BGSU celebrates legendary alumna, actress Eva Marie Saint on her 100th birthday

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As America celebrates its independence, Bowling Green State University is celebrating legendary alumna and Hollywood Golden Age actress Eva Marie Saint ’46 as she turns 100 on this Fourth of July.

For Saint, the road to stardom and roles in such epics as Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront,” for which she won an Oscar, ran through BGSU as she followed her sister, Adelaide, to the university in 1942.

When she started at BGSU, Saint imagined appearing in front of a much smaller audience, as she intended to become a teacher like her mother. The career path for the New Jersey-born Saint changed, however, with the influence of her Delta Gamma house father, who was the head of the drama department.

“I became a Delta Gamma and Dr. Elden T. Smith, who had been the head of the drama department, was my house father (at the sorority). He would see me every day and thought I should try out for a comedy, and I said I’d never acted on a stage. He said, ‘I like your voice, and I’ll work with you,’” Saint recalled in 2018, when she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from BGSU.

Saint changed her major from education to theater during her junior year, after receiving permission from her father. Saint related that her father told her, “Honey, whatever you want to do, you just do your best.”

Her best was what audiences received, as Saint went on to establish an acting career on Broadway, in television and film that spanned more than 70 years and 160 productions. She was known for often portraying female characters who appear on the surface to be fragile, but reveal great inner strength and virtue. In addition to the 1946 best supporting actress Academy Award for her turn as Edie Doyle opposite Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” Saint also co-starred with Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” in 1959.

“Bowling Green State University is proud to have played a role in Eva Marie Saint’s distinguished career, with her first acting experience on our stage,” BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “As a student, she was curious and bold, taking full advantage of the opportunities in our learning community, which led to an incredible career. She recently shared timeless advice, ‘less talk, more walk,’ as the key to her success, which continues to exemplify the importance of learning and taking action. We are grateful for Eva Marie’s wisdom and unwavering support of her alma mater and our students.”

She received Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations for “A Hatful of Rain” and won a Primetime Emmy Award for the television miniseries “People Like Us.” Her film career includes roles in “Raintree County,” “Exodus,” “The Russians Are Coming,” “Grand Prix,” “Nothing in Common,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Superman Returns,” and “Winter’s Tale.” She played opposite nearly every matinee idol of the 1950s and ’60s, including Paul Newman, Grant, Warren Beatty and Brando.

A bright start at BGSU

Saint was born in Newark, New Jersey, on July 4, 1924, to John Merle Saint and Eva Marie (Rice) Saint. She graduated from Bethlehem High Central High School in Delmar, New York, in 1942 and followed her older sister, Adelaide Saint ’44, to BGSU.

Saint was highly involved at BGSU, becoming a member of Delta Gamma, serving as sophomore class president and official record keeper for student council in 1944. Saint also served as a Sophomore Aide, helping to welcome freshmen women to campus and acting as a big sister to the new Falcons.

Her breakout role at BGSU came in “Personal Appearance” during her sophomore year. According to that year’s Key, “‘Personal Appearance’ starred Eva Marie Saint as the lovely screen actress, Miss Carol Arden, who becomes stranded in a small town while on a personal appearance tour. The plot revolves about a mechanic who falls in love with her and the course of a romance plotted by Miss Arden’s press agent. … The comedy by Lawrence Riley met with the unanimous approval of the student body as a light and escapist piece of drama.”

As a senior, Saint appeared in “The Women Have Their Way,” which had a five-night run at the BGSU Rec Hall. She played the role of Juanita in the comedy, which was presented with no conventional stage setting, but was given on different stage levels in an arena theater.

She graduated in 1946 with a long list of superlatives, including serving as the vice president of Delta Gamma, secretary of Cap & Gown and Theta Alpha Phi, and participating in debate, radio, Treble Clef, Pan-Hellenic Council and Modern Dance Club, among many more. Fellow students selected her as a senior Representative Student, a testament to her contributions to her class and achievements in theater while at BGSU.

A rising star

After graduation, she returned to New York, working as a page for NBC and starting her career as a radio actress in New York City. She took classes at the Actors Studio starting in 1948 and appeared on television in “Actor’s Studio” and “The Prudential Family Playhouse.” Her television performance of the Horton Foote play “The Trip to Bountiful” won acclaim and she appeared in the same role on Broadway in 1953.

Her film debut was “On The Waterfront” in 1954, starring as the love interest for Marlon Brando’s character of a brooding, grieving dockworker. She earned the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her very first film and accepted the Oscar while she was nine months pregnant with her first child, joking during the acceptance speech, “I may have the baby right here.” Her son was born just a couple of days later.

Saint was married for 65 years to the late Jeffrey Hayden, a film director and producer and television, film and theater writer. He died in 2016. She and Hayden had two children, Darrell Hayden and Laurette Hayden, and four grandchildren.

Saint said that Hayden gave her advice during the Academy Awards ceremony the year she won best supporting actress, saying, “Honey, my God. If your name is called, you’ve got to count 10 seconds before you stand up, because you can’t run up there this pregnant.”

Director Alfred Hitchcock cast Saint against type when it came to the thriller “North by Northwest,” co-starring Cary Grant and James Mason. Saint was tapped to play the femme fatale role of Eve Kendall, beating out a bevy of Hollywood hopefuls. Her performance in the thriller drew acclaim as tense and engaging, showing a new side and depth for the 35-year-old actress, who had just given birth to her second child before working on the film.

Giving back to BGSU

Saint started making a name for herself at BGSU, and in 2012, the university made her name permanent with the establishment of the Eva Marie Saint Theatre. Since its dedication, the theater in the Wolfe Center for the Arts has hosted a variety of performances and receptions, bringing dignitaries and thousands of visitors to the university and driving the cultural vitality of region, state and beyond.

Saint also has generously supported her alma mater and its students through scholarships. Established in 1986 to recruit first-year students with exceptional talent in acting to BGSU, recipients of the Eva Marie Saint scholarship embody the spirit and tenacity of Saint as they embark on the journey to develop their skills.

In recognition of her achievements, Saint was awarded the BGSU Distinguished Alumna Award in 1980 and an honorary doctorate of performing arts in 1982. Her impact and legacy will benefit students and the region for generations to come.

She returned to BGSU many times after becoming an internationally recognized star, paying tribute to the stage where she got her start.

“My beginnings were here. … I don’t think I would have been an actress if it weren’t for Bowling Green,” she said in 2018. “That’s why I love coming back. I feel so thankful that Bowling Green gave me the basis of what ultimately I was supposed to do.”

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