The Golden Age of TV Movies: Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (1972)

Susan Hayward (1917-1975) was a big star. She was Oscar's choice for Best Actress for her powerful performance in I Want to Live (1958). By the time she made Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole Hayward's career had slowed down, largely by her own choice. 

Hayward was an old-school actress. A tough and no-nonsense gal, she was known in the industry for her punctuality, her professionalism, and for not taking any shit from anyone. Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole, which premiered as a TV movie on Sept. 27, 1972, was meant to be the actress' return to full time acting. It turned out to be her swan song. The film, which drew huge numbers at the time, was in development as a weekly series when Hayward was diagnosed with a brain tumor, She died in 1975, age 57.

[jump] Hayward's illness and death is the kind of tale that legends are made of. In 1956, she co-starred with Hollywood heavyweights John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead in the western The Conqueror, which was shot in the Nevada desert. Atomic bomb tests were taking place near the film's location settings. By 1980, 91 of the 220 people who worked on The Conqueror had been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. 46 of them, including Hayward, Wayne, Moorehead, and director Dick Powell had died.

Hayward gives a characteristically strong performance in Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole. This tear-jerker is the kind of “women's picture” that were popular during the Hollywood of the 1940s. Cole is intense yet also vulnerable as a recently widowed research doctor who moves to Chicago and returns to private practice in an inner-city clinic — she dives into her new job with gusto as she struggles to cope with her husband's sudden death. 

Maggie embraces her new community, soon finding herself getting emotionally involved with a young leukemia patient (Michele Nichols). Maggie struggles to save the girl's life, even as she's forced to face the sad truth: the battle has been lost. In learning to let go of her young patient, Maggie is finally able to let go of the past — her late husband — and move on with her life.

The somewhat soap-opera-ish plot of Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole is surprisingly life-affirming. Hayward is surrounded by a marvelous supporting cast of seasoned character actors who were at the time, well known: Darren McGavin (soon to achieve immortality as Kolchak, the Night Stalker) , Maidie Norman, Michael Constantine, and especially the wonderful Jeannette Nolan, who steals an amazing scene as Nichols' seemingly cold, uncaring grandmother.

“I buried my husband and my son,” the tearful Grandma tells Maggie. “I love her, but when I see her, I see another funeral.”

Viewers may well end up crying with her.

Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole has been posted at YouTube in five 15-minute segments. The film is well worth a look — they just don't make these kinds of dramas anymore. It's a shame that Hayward didn't get to do a weekly Maggie Cole series.

What might have been…   

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