In Loving Memory of Elizabeth Harrower Seabold was the mother of actress, Susan Seaforth Hayes and mother in law to actor Bill Hayes. When we saw the eulogy Susan had written for her mother's memorial service, we asked to put it on our website to share with the world what a fabulous person Elizabeth Harrower Seabold really was.
Elizabeth Harrower Seabold
Elizabeth Harrower Seabold was the mother of actress, Susan Seaforth Hayes and mother in law to actor Bill Hayes. When we saw the eulogy Susan had written for her mother's memorial service, we asked to put it on our website to share with the world what a fabulous person Elizabeth Harrower Seabold really was.
Betty Louise Foss was born into the world during World War I and the great flu epidemic. Within six weeks her mother died, her father had a nervous breakdown, and relatives passed her care around. Babies were supposed to draw the deadly flu, so in a short while she was placed in a San Francisco orphanage...perhaps someone would overlook her German name and adopt? By age nine months she had learned to wring her hands and cry big tears in silence.
A slender bright-eyed lady interviewed the tow-headed tot, who so forgot herself during the unaccustomed holding she wet the lady's lap three times. Undaunted, my grandmother packed her in a laundry basket and drove her home. When my grandfather first set eyes on the baby in the basket she opened her arms and said, "Da-Da?" What an inspired line. William and Jessie Harrower were not young. He was a gentle Scottish immigrant who read Webster's Dictionary for fun; she was a force of nature with a shady past and a passion to make life perfect for this child. Betty Lou was read aloud to on her Daddy's lap: "The Song of Hiawatha:" "By the shores of Gitche Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea-Water..." Betty Lou had French lessons, speech lessons, piano lessons. Jessie just knew she must have talent.
At the bottom of the Depression, William's salary was cut in half, and Jessie decided to take her girl out of school and off to Hollywood to begin an acting career. The very fine girls' school wanted to keep their promising student and offered a 100% scholarship, but there was no stopping Jessie, and formal education ended for Mom at age fifteen.
Hollywood in the 30's was no kinder than now. Mother and daughter lived on bacon from a hot plate while Betty Lou turned into a red head, a platinum blonde, a woman who spoke with a British accent named Eve St. John...a woman who spoke with a Scottish brogue named Beth Alden. Finally she settled on Elizabeth Harrower, a clever lass with brown hair, great eyes and a beautiful voice. She got a nose job she didn't need and wore a riding habit everywhere, the one outfit she could afford. She also carried a little leather whip.
She was flying on the wings of my grandmother's dream, but some jobs came, theatre productions at the Hollywood Playhouse, a trip to New York where Antoinette Perry made her a protegee for one season. The Tony Awards are named in Ms. Perry's honor. Mom's steadiest employment was in radio. She was always a champion at talking. Around 1939, in the deco halls of NBC at Sunset and Vine, she met a sweet young actress named Janet who became her dearest friend.
Elizabeth was romantic and engaged three times to various actors, but when World War II became the great reality she married in a rush a handsome Air Force cadet she'd met in the fifth grade. My father, Harry Seabold, lived with his glamorous bride for 90 days, through his basic training near Oklahoma City. I was conceived, he shipped out...and remained overseas for 33 months. The acress returned to her family home in Berkeley...wrote hundreds of letters...and watched her tummy grow. On the big day, when she was writhing in the long labor of natural childbirth, the doctor slapped her face and told her to snap out of it. Different times. She always referred to me as her 1943 production.
When Dad returned from his long war he brought unexpected news. He wanted a divorce. She was confounded. He went home to Oregon. Losing my father's love was the central sadness of Elizabeth's life; it colored everything, for she continued to love and long for him to his dying day. Well, there's more room in a broken heart.
The war changed everyone's world. My grandfather suffered a nervous collapse working with the Navy at the Moore Dry Dock Yards. So Jessie made the best of it, packed her husband, Elizabeth, the canary and me into the old Oldsmobile and drove south to give Hollywood another try. We wound up opening a rooming house for officers' wives. There were dozens of people around then, all on their way to uncertain futures. More radio work, gas rationing, sitting on the stairs, talking to Janet by phone for hours, like the girls they were. My grandfather died, and Dad never came back...not for fourteen years.
As a single parent, mother gave me the world of her imagination and enthusiasm...books and piano, theater stories, and the example of constant creativity. "Your mother really ought to write, she writes such wonderful letters," Jessie would say to me. When did she have the time? I watched her running up and down three flights of stairs, changing strangers' sheets, and scrubbing bathrooms for decades. For fun she shared the guests' lives with endless cups of coffee and chat. People who rent rooms need to chat. She gave everybody the best of herself always. Always.
The first time I appeared on stage with her was the 1949 production of "The Pilgrimage Play" at the John Anson Ford Theatre, a few miles away. We all really got to know the Book of John. I played The Littlest Child in the First Temple Scene. Every night, when my part was over, Jessie and I would slip out to the back of the darkened amphitheatre, smelling the perfume of the junipers, and watch Mother make her entrance down the hillside, carrying a great brass jug on her shoulder, to meet Jesus at the well. Her voice was wonderful then--low and warm with perfect diction and projection that carried for blocks. "How is it that thou, being a Jew, ask drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"
Television arrived. She worked more, and in movies, too. A long run at MGM--"Plymouth Adventure"--meant that we could afford to take our one vacation of my childhood: three days in Yosemite, the place her father had shown her. Where she felt so close to God.
Elizabeth hated stage mothers, and coached more than pushed my performing. She saved every penny I earned for my schooling and gave sharp advice. "Don't yawn on the set; they'll think you're bored." "Smile! Sing out! Stand up straight!" She had the soft posture of a lifetime reader...except in the spotlight. We got cast as mother and daughter once on TV's "Wyatt Earp," when I was about nine, playing frontier white trash. She enterpolated her own line into the script: "Don't scare the wits outa the child. She's got few enough as it is." We were onstage together again...in "Time Remembered," the French play about a dippy duchess who survives on equal parts memories and dreams. With lots of noblesse, and not asking for oblige, she pushes inept young lovers into a happy ending. Elizabeth was born to play that role.
By the end of the 60's she'd worked everywhere as an actress, but was still running the Alvarado Terrace house, when one particular person climbed the stairs and asked to stay. By now the guests were all female students from the Bible School across the street, but this girl had been batting around the California Foster Care System for years and needed a legal guardian as well as a room. Mother said, "Yes," and began to salt and pepper Kathleen's life with advice and criticism. Suddenly I had a live-in sister, and Elizabeth had a blessing. Kathleen Johanson's grown into a remarkable woman, as Mother wished.
Bill Hayes made it possible for us all to work in the musical theater together. A ramshackle production of "Oklahoma!" in Florida. She was the ubiquitous Aunt Eller--"Ya gotta be hardy." One night the lyrics left her during "...flowers on the prairie where the June-bugs zoom." Instead she sang in tongues. But it rhymed!
When Jessie died, Mom sold the albatross on Alvarado and moved into a little place under a sycamore tree in the Valley. The best chapter of her life began. Blonde now, free of historic cares, she commenced to write...in my medium, soap opera. Luckily chosen to be trained by Bill Bell, she flourished in this new universe of amazing plots and endless dialogue. Praise from Bill was celestial catnip to her. She grew into the writer he expected, and stood on her own at last. In those happy days she met Bill Asher, in Chicago, who matched all her enthusiasms. Richard and Patricia Cassilly of the Metropolitan Opera shared an apartment with her in New York. What joy to live among artists and work in the great city! Headwriting "Days," she made Bill Lewis her entire staff. A great experience for them both. When writing on "Generations," she depended on her friend Barbara Wesson to keep her honest. Mother painted her car a shade of look-at-me raspberry pink.
Like so many children of the Depression, when she made money she was generous with others...and thrifty with herself. The little Valley house got air conditioning; that's about all. Elizabeth had more love to give than I could possibly receive, she poured it out on friends and co-workers all her life. When our grandson Joseph Jackson was ready for college, she stepped in to make that possible for him. She took us out to dinner a thousand times, us and everybody else.
In the 90's she'd turned into that French Duchess. Never losing the old friends, she drew new ones like a magnet. When mother was able to accept a lift with housekeeping, Marta Rodenzo came through the door, cooking, cleaning and caring for her with skill and love for more than 20 years. Marta gave mother the space to dream in.
No new friend meant more to her than Jerry Jackson, a writing colleague, a cheerful companion and the longed-for presence that could say, "There, there. It will turn out just fine, for all of us."
We lived a few blocks away, worked in the same industry, but since my marriage have had separate spheres of experience. How many times a stranger would say to me "Oh, you must be Elizabeth's daughter! I just love your mother. She's so...funny, charming, clever, so much fun!" And it was true.
For eighty years she never gave her health a thought, and didn't ever see herself as getting older. She was involved in too many plots, our lives, her storylines... When cancer came it was a surprise. Could she be mortal after all this? To save my feelings she hardly discussed the long decline. Or the pain. Jerry stepped up to take her on those trips to the doctor, the ER, the chemo.
During her last hospital stay she was baptized. Bob and Peggy Bock, Jim Pierson. George Crosby and Norm Fox. Peg and Shannon. Mickey and Don. Janet by telephone--how appropriate. You all were there. The woman at the well received the living water of Christ at last. She'd put off the sacrament, not from doubt, but from openness of heart. There are so many ways to God. It was a happy day.
She was entirely herself until the very last days. In the last 24 hours Mary and Tacey played Christmas music for her, Billy sang Brahms' Lullaby. Wes and Heather came. Rocci. And Bob. And Jim. And when the breath was gone, Marta was there to prepare her little body for its last journey.
This is a precious gathering of people today,...people who knew my mother. Harry Seabold, Jr., is here--wonderful! All of you, wonderful! For every card, every call, every prayer and visit,...my mother thanks you and I thank you. What would she say to you now, each of you? Some great exit line, of course.
We talked every day by phone, if not in person. I'd yammer on about how much housework I'd done. That didn't really interest her much. She'd tell me who had called, and perhaps if she'd gotten a tiny residual check from some almost forgotten show. Would I like to come by for Marta's enchiladas? And what did I want for my birthday, a day that was still a great occasion to her sixty years later.
Finally, after refusing the food, and the nameless gift, I'd wish her a good night's sleep and say, "Well, so long, Mom." And she would say to me, in the purest tone you ever heard,
"I love you."
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Our love and prayers go out to Susan and Bill at this time of loss.