jack Palance, Raymond Burr, and Joanne Woodward.

But she suffered a series of setbacks. She had two separate accidents while working on pictures, resulting in broken bones, loss of work, and alienation from major studios. It has also been written that she was cast as the role of Sephorah in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) for Paramount and was already shooting scenes, when DeMille learned that she was under contract with Universal and fired her.

Her first film for Roger Corman was the western Gunslinger (1956), followed by many of the horror films we mentioned in the first paragraph. Corman also originally intended to cast her as the lead in Last Woman on Earth (1960), but changed his mind before production began when another actress caught his eye.

Starting in the late ’50s she started to get a lot more television work, particularly a recurring role on Bat Masterson, and numerous appearances on Perry Mason. She had a bit part in the Dean Martin comedy Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963) and a supporting role in the Elvis musical Tickle Me (1965). Her last professional credit was a 1967 episode of Gomer Pyle: USMC.

Hayes’ last decade was plagued by health problems. Chronic pain she experienced for years eventually proved to be from lead poisoning caused by a dietary supplement she was taking. Then came leukemia, which took her life in 1977 at the young age of 46.