Eva Marie Saint is one of Hollywood’s living legends, with a career spanning 70 years. The icy blonde beauty wasn’t just an Alfred Hitchcock favorite; she also had a star-making role in the classic film On the Waterfront. Yet for all this acclaim, Saint’s life has also been full of heartache and tragedy.
Below are 42 facts about the alluring actress.
Eva Marie Saint Facts
1. Pop the Bubbly
The classic actress actually had an adorable nickname growing up. In her high school yearbook, Saint is listed as being nicknamed “Bubbles,” which she says she earned when she was a child because she’d make bubbles in her mouth. The nickname stuck with her all through high school, with the actress finally shedding the name before she left for college.
2. A Different Ambition
Amazingly, acting was not Saint’s original ambition. The young, compassionate girl originally wanted to be a teacher. She was actually in the middle of majoring in education when a drama professor asked her to try out for a play. She got the role and loved the experience so much that she decided to change her major to drama. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. A Thrilling Experience
Saint got her start in show business working as a page (intern) for the television studio NBC. At 19, it was her first job out of school, and it changed her life. According to Saint, the experience brought her out of her shell and gave her the opportunity to meet stars like Joan Crawford, whose brief words to her one day were as she describes, “the thrill of her summer.”
4. Gotta Start Somewhere
Saint’s first job on television wasn’t actually an acting job—it was far more humiliating than that. Her job was to applaud the acts first off-screen and then on-screen for $15.00. This wasn’t exactly a prestigious role or even a Hollywood-sized paycheque, but it allowed her to buy a new dress, and that was good enough for Eva to begin with.
5. Facing Rejection
Saint experienced brutal rejection in the very infancy of her career. In one of her early stage roles, she was set to play opposite Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts. Just as she was about to perform on opening night, the director gave her crushing news: she was being replaced because the production was “nervous with you.”
Saint was utterly devastated. After that, she made up her mind never to let the profession get to her heart, so she’d be better able to handle it when rejection happened.
6. What, Like It’s Hard?
Saint finally got her break and burst onto the Hollywood scene with On the Waterfront, the classic 1954 film about dockworker corruption. Astonishingly, it was Saint’s very first film—but her debut absolutely knocked it out of the park. In fact, she was nominated for and then won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, which is no small feat.
7. Keeping Her Cool
On the Waterfront famously stars Marlon Brando as a brooding, grieving dockworker. The legendary actor, however, was also legendarily difficult on set—but this didn’t scare Eva Marie Saint. As she once explained firmly, “I’ve never been intimidated by other actors because I’m an actor.” To her, the tempestuous Brando was just another coworker.
8. What a Tease
Though Saint refused to be intimidated by the smouldering Brando while filming On the Waterfront, he still had an effect on her. Director Elia Kazan had told Saint to act virginal and shy in one of their scenes together, but when Brando showed up, he immediately began teasing the green actress. Saint admitted that it “put me off balance. And I remained off balance for the whole shoot.”
9. Ready to Pop
When Saint accepted her Oscar for On the Waterfront, she was nine months pregnant with her first child. She is one of six actresses to accept their awards that far along and said in her acceptance speech: “I may have the baby right here.” Luckily, she didn’t go into labor on stage—but she was cutting it very close: her son was born just a couple of days later.
10. Take It Slow
According to Saint, nobody really anticipated On the Waterfront to win so many awards at the Oscars, but when it became apparent that Saint was likely to win, her husband Hayden gave her some key advice. He said: “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.”
11. What Hitchcock Wants, Hitchcock Gets
When famed director Alfred Hitchcock was choosing roles for his new movie North by Northwest, he stunned everyone when he chose the still relatively untried Saint to play the role of the femme fatale in the movie. Saint starred alongside Hollywood heavyweights Cary Grant and James Mason in the film, beating out dozens of hopeful actresses.
12. Too Many Cooks
Cary Grant, MGM Studios, and Alfred Hitchcock actually all had different opinions on who should star opposite Grant in North by Northwest. While Hitchcock wanted and eventually got Saint, Grant wanted bombshell actress Sophia Loren to play his love interest, and the studio was trying to woo the graceful and elegant Cyd Charisse.
13. Kept Woman
North by Northwest was definitely a juicy career opportunity for Saint, but it also required great sacrifice. Hitchcock was a notoriously demanding director, and he asked Saint to chop off her long, waist-length blonde hair into a chic bob to get the part. He also requested that she speak in a lower, raspier voice than her natural tenor, and personally chose her costumes, saying, “I wanted her dressed like a kept woman.”
14. Credit Where It’s Due
Whatever the cost of filming the thriller, it paid off for Saint. Critics praised her performance as tense, engaging, and demonstrating a new side to the ingenue. One critic in particular even noted that, “Mr. Hitchcock has plumbed some talents not shown by the actress heretofore.” Yep, we’re sure that was all Hitchcock’s doing.
15. Shying Away From Stardom
For the back half of the 1950s, Eva Marie Saint was the name on everybody’s lips—but many wonder why she didn’t become even more famous after. It was her own heartbreaking choice: She turned down many movie roles in order to put her family first. When her frantic agent warned her sternly that she’d never be a superstar if she didn’t work more, she merely replied: “I guess I don’t want to be a super-superstar.”
16. An Awkward Meeting
While filming Raintree Country, Saint decided to invite her handsome co-star Montgomery Clift to lunch so they could get to know one another. It was a total disaster. Both talented actors were luminous on camera, but excruciatingly shy behind the lens. As a result, they hardly spoke at all during the sit down meal, and Saint left feeling embarrassed.
17. Tearing It up
One of Saint’s biggest earliest acting challenges was making herself cry in a scene. The combination of being shy in crowds and coming from a large family where members didn’t cry in front of one another made emotional intimacy an enormous, intimidating barrier for her. When she finally got it, not only did Saint cry, her peers were crying too.
18. Hometown Girl
When it came to the final choice of actress to play Edie in On the Waterfront, it was a toss-up between Saint and Elizabeth Montgomery, known best for playing the main character on Bewitched. In the end, director Elia Kazan felt Montgomery was too well-bred to pull off a character who was raised on the waterfront in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Saint, on the other hand, was a true Jersey girl: she was born less than 30 minutes away in Newark.
19. Rebel, Rebel
The angelic-looking Saint was once almost kicked out of her apartment for bad behavior. Her landlady only had three rules: No boys, no smoking, and no alcohol. When Saint got free beer as payment after filming a commercial for a beer company, her landlady spotted the loot and threatened to throw her out on the streets.
Saint had to quickly sweet-talk the woman, and she assured her that she would be giving the beer to her father.
20. Too Much Me
With a face like that, it’s no wonder that Saint did some modeling as a struggling actress—but she absolutely hated it. As she explained in an interview, modeling didn’t allow her to be anyone other than herself, and that inability to create a different person made her painfully self-conscious. She did everything she could to avoid these kind of gigs.
21. Same Husband, Different Wives
After starring in North by Northwest, Saint joined the dubious pantheon of “Hitchcock Blondes,” many of whom have gone on record about Hitchcock’s controlling, disturbing behavior on set. Saint, however, didn’t see eye-to-eye with these accounts, and admitted that the dissonance made her feel like they were “all talking about the same husband” and all of them were “the different wives.”
22. Good Advice
If it weren’t for a twist of fate, Saint may never have become a Hitchcock Blonde. She was initially unimpressed with the script for North by Northwest, and might have turned it down were it not for some sound advice from her husband. He said: “Honey, I think you should find a quiet spot…I want you to really think about this and reread this script.”
She did, and soon realized that he was absolutely right.
23. The Famous Red Dress
One of Saint’s favorite movie costumes ever was the black dress with the red roses that she wore in North by Northwest. She acquired the famous dress when she accompanied Hitchcock on a shopping trip to Bergdorf Goodman to pick up some additional clothes for her character in the movie. When the models brought the dress out, Saint expressed her delight, leading Hitchcock to tell them to wrap it up.
24. Good Job, Me!
When asked if she ever watches her own movies, Saint replied “Sometimes I do. And I think, Well, gee. You did that? Good job!” A little self-congratulation never hurt anybody.
25. Everybody Heard!
Just before her live interview on Person to Person, Saint realized she had to go to the bathroom. What hadn’t occurred to her was that all of the sound gear was already set up, and that her mic was live. After the show, the producer Don Hewitt informed her that he had plugged her into stations across the network, and that everybody in the country had just heard her pee.
Now that’s an embarrassing moment!
26. A Family Affair
When Saint took a role in Exodus, which required her to film in Europe for three months, she literally made it a family affair. She secured permission to bring her husband, her parents, and her mother-in-law to help look after her two young children while she was working. At this point, director Otto Preminger quipped, “Well, I guess you have your own exodus, don’t you?”
27. Keds Are Keen!
One of Saint’s early television appearances was on the variety show Campus Hoopla. The show was set in a soda shop, and Saint’s role was as a cheerleader who did live Keds sneaker commercials on the program.
28. Live on Television
In the early days of television, actors would perform live plays with unexpected and embarrassing results. One time, as Saint remembers, she was changing clothes during a commercial break when an NBC tour passed through and caught her in just a bra. Taking the experience in stride, Saint just waved at the group before continuing to change.
29. Doubly Honored
In the early days of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, stars weren’t restricted to just a single star and could be given a star in more than one category. Saint has the distinction of being honored with two stars—one for television, and one for film—a feat tha has become increasingly rare in the last couple of decades.
30. A Career Highlight
For actor Colin Farrell, the chance to work alongside Eva Marie Saint in the 2014 film Winter’s Tale was one of the highlights of his career. He has often expressed his admiration of stars like Peter O’Toole and Elizabeth Taylor, and described working with Saint as “a dream”, and “one of the most incredible experiences.”
He went on to say how much he adored her as a person and was “really spoiled” to be able to spend time with her on the set.
31. Choosing Her Roles
As she’s gotten older, Saint’s film appearances have gotten more infrequent, largely because Hollywood doesn’t create a lot of roles for older women. She agrees wholeheartedly with Angela Lansbury’s sentiment that as you get older, finding roles becomes more difficult, and she refuses to take parts that show older people as handicapped or neurotic.
These days, she’ll only pick a role if she is playing a strong character who “still makes a difference in the world.”
32. Perfecting Her Craft
Like many of the stars of her era, Saint got her acting education from the Actor’s Studio, which was founded as a workshop for actors, directors, and writers. The prestigious and long-running studio has also boasted members like Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and Dennis Hopper. She was in fine company!
33. 40-Year Wait
Unlike her Oscar, an Emmy win didn’t come quickly for Saint. In her six-decade television career, Saint didn’t win a single Emmy until her fifth nomination in 1990. She was first nominated for an Emmy in 1955 for The Philco Television Playhouse, and earned three other nominations before finally winning for the miniseries People like Us.
34. Older Than the Oscars
In 2018, Saint presented the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and she sarcastically joked about being older than the Oscars. This was her first time back at the ceremony in 64 years: The last time she was there was the star-studded night she won the academy award for Best Supporting Actress in On the Waterfront.
One might think that Saint had accomplished everything she wanted to and more in Hollywood, but there is still one thing on her acting bucket list—doing a voice-over for a Pixar movie. To date, that dream hasn’t become a reality, but she did get to do a voice-over for the animated Nickelodeon series The Legend of Kora, which is almost as good, right?
36. How About Lunch?
Saint met dashing television director and producer Jeffrey Hayden after he spotted the blonde beauty in 1949, standing in the subway passage underneath the Rockefeller Center. From the moment he set eyes on her, he was completely smitten—but Saint had a very different reaction. When Hayden first asked her out for coffee, she refused: she didn’t drink it.
When Hayden tried again and asked her for lunch, she gave in.
37. Beating the Odds
In an industry where high-profile breakups and late-night hookups are common, Eva Marie Saint and Jeffrey Hayden were a fairy tale romance. They were together for 65 years, and remained faithful to each other and utterly in love for their entire marriage. They had two children together and enjoyed playing with three grandchildren.
38. Til Death Do Us Part
After marrying, Saint and Hayden really were only parted in death. Hayden passed away in 2016 at the ripe old age of 90 and after a long and loving life beside his wife.
39. Favorite Leading Man
Throughout her career, Saint has had the opportunity to star with screen legends such as Cary Grant and Marlon Brando, who she describes as the finest actor she’s ever worked with. That said, according to Saint, there was only one Hollywood man who claimed the top of her list: her late husband, Jeffrey Hayden.
40. If You Want Something Done…
During the filming of Exodus, director Otto Preminger was unhappy with how a kissing scene involving Saint was turning out. Shockingly, he didn’t try to explain it to his actors—he did something much more disturbing. Preminger strode over to Saint, elbowed her co-star Paul Newman out of the way, and kissed her himself to demonstrate how he wanted it done.
41. Just Don’t Step on Him
For her big kissing scene with Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Saint confessed that she had just one thing on her mind—not stepping on his toes. As it turned out, Grant got so involved in the kissing scene that he ended up falling off a ladder. Thankfully he didn’t get hurt, and as an added bonus, they got to do it again.
42. Make Believe
Director Elia Kazan was, according to Saint, the best directors she ever worked with, and he helped her out with a key love scene in On the Waterfront. Saint recalls being in her slip and feeling a little bit self-conscious, so Kazan came over to her and whispered something intimate to her: he said her husband’s name.
That did the trick, and Saint was able to complete the scene by pretending that Brando was her beloved husband.