Television was a nascent medium in 1949 when Bill Hayes made his debut on “Fireball Fun-For-All,” a zany comedy-variety series fronted by vaudeville comedians Ole Olsen and Chick Johnson.
The series only lasted three months, but that was long enough to set Hayes on the path to become a TV legend through his role as a pillar of the venerable daytime series “Days of Our Lives” for more than five decades. Hayes, who died Jan. 12 at the age of 98, never forgot the invaluable training he learned from working in the early days of live TV.
“The cameras were huge and immovable back then,” Hayes told Variety in 2018 when he and Susan Seaforth Hayes, his wife of 49 years and longtime “Days” leading lady, were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. “They didn’t have the capability of zooming in or out. It was all live until 1958.”
In 2022, Hayes and the rest of the “Days” cast ushered in a new era of television viewing when the long-running soap opera became the first daytime drama to shift exclusively to a streaming platform, NBCUniversal’s Peacock.
What never changed, however, over the years was Hayes’s talent, love of family and his immense kindness.
“Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston shared at the 2018 Daytime Emmys ceremony that as a young actor, he managed to miss his call time by a few hours when he had a three-day role on “Days” in 1980. In that fraught moment, Cranston was surprised when Hayes knocked on his dressing room door, consoled the performer, went over blocking and the relationships among the characters in his scene so that the future Emmy winner could come to set feeling prepared and welcomed. Cranston says that act of kindness (which he endearingly called “getting Hayesed”) is something he always remembers as he welcomes new thespians on his shows, to this day.
Hayes’ reputation for going out of his way to be supportive of fellow actors “really sums up Bill,” “Days” executive producer Ken Corday told Variety. “Bill was a really good role model for all of us, a wonderful, kind and giving man – right to the end. He never changed. He always gave everything he had.”
Corday’s father, director Ted Corday who was the co-creator of the serial, died less than a year after the show debuted on NBC in 1965. Hayes knew what a blow that was to young Ken. “I had lost my father at a young age and later, Bill came to me and said, ‘If you ever need somebody to talk to, son to father, friend to friend, I’m here for you,’” Corday recalls.
Years later, Hayes encouraged Corday to pursue his love of music through the show. “I was composing music and Bill said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it on the show? We’re doing a musical variety show [within the show]. You can be in the orchestra.’ That was my first exposure to actually being in the studio on set,” Corday recalls.
Hayes played no small role in inspiring the show’s writers to expand Doug’s role. His character was introduced on the show a convicted con man who shared a prison cell with another key character, Ed Mallory’s Bill Horton. Hayes’ skill as an actor allowed the writers to do much more with the character and his storyline. “We now have a much more faceted character than originally planned,” “Days” head writer William J. Bell told author Maureen Russell in her 1994 book “Days of Our Lives: A Complete History of the Long-Running Soap Opera.”
Hayes relished playing a character who was nuanced and unpredictable. “You never knew if [Doug] was helping a lady across the street and being nice or unhooking her brassiere as they went across the street,” Hayes told Russell for the book.
The show’s writers did not originally plan to pair Doug and Susan Seaforth’s Julie but after seeing the chemistry between Hayes and Seaforth, the writers knew they had a supercouple on their hands.
Hayes had five children with his first wife, Mary Hobbs. The couple divorced in 1969. Characters on soap operas may move onto a future spouse with lightning speed but in real life, Hayes wasn’t looking to get married again anytime soon. And Seaforth was in a long-term relationship with a local newscaster when she and Hayes met on the show in 1970.
“Two hours of news a day – life was very serious,” Seaforth Hayes said in the 2010 film “World by the Tail – The Bill Hayes Story,” which was executive produced by Hayes’ grandson, Dave Samuel, and produced and narrated by Hayes.
Seaforth Hayes recalled throwing dinner parties where Bill was always the guest of honor after they began sharing scenes together on “Days.” Eventually, the two could not deny the budding romance.
“We went to the opera one night and said to each other, ‘Is this a date?’” Hayes says. “I guess we were both falling love. I didn’t want to see it. I was still being protective.” Seaforth Hayes recalls, “I made myself indispensable because he was just too polite to say, ‘Go away.’ ” Seaforth Hayes said. Inspired by his parents’ 50 year-marriage, Hayes made peace with his split from his first wife and agreed to try marriage again. “A huge weight was gone from me,” he recalled of that moment. “I said to Susan, ‘How about a week from Saturday?’” They wed on Oct. 12, 1974. Two years later, they did it again on TV.
Doug and Julie’s wedding, which took place on “Days” in 1976, was viewed by about 16 million viewers. An estimated 4,000 fans showed up at the Burbank studio for a meet and greet with the bride and groom after the show aired.
The first couple of daytime TV helped broaden the audience of soap operas when they appeared on the cover of the Jan. 12, 1976, edition of Time magazine — a level of recognition that was a milestone for the couple and the television industry at the time. “I remember walking through an airport in the ‘70s and seeing them on the cover of Time,” Corday recalls. “They had arrived and that never really stopped.”
Doug and Julie drove romantic storylines on “Days” throughout the 70s and into the early 1980s. However, Doug then shifted to the stubborn father who was trying to keep his daughter Hope (Kristian Alfonso) from rebel Bo Brady (Peter Reckell). Doug suffered a heart attack after catching the two about to make love. Off-screen, Hayes and Reckell had a much more harmonious relationship. Reckell admired the range of Hayes’ life and career, which included serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II and starring in Broadway and touring stage musicals prior to landing his role on “Days.”
“We had powerful moments together on the show, but what really touched me was listening to his stories,” Reckell recalled in a X post following Hayes’ passing. “Being a pilot in the military, huge celebrations with his family, the many musicals he was in. Boundless talent, energy and spirit.”
The Hayeses left “Days” in 1984 after a contract dispute but it wasn’t long before they started making returns of varying lengths back to the show.
“What has been proven…is that ‘Days of our Lives’ is synonymous with Bill and Susan,” fellow “Days” actor James Reynolds said.
The couple was again thrust into the spotlight in 2004 when Doug was killed off by the Salem Serial Killer that stalked the fiction Illinois town of Salem where the show was set. Hayes was in his late 60s at the time but he did most of his own stunts as Doug valiantly fought to save his life. Doug appeared to Julie as a spirit, promising to always love her. (Fortunately, as TV fate would have it, Doug and the other killer’s victims were ultimately found to be secretly alive on a mysterious island.)
In 2005, Bill and Susan published their memoir “Like Sands Through the Hourglass.”
“What a golden ride it’s been…years of work, dreams, and a genuinely shared life of love,” Hayes wrote. “I love Susan a lot and I know that she loves me.”
In the “World by the Tail” documentary, Hayes recalled his most memorable achievements. “I have several things to be proud of — Broadway, ‘Your Show of Shows,’ a Gold Record [for his rendition of ‘The Ballad of Davy Crocket’] and the wonderful people I’ve teamed with. I’m proud of all that,” he says. “The thing that’s most important in my life than all the accolades is I really enjoy my family. I’ve got the ‘world by the tail.’”
Bill Hayes’ Doug will continue to be appear on episodes of “Days” through June of this year as the show’s episodes are produced about six months ahead of its airdates due to the grueling shooting schedule of daily serials. But Hayes never seemed to tire of the grind.
“Bill was the closest thing to a saint I’ve ever seen — he really was,” Ken Corday says. “There was a saintly quality Mr. Hayes had. Truly. He is leaving behind a wonderful legacy of love and professionalism and family.”
(Pictured: Bill Hayes and Susan Seaforth Hayes in 2013 at a book signing event in Birmingham, Ala.)