Born Helen Hayes Brown in Washington, DC, she began a stage career at an early age. By 10, she had made a short film called Jean and the Calico Doll, but she only moved to Hollywood when her husband, playwright Charles MacArthur, signed a Hollywood deal. Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith, A Farewell to Arms, The White Sister[?], What Every Woman Knows[?] and Vanessa: Her Love Story[?]. But she never became a fan favorite.
Hayes and MacArthur eventually returned to Broadway, and she starred for three years in Virginia Regina. Eventually, a theater was named in her honor. She returned to Hollywood in the 1950s, and her film star began to rise. She starred in My Son John[?] and Anastasia, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1970 for Airport. She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as Herbie Rides Again[?], One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing[?] and Candleshoe[?].
Hayes wrote three memoirs: A Gift of Joy, On Reflection and My Life in Three Acts.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6220 Hollywood Blvd.