Michael Hopkins; adopted son of actress, Miriam Hopkins, dead at age 78
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Michael Hopkins, the adopted son of actress Miriam Hopkins, died on Tuesday morning in a convalescent home in Riverside, California. He was 78.
In 1932, Miriam Hopkins became one of the first people in Hollywood to adopt a child – and was a single mother at the time. Miriam had just divorced her second husband, writer Austin Parker, and surprised everyone when she stopped off in Chicago on her way to New York and visited the Cradle Society, an adoption agency in suburban Evanston.
Requesting a tour of the institution, she examined all the children and studied their records of what was known of their parents. Finally, she happened upon a tow-headed, blue-eyed baby boy and immediately fell in love. The boy was known as Baby Wilson. “He’s healthy and cute,” said a representative from the orphanage.
Discovery of her plan to adopt a child and the resulting publicity annoyed Miriam and after adoption papers were signed she left the court declaring that she did not want to talk about it, or anything else for that matter.
“I hate all this publicity over a simple thing,” she told reporters. When asked why she wanted to adopt a baby, she said: “I don’t have to give any reasons. It is just a fact and we will live wherever I happen to be working.”
When Miriam returned the following week to pick up Michael, she had her friend, Dorothy Parker with her. Because Michael had blonde hair and blue eyes and closely resembled his adoptive mother, rumors arose that possibly Michael was her biological son.
Michael standing next to a portrait of himself as a child (Courtesy Hopkins family)
“I was adopted in Chicago from the Cradle Society,” Michael said. “There was someone who wrote about a controversy that she went there to adopt a child that looked very much like her – blond hair and blue eyes, because at the time she was not married.”
Michael never knew for certain if the rumors were true – Miriam never said and he wasn’t interested in finding out. He also wasn’t told he was adopted until his late teens. “I didn’t find out that I was adopted until I had to go into the service and I needed my birth certificate,” Michael recalled. “She never mentioned that I was adopted. And no one ever said anything to me while I was growing up even though everyone in Hollywood knew it.”
Even though Michael grew up in Hollywood, he was rarely exposed to the Hollywood scene. Miriam bought John Gilberts house on Tower Road in Beverly Hills and had it remodeled. That is where Michael spent most of his childhood. “Tower place was nice because it had the amenities – a tennis court and swimming pool,” Michael recalled. Later in his life he returned to the place he grew up and was disappointed because it had been razed and was replaced by another house.
Because the house was located in the hills and was accessed by a winding road, Michael never learned how to ride a bicycle. Miriam was afraid he would ride down the winding road and somehow careen off the edge of a cliff.
Miriam’s neighbors on Tower Road were, Charles Boyer, Edgar Bergen and Sabu. Once, Michael and his best friend, Bob Potter, the son of director H. C. Potter (and Michael’s godfather) found some trouble at John Barrymore’s home, which had several buildings with many glass windows. Temptation took over one day and they took turns seeing who could break the most glass.
Miriam’s third husband, Anatole Litvak was the one who most treated Michael like a son. He was also a very dominate personality, but he gave Michael attention while Miriam’s other suitors didn’t. When Litvak was around it was more of a father son relationship.
Michael with Anatole Litvak (Courtesy Hopkins family)
However, being single during much of Michael’s youth, Miriam took responsibility for being both mother and father. She persuaded Bill Tilden to provide tennis instructions and Jose Iturbi, piano lessons. Because Michael was interested in planes, she arranged for Igor Sikorsky to instruct him on flying.
Regardless, Michael was treated well and educated in a series of private schools beginning with Arizona Desert School in Tucson, Arizona shortly after Miriam’s divorce from Litvak. His first day there, Miriam was helping him to get settled with his roommate. When she left the room Michael’s roommate asked, “Your mother’s a movie star, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Michael replied.
“Is she a good actress?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said. “She thinks she is.”
Michael’s schooling continued at Riverdale High School and Valley Forge Military Academy and culminated in four years at Lawrenceville. In his youth, Michael dated Elizabeth Montgomery and Irving Berlin’s daughter, Linda.
After school, he enlisted in the military service during the Korean War. It was during this time, while stationed in Morocco, that he met and married his wife, Christiane Carreno. While they were dating, Michael had not told Chris who his mother was. One evening they went to a Moroccan theater where The Mating Game, starring Miriam and Gene Tierney was showing. Michael pointed to Miriam on the screen and said, “See that lady there? That’s my mother.”
Chris looked at him and replied, “Yeah, and that girl over there is my sister.” So was her introduction to her mother-in-law. Michael and Chris were married in Morocco without Miriam’s presence.
Michael made a career in the Air Force and as is usual in the military, was assigned to several bases over the world during the next ten years. In 1955, they had a son they named Thomas, and who became the apple of his grandmother’s eye. In 1966 Michael was assigned permanently to March Air Force Base in Riverside, California where they made their home.
Every other weekend, Michael, Chris and Tom would travel to Beverly Hills where they were expected to attend Miriam’s Sunday afternoon gatherings. It was there that they met William Saroyan, Edward G. Robinson, Tennessee Williams, Loretta Young, Shelly Winters and all of Miriam’s friends.
Chris holding Tom, Michael, Miriam and Miriam’s mother, Ellen (Courtesy Hopkins family)
In 1972 Miriam died at age 69 and Michael took his mother’s ashes to her hometown cemetery in Bainbridge, Georgia, and had them interred next to those of her mother.
In recent years Michael suffered from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Funeral services will be held on Monday, October 11 at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Riverside, with interment at Riverside National Cemetery. Michael is survived by his wife Christiane and son Thomas.