New Zealand film pioneer: Hilda Maud Hayward (1898 – 1970)

The New Zealand Film Archive, now renamed Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision (The New Zealand Archive of Film, Television & Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero), was honoured to present two of the few surviving New Zealand features from the silent era at WSS VII. Pianist Mauro Colombis masterfully brought both feature screenings to life for a twenty-first century international audience, some of whom were experiencing silent era cinema from Aotearoa New Zealand for the first time.

The screening opened with a selection of short films made in the 1920s, originally produced in conjunction with local theatres in Auckland and Hamilton who showed them prior to features. These included footage of two Shingle Bob haircut competitions, and a Bathing Beauty contest.

The first feature, Venus of the South Seas (1924) starred Australian-born champion swimmer and diver, Annette Kellerman. Kellerman’s swimming prowess and ability to act while holding her breath made for dramatic underwater scenes.

The second film, The Bush Cinderella (1928) was made by pioneering New Zealand filmmaker, Rudall Hayward, and featured a strong female lead played by Dale Austin, winner of the 1927 Miss New Zealand contest. The Bush Cinderella was described by our cataloguers as a “rural melodrama with a dash of high seas adventure and a race up Queen Street, Auckland to the finish.” [1] It was one of the most successful New Zealand productions of the silent era, due in no small part to the star status of Austin. Hayward, who was not one to let a marketing opportunity go by, made sure he leveraged Austin’s beauty queen reputation and fleeting Hollywood experience – part of her Miss New Zealand prize included a contract as a stock player at MGM. The Sun noted that the film “combines Hollywood experience and technique with a faultless photographic face.” [2] Tinted scenes made Austin’s photogenic face glow in hues of gold and blue, and at times glimpses of naturalism shone through the slapstick and melodrama. Another distinct, but unheralded, female influence that shaped the film was Hayward’s wife and partner in filmmaking, Hilda, the subject of the profile below.


Recent film history has made determined efforts to remember and duly recognise the role of women in early filmmaking. [3] In Aotearoa New Zealand it is not so much a case of repositioning women, as it is one of discovery. A case in point is Hilda Maud Hayward (née Moren) (figure 1), who between 1925 and 1940 assisted her husband Rudall Hayward on the production of some twenty-eight films; however, she received screen credits for none of them, and is largely absent from New Zealand film history.

Figure 1 - Hilda Hayward. Stills Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Courtesy of Hayward-Boak Collection.

Until the 1970s, independent filmmaking in Aotearoa was a patchy and local affair. [4] This did not change until the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission in 1977. Prior to this New Zealand lacked an organised film industry, or an infrastructure of any kind, and only a handful of people managed to make full-time careers as independent filmmakers. All of those who have achieved any level of recognition in the public consciousness for having done so were male – although Deborah Shepard’s insightful research presented in Reframing Women reveals that women did work unrecognised alongside these celebrated male auteurs. [5] Among the nation’s filmmakers of the silent era is pioneer Rudall Hayward, an acclaimed innovator who is considered to be the Grandfather of New Zealand film.

Rudall Charles Victor Hayward (1900-1974) was born into a theatrical family who emigrated from England to New Zealand in 1908, and for many years owned the Fuller Hayward Empire – which at its peak controlled sixty-three picture theatres around the country. [6] Hayward is praised in New Zealand film histories as having “a life in film”: at the age of nine he secured work winding the take-up spool at a theatre in Waihi, by eighteen he had left school and was a full-time projectionist, in 1921 he made his first film, The Bloke from Freeman’s Bay, and he died on the road in 1974, while promoting his last film, To Love A Maori (1972). Heavily influenced by the historian James Cowan, Hayward believed that tales of the New Zealand frontier were equal to any from the American West in interest, and his ambition was to put New Zealand’s history on screen. [7] When he met his future wife, Hilda, he had already produced his first feature film, My Lady of the Cave (1922).

Born in Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore in 1898, Hilda Maud Moren was the daughter of an engineer and a music teacher. Earlier generations of the Moren family had purchased land in the area and, while they were not rich, they had assets and were comfortable. [8] After her father’s death (around 1916), Hilda grew up in the family home, run by her mother and grandmother. Mrs Moren kept the family together and worked as a music teacher. She passed on to her daughter both an artistic outlook and a capacity for management and hard work. Little is known about Hilda’s childhood, though in an interview during the 1930s she made it clear that from the start she was interested in “the pictures,” especially in how they were made. [9]

It is unclear how they met, but by 1922 Rudall Hayward was on the scene and on 18 September 1923, the couple married at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Takapuna. [10] The couple moved in with the Moren household in Takapuna, and in 1924 their daughter, Phillippa, was born. Most histories of New Zealand film celebrate Hayward’s career from the point of view of a true pioneering hero, one who made it under his own steam, and at best, Hilda receives a nod, such as “she was to work uncredited on many of his films.” [11]

In point of fact, while also raising their child, Hilda played crucial roles in the pre-production, production and post-production of the twenty-eight films Hayward produced during their marriage. While she may be seen as the archetypal colonial help-meet assisting her husband in his chosen career, nonetheless Hilda played an active role as location scout, publicist, make-up artist, costumer, photographer and editor. In addition, she ran the budget, and ordered the film stock and chemicals. According to her son-in-law, Neil Boak, Hilda had a particularly good eye, and he attributes the beautiful scenery in some of the films to her, she “had an eye for picking up, for converting a scene to a picture.” [12] Beyond that, Boak also states that Hilda was a filmmaker in her own right, and on at least one occasion when he was away, Hayward phoned Hilda with a message to get the camera and get to town – there was a riot in central Auckland that he wanted filmed. [13]

Between 1925 and 1940, the couple made twenty-eight films. This includes five feature films, and a number of community comedies, newsreels and short documentaries. In the context of independent New Zealand filmmaking at the time, there is nothing to equal this output. The fact that Hayward produced four silent feature films during the 1920s – My Lady of the Cave (1922), Rewi’s Last Stand (1925), The Te Kooti Trail (1927) and The Bush Cinderella (1928) – is an extraordinary output in New Zealand, even by today’s standards.

It is impossible to know, now, exactly the extent of Hilda’s role in the Hayward’s filmmaking partnership. The Hayward-Boak collection of letters and diaries held at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision are scattered with references to her input, and enticing entries by Hilda such as “Discussing plans for a darkroom. Went to town – Rue found title for Prince Edward. Am starting to re-edit Te Kooti’s Trail. Altered Rue’s suit” [14] give us a glimpse of Hilda’s life, the film career squeezed in around the domestic.

This casual interspersal of commonplace domestic duties with domestic labour of a more intellectual kind was not unusual for the 1920s. At this time, sharing in a husband’s job was often the only way a woman could have a career. If women worked at all, their employment was generally seen as a temporary interlude and they were expected to give up their jobs once married. In Depression-era America, women – and especially married women – were ideologically and systemically pressured not to work in order to save much-needed jobs for men; instead the “professionalized homemaker” type was idealised as the model female role. [15] It seems women were faced with similar pressures in Depression-era New Zealand. [16] These pressures were reinforced by popular culture. [17] Although they did not participate in paid work, women were expected to carry out unwaged labour for husband and family as part of their marital duties. While this discourse was typically applied to housekeeping and childrearing, in the cases of creative couples it was not uncommon for the wife’s domestic labour to extend to supporting the husband in his work. Two other notable examples of the era are Zelda Fitzgerald and Alma Hitchcock, whose wifely duties, like Hilda’s, included intensive creative input. [18] Zelda’s work was acknowledged at least by a level of celebrity and notoriety, and Alma received screen credits (albeit in much smaller print and many lines beneath her husband’s), whereas Hilda’s role as a creative wife was a much less public one.

All of the Hayward features were made on a shoestring budget, with a small crew, and nonprofessional cast. Most cast members were chosen less for professional reasons than for their ability to invest in the production, and everyone played more than one role – often in front of as well as behind the camera. On The Te Kooti Trail (1927), for example, Hilda was active in pre-production location scouting and budgeting, during production she oversaw continuity and make-up (figure 2). A report in the October 1927 edition of the Auckland Star refers to the couple filming a sequence in an “old-time canoe”, the players seated in the stern, while Mr and Mrs Hayward were at the bow with the camera and reflecting screens. [19] The film was developed and edited at their home in Takapuna, and Hilda’s diary entries suggest that she also had a hand in the editing. [20]

Figure 2 - The Te Kooti Trail (1927). Cast and crew members on location. Stills Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Courtesy of Ramai Hayward.

While they were popularly received, none of the features succeeded in making a profit. To keep going during the Depression years, particularly 1928 and 1929, the Haywards travelled the county producing a series of two-reeler comedies based on a format that had proven popular in the United States and Australia. As many as twenty-three community comedies were produced. [21] Using a standard script and some stock footage, to save on exposing too much new film stock, the comedies were designed to attract as many people into a theatre as possible. A town would be selected for filming and, arriving first, Hilda would create a blaze of publicity to select the cast and locations. Banners with the title “Have you a Screen Personality? If so … New Zealand Needs You!” (figure 3) would appear along with advertisements calling for:

Figure 3 - Advertising circular for acting applicants to appear in Rudall Hayward’s community comedies, titled “Have You a Screen Personality?” Stills Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Courtesy of Hayward Collection.

A young lady with good even features, dark eyes, good teeth, slender and graceful… A typical NZ outdoor man, well built handsome… A smart man about town, able to drive a car… at least twenty well dressed young ladies, a similar number of roughriders (with their own horses); a big crowd in the main street; and the assistance of the fire brigade and well known citizens. [22]

The films were shot and edited quickly, then returned to the local picture theatre for a “world premiere” while interest and excitement was still hot. This enabled the Haywards to earn enough to buy more film stock and carry on to the next town, but they did not return a profit, and ultimately the project was unsustainable.

Hayward’s ambition to put New Zealand history on the big screen was reignited in 1937 when pre-production for a talkie version of Rewi’s Last Stand began. This remade version is the film for which Hayward is best known. [23] For Hilda, however, it spelt the end of both her filmmaking career and her marriage. When Hayward auditioned the beautiful young photographer, Ramai Te Miha, for the leading role, he was charmed by her: not only did she win the role, but also the producer’s heart. Around 1939, while the film was still in production, Hayward left Hilda to begin a new life with Ramai. He divorced Hilda in 1943 and married Ramai days later. Hilda was devastated. From 1939 she managed the Avondale cinema in Auckland, but according to film historian Deborah Shepard she “pined for film work and found the theatre a poor substitute.” [24]

The filmmaking partnership between Rudall and Ramai (herself a pioneer Māori filmmaker) continued until his death in 1974. Ramai’s story is relatively well-known: she is credited on the films the couple made together, and, being a celebrity figure, she has been the subject of several television documentaries and interviews. Sadly, however, the scandal of the Rudall-Ramai affair and marriage, as well as Hilda’s less public identity, contributed to the disappearance of her contribution to New Zealand film history. It is not known whether it was because Hayward was embarrassed, or because he felt terrible guilt, but he never referred to his first wife in any interviews or accounts of his career. The lack of any credit for Hilda on the films themselves and the very scant primary source material has meant that only by the very determined efforts of historians such as Deborah Shepard has Hilda been put back into the frame of New Zealand’s film history. It is recognition that this creative and multi-talented woman most definitely deserves.

Hilda’s story invites us to ponder how many other women contributed to the first decades of film production in New Zealand without receiving credit for their input. It is known, for example, that Hilda Inkster, wife of Lawrie Inkster, a Greymouth maker of newsreels and a contemporary of Hayward’s, helped with the processing and intertitling of Inkster’s films. [25] It is hoped that these untold stories will be brought to light in future film scholarship.


[1] “Moving Image Catalogue,” Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision,
[2] The Sun, 27 August 1928, cited in “Moving Image Catalogue,” Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision,
[3] See, for example, on screenwriter June Mathis, Thomas J. Slater’s “June Mathis’s Valentino Scripts: Images of Male ‘Becoming’ After the Great War,” Cinema Journal 50 (2010), 99-120; on director Dorothy Arzner, Judith Mayne’s Directed by Dorothy Arzner (Minneapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995); and on director Alice Guy Blaché, Joan Simon, ed., Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2009). See also “The Women Film Pioneers Project,” Columbia University, updated February 2015.
[4] Roger Horrocks, “Introduction,” New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History, ed. Diane Pivac, Lawrence McDonald and Frank Stark (Wellington: Te Papa Press), 5.
[5] Deborah Shepard, Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film (Auckland: HarperCollins New Zealand, 2000).
[6] Diane Pivac, New Zealand Film, 57.
[7] Ray L. Hayes, interview with Rudall Hayward, 1961. Ref. A1003, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
[8] Neil Boak, interview with Deborah Shepard, 1996. Ref. AUD.0936, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
[9] Helen Morse, interview with Hilda Hayward, Good Morning, c. 1935. Quoted in Deborah Shepard, Reframing Women, 20.
[10] L. R. Shelton, “Hayward Charles Victor,” from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 8 October 2013.
[11] Shelton, “Hayward Charles Victor.”
[12] Neil Boak, quoted in Deborah Shepard, Reframing Women, 21.
[13] Neil Boak, interview with Deborah Shepard, 1996. Ref. AUD.0936, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. In 1932, during the Great Depression, a series of riots occurred throughout New Zealand. The worst was in Auckland on 14 April, and it is likely that this is what Hayward was referring to. Unfortunately the film does not survive. For more information on the 14 April riot see “Unemployed Riots Rock Queen Street.” New Zealand History, updated 25 August 2014.
[14] Hilda Hayward, diary, Hayward – Boak Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
[15] Ellen Wiley Todd, The “New Woman” Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 179-224.
[16] “Impact And Memories Of The 1930s Depression,” NZine, updated 16 February 2001.
[17] The trope of the working class girl “rescued” from her working life by marriage to a wealthy man is a insistently reoccurring trope of Hollywood films of the era: Ella Cinders (1926), It (1927), Red Hair (1928), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928), Why Be Good? (1929), Three Wise Girls (1932), and Red-Headed Woman (1932), among others.
[18] Zelda provided editorial advice, and gave freely of her opinions and even her diaries for use in her husband’s novels. Alma carried out screenwriting, advising, and editing duties on her husband’s films. For more on Zelda Fitzgerald, see Nancy Milford’s Zelda: A Biography (New York: Harper & Row, 1970). For more on Alma Hitchcock, see Pat Hitchcock O’Connell and Laurent Bouzereau’s Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind The Man (Berkeley: Berkeley Hardcover, 2003).
[19] “Screen Stars and Films,” Auckland Star, 29 October 1927, 25. Accessed via Papers Past,
[20] Hilda Hayward, diary, Hayward – Boak Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
[21] In interviews Rudall Hayward has referred to as many as 23 community comedies, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision knows of 20 titles. Sadly only a few of these survive intact. One of these, A Daughter of Dunedin (1928), can be viewed via the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision online catalogue,
[22] Community comedy advertising. Community Comedy (1) and (2), Stills Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
[23] After its release Rewi’s Last Stand became part of the School Film Library Catalogue and was routinely seen in New Zealand classrooms. In 1970, it was bought by the NZBC (for $500) and became the first New Zealand feature film to screen on local television. It was also the first of Hayward’s films to receive an international release, screening in England during World War II. For more on this film, see “Rewi’s Last Stand,” Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, updated 2004.
[24] Shepard, Reframing Women, 22.
[25] “Lawrie Inkster 1897 – 1955,” Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, updated 2004.

About the Author

Diane Pivac, with a foreword by Mark Sweeney

About the Authors

Diane Pivac

Diane Pivac is Head of Audience at the newly named Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, the recent amalgamation of the New Zealand Film Archive (NZFA), Sound Archives Ngā Taongo Kōrero and the Television New Zealand Archive. She is co-editor of New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History published by Te Papa Press in 2011.

Mark Sweeney

Mark Sweeney is Manager, Visitor Experience, at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision and presented the film screenigns at Women and the Silent Screen V11 in Melbourne 2013.View all posts by Diane Pivac, with a foreword by Mark Sweeney →