I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955): Susan Hayward, Oscar Nominated for Biopic of Lillian Ross

In I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Daniel Mann’s emotionally intense and harsh biopic, Susan Hayward plays alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, from her rise to fame to life under pressures of being a celeb and dominated by a ruthless mother, to her  decline and fall, and then her ultimate comeback.

Our Grade: B (*** out of *****)

The adaptation diverts from the facts in several ways. Only two of her eight husbands are presented. The most convincing aspects recount her self-destruction and troubled relationship with her monstrous “stage mother” (well played by Jo Van Fleet).

The principal reason for Roth’s fall from fame into despair is attributed to excessive drinking. Turning point occurs when she seeks the help of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), specifically Burt McGuire (Eddie Albert).

The story concludes with a tribute in Roth’s honor on the TV series “This is Your Life.”  The film’s very last shot is a close-up of Hayward’s Lillian proudly marching toward the stage.

Roth had published her autobiography after this event.

Hayward, having been coached by the real Lillian Roth, does a decent job of impersonating the singer’s style.

The film, adapted from Roth’s memoirs, spans three decades, but it lacks attention to period detail, making its Oscar nomination in Art Direction all the more peculiar.

Hayward was nominated but did not win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, which was earlier honored at the Cannes Film Fest.

Narrative Structure: Detailed Synopsis

In the first reel, we are introduced to Lillian Roth (Carole Ann Campbell), as an eight-year old girl, pushed around by her domineering stage mother Katie (Jo Van Fleet) to audition and act even though she is merely a child.

Katie finally secures an opportunity in Chicago, which leads to Lillian, now a mature woman (Susan Hayward), to having a successful musical career.  Though 20 years have passed, Katie is still managing Lillian and running her life and career choices.

Her mother conceals from her the fact that her childhood friend, David (Ray Danton), tried to get in contact.  After finding out, she visits him in the hospital and they soon fall in love. David, an entertainment company lawyer, is able to secure Lillian shows at big venues, including at the Palace Theatre.

There is tension between David and Katie, because he feels that Katie is projecting her own ambitions onto Lillian and overworking her, while Katie feels a new man in Lillian’s life only serves to distract from her career. When Lillian informs her mother she intends to marry David, Katie is disappointed and sees a repeat of her own life happening—giving up a career to have a family.

When David falls ill and dies during the opening night of her show, and she is despondent having lost the love of her life.

Rebelling against her mother’s domineering ways, Lillian turns to drinking. One night, in a drunken stupor, she goes out with a sailor, Wallie (Don Taylor), and ends up marrying him that night but not remembering it. They remain married, but the marriage is loveless from the beginning. The only thing the two have in common is drinking, and both drink to forget the present. Lillian’s career suffers as a result of her persistent alcoholism, and she spends all her money without booking new shows. The two divorce after Wallie says he is “sick of being Mr. Lillian Roth.”

Two years later, Lillian meets fellow alcoholic Tony Bardeman (Richard Conte) at a dinner party, and she falls for him. However, Lillian goes through alcohol withdrawal when she stops drinking to please her mother, and instead she turns to being a secret drinker. Her drinking gets worse when Tony goes home to California, but when he returns, Lillian begs him to stay with her. They decide to stop drinking together, but once they are married, Tony starts to drink and Lillian is outraged. When she tries to stop him from drinking and leave, he beats her.

She escapes Tony’s clutches and goes to New York to live with her mother, but contemplates suicide after a fight with her mother.

Lillian goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous shelter, and suffers bouts of delirium tremens as she goes through withdrawals. She begins to fall for her sponsor, Burt McGuire (Eddie Albert), but the crippling effects of childhood polio make him wary of pursuing a romance.

During her road to recovery, she is invited to appear on the “This Is Your” Life TV program to share her story of alcoholism and recovery.

The episodic tale is narrated by Lillian.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Best Actress: Susan Hayward

Cinematography (b/w): Arthur E. Arling

Art Direction-Set Decoration (b/w): Cedric Gibbons and Malcolm Brown; Edwin B. Willis and Hugh B. Hunt

Costume design (b/w): Helen Rose

Oscar Awards: 1

Costume Design

Oscar Context:

Anna Magnani won the Best Actress for The Rose Tattoo, which also received the Cinematography Award for James Wong Howe and Art Direction.


Susan Hayward – Lillian Roth
Richard Conte – Tony Bardeman
Eddie Albert – Burt McGuire
Jo Van Fleet – Katie Silverman Roth, Lillian’s mother
Don Taylor – Wallie
Ray Danton – David Tredman
Margo – Selma
Virginia Gregg – Ellen

Don ‘Red’ Barry – Jerry
David Kasday – David as a child
Carole Ann Campbell – Lillian (a child)
Peter Leeds – Richard Elstead
Ralph Edwards – Himself, as host of This Is Your Life


Running time: 117 Minutes.

Directed by Daniel Mann