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Susan Hayward lived and died in Georgia in White County

by Staff

HELEN-ROBERTSTOWN – These two communities are seldom linked as one.  However, they are next door geographically.

With spring right around the corner, I enjoyed taking a drive up this way recently, following the Chattahoochee a few miles south of Helen on Georgia 75 all the way past Robertstown to Hiawassee.  This state route runs from the intersection of U.S. 129 and Georgia State Route 11 in Cleveland to the North Carolina line, a distance of 33.4 miles. 

This is one of my favorite stretches of the Chattahoochee. The river seems always to be poking along and evoking refreshing thoughts.  Makes one appreciate nature’s influence and the history of these hills. 

The towns of Helen and Robertstown are officially a mile apart, but if you drive from one to the other you can’t really tell where one ends and the other begins.   

While I am not sure of the location, somewhere in this vicinity some filming of the movie, “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” by Twentieth Century-Fox took place.  Starring in the movie was Susan Hayward who was born Edythe Marrenner in Brooklyn.  With Georgia connections prominent in her life, that makes one wonder if Georgia was always on her mind.   

Before the filming of the movie, she was one of the Hollywood stars who greeted the Georgia football team when the Bulldogs played UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 1943. 

She was on her way to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest attractions, eventually winning an Academy Award for best actress in “I Want to Live.”  In this movie, she played a death row inmate which became a critical and commercial success, according to the internet. 

Many of her roles had her co-starring with such Hollywood icons as Ronald Reagan, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Clark Gable and Tyrone Power. She auditioned for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind,” but did not get the part. 

Her second husband was Eaton Chalkley, a former federal agent, who was a successful businessman who dealt primarily in real estate, including a farm near Carrollton which became their family home.  Their final years were blissful except for both dying young.  He was 56 when he passed away, and she was 57. 

Both are buried in the cemetery of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Carrollton, across the road from the ranch where they lived.   She considered Carrollton her adopted home. 

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I thought about the movie, “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” while driving through White Country.  It may have been the first Technicolor movie I saw.  While I don’t remember much about the movie, I do recall that a young boy drowned in what must have been the Chattahoochee and that his father professed to be an atheist. 

One can imagine the controversy that would bring about in real life in a place like White County.  I was duly impressed with how beautiful Susan Hayward was back then.    

What can you take from all this? That our state has an interesting history and there are many times when we ignore Georgia’s history and the beautyeven when it is “right under our nose.” 

It is overwhelming that Georgia is such a diverse state with enchanting beauty, from the mountains of north Georgia to the marshes on the coast. 

There are a few blights here and there, but for the most part you gain inspiration by taking a drive through the countryside and reading the historical markers that abound in the small towns. 

Over the years, I can recall a couple of times when I was driving a back road and had the good fortune to hear Ray Charles singing, “Georgia on My Mind” as I gloried in being immersed in the Georgia landscape. 

While I accentuate the positive, I do have a bone to pick with the unsightly billboards and roadside trash in some locales, which is why I always enjoy visiting this area of Georgia where the natural beauty still prevails. 

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