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Miriam Hopkins biography to be published by University Press of Kentucky

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Sep 25th, 2016
2016
Sep 25

 MIRIAM HOPKINS

Miriam Hopkins biography to be published by University Press of Kentucky

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Miriam Hopkins

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 By Allan R. Ellenberger

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After tens years of research, interviews and writing, on Friday, I was notified that my biography of actress Miriam Hopkins will be published by the University Press of Kentucky as part of their Screen Classics series. The people of UPK have been great and I look forward to working with them.

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Miriam Hopkins (1902-1972), a top star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, was a complex, independent-minded woman decades ahead of her time. A hard-working (and highly demanding) professional, Hopkins was also a sexually daring, self-educated intellectual, who happened to be a firm believer in liberal causes.

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She had a reputation as one of the screen’s most difficult and temperamental actresses. A close friend, Tennessee Williams, worked with Hopkins and after an initially difficult period, he accepted her extremes. He once described her extremes as “morning mail and morning coffee,” and at other times she was like “hat-pin jabbed in your stomach. The quintessence of the female, a really magnificent bitch.”

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Hopkins was exceptionally smart; one who never let anyone find out how smart she was until it was too late. After many years of research, I was amazed at her intellect and temperament, which would erupt unexpectedly and disappear as quickly. Sometimes her demanding mother would trigger it, but in most cases, she was fighting for her career—or so she thought.

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Throughout the 1930’s, the freewheeling Hopkins was a unique case, remaining a top Hollywood star at no less than four studios: Paramount, RKO, Goldwyn and Warner Bros. And no matter where she worked, in her quest for better opportunities, Hopkins fearlessly tackled the studios’ powers-that-be, from the venerated Samuel Goldwyn to the irascible Jack Warner.

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Hopkins’ biography offers numerous stories—some humorous, some ugly—about her countless battles with co-workers on the set of her plays and films. Whatever drove her—be it ambition, insecurity, or something altogether different, she created conflict with her fellow actors. She was either loved or hated; there was rarely anything in-between. And to say that Hopkins was “difficult and temperamental” would be an understatement. She was Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda rolled into one.

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Having said that, whenever she trusted the work of her director and co-stars, she was an ideal team player, but if she did not, life for them was not worth living. If rewriting screenplays, directing her fellow actors and her directors, fighting with producers and the studio’s front office was necessary, so be it.

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But in Hopkins’ mind, she was never temperamental. “Proof of that is that I made four pictures with Willie Wyler, who is a very demanding director,” she once said. “I made two with Rouben Mamoulian, who is the same. Three with Ernst Lubitsch, such a dear man. When you are asked to work again with such directors, you cannot be temperamental.”

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In 1940, she made theater history by starring in Tennessee Williams’ first produced play, Battle of Angels. In the beginning, there were problems, but they soon came to terms. “Difficult? I guess so,” Williams reasoned. “But not with me. She was every Southern divinity you could imagine. Smart and funny and elegant, and I kept looking for her in Joanne [Woodward], and Carrie Nye and Diane Ladd, but there was no one like her. No one. I will hear nothing bad of Miriam Hopkins.”

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Ironically, I started working on Miriam Hopkins’ life story because of Bette Davis, who was a favorite. I enjoyed watching Hopkins clash with the indomitable Warner Bros. star in their two films together: The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance. There are stories about their dynamic real-life feud, and years later, the image of a post-stroke Davis ranting on television on how demanding her former co-star could be. For her part, Hopkins denied the bad blood between them. That intrigued me. She would say, “Yes, I know the legend is that Bette Davis and I were supposed to have had a feud. Utter rubbish. Bette and I got along fine. I’d love to make another picture with her.” Even more rubbish!

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I began watching Hopkins’ other films: the ones in which she collaborated with directors, Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian, and William Wyler, in addition to her lesser-known Paramount fare. It was then that I discovered Miriam Hopkins in command of her sexuality. Whether as a dance-hall prostitute in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), a participant in a ménage a trois in Design for Living (1933), or a rape victim in the scandalous The Story of Temple Drake (1933), she proved that sex was more than a three-letter word: at times, it could be raw and terrifying; at others, it could be sensual, sophisticated fun.

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In 1932, columnist Cal York chose Miriam Hopkins as the “best bet for stardom,” ranking her above Joan Blondell, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney and Helen Hayes. York wasn’t off the mark. Still, Hopkins temperament would hinder her rise to “stardom.” My biography on the actress examines her career decline and her several attempts at a comeback.

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In 1935, she made motion picture history by starring in the title role of the first all-Technicolor feature film, Becky Sharp, based on Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. For her performance, she received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination (she lost to—who else?—her future archrival Bette Davis).

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Chronicled will be Hopkins’ remarkable film career along with the importance of her lasting legacy on the Broadway stage. Regrettably, her widely acclaimed live performances survive only in the recollections of those who witnessed them. Thus, what remain of Hopkins’ art are her films.

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Eventually, Hopkins appeared in 36 films, 40 stage plays, guest appearances in the early days of television, and on countless radio shows. In these media, she worked with Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Jane Fonda, Edgar Bergen, Bing Crosby, William Powell, Sally Field, Henry Fonda, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Olivia de Havilland, Peter Lorre, Merle Oberon, Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland, Elizabeth Montgomery, Coleen Dewhurst, Robert Redford and dozens more.

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Her friendships were as celebrated as well, but instead of actors, Hopkins hung around with writers and intellectuals such as writers Theodore Dreiser, Dorothy Parker, Gertrude Stein, and, of course, Tennessee Williams.

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In her love life, she was independent-minded and just as discriminating. She would have four husbands and dozens of lovers; most were writers including Bennett Cerf, William Saroyan, and John Gunther. Hopkins, once again ahead of her time, was a single mother. In 1932, she adopted a baby boy, being one of the first Hollywood stars to do so and starting a trend for such adoptions.

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She was an avid reader, sometimes a writer herself, a lover of poetry, and a patron of the arts. Over the years, her political beliefs vacillated from the far right to the far left. She held positions in political organizations that had the FBI tracking her actions for almost four decades, marking her as a perceived “communist sympathizer.”

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She was one of Hollywood’s brainiest women—yet, she was absurdly superstitious. A believer in the occult, she would not accept film or stage roles, move to a new home, or take long trips without consulting a psychic.

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Despite all her eccentricities, Hopkins proved that she was an accomplished performer who happened to have her own set of rules and her own personal demons. Although she was aware of being a part of film history—how could Margaret Mitchell’s personal choice to play Scarlet O’Hara not have been—she was not sentimental about her existence or her career. She kept no scrapbooks, clippings, or photographs. It was irrelevant to document or discuss her past.

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But no matter. This first-ever Hopkins biography will provide the real, complex, and at times a contradictory portrait of a woman who had her faults, and idiosyncrasies, but who was a major (and fearless) professional achiever—one who could be generous, gracious, and selfless.

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Once you read about the ambiguous, fascinatingly larger than life character that was Miriam Hopkins, you may agree with Tennessee Williams that she truly was a “magnificent bitch.”

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Celebs Support ‘NO on Prop 8’…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 17th, 2008
2008
Oct 17

California gay marriage fundraiser reaches for stars

 

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Thu Oct 16, 2008
By Alex Dobuzinskis
Reuters

 

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Battling to save the right to same-sex marriage in what is expected to be a close state vote next month, California gay rights backers are turning to Hollywood celebrities for help at a major fundraiser.

 

Actress and singer Barbra Streisand is expected at the event on Tuesday and singers Melissa Etheridge and Mary J. Blige will perform, organizers said on Thursday.

 

Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle will host the event at his Beverly Hills home (Green Acres), with a private $25,000-a-plate dinner. Among other entertainment figures planning to attend are actor/director Rob Reiner.

 

In recent weeks, director Steven Spielberg and actor Brad Pitt each donated $100,000 in support of the campaign to preserve the right to gay marriage.

 

The fundraiser comes as backers of same-sex marriage fight to stem a tide of support for Proposition 8, a November 4 ballot measure that seeks to define marriage under the California Constitution as only between a man and a woman.

 

A poll released last week by Survey USA showed 47 percent of Californians supported the measure, while 42 percent opposed it.

 

“We’re feeling very good about the surge in the campaign,” said Sonja Eddings Brown, a spokeswoman for Protect Marriage, the group advocating for a “Yes” vote on Proposition 8.

 

The “Yes” campaign has raised $25.4 million, compared with $15.8 million for those who wish to maintain the right to gay marriage.

 

In recent weeks, advocates of same-sex marriage have chided the Hollywood community for failing to contribute cash to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8.

 

But Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, said the fundraiser would show Hollywood’s support for same-sex marriage rights.

 

“Having support from Hollywood leaders who are visible, who reach a wide audience, is critical to our success,” Kors said.

 

“It’s always really scary when you’re being outspent 2 to 1 in an election, and when your rights are at stake and someone’s trying to take your rights away,” he added.

 

In recent days, opponents of same-sex marriage have stepped up their television advertising and warned voters that if Proposition 8 is defeated, children will be taught about gay marriage in elementary schools.

 

Gay-marriage supporters call that argument misleading.

 

In California, an estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have married since the state’s highest court in May overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage.

 

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and actress Portia de Rossi wed in August in one the most high-profile same-sex unions. Etheridge has said she plans to marry girlfriend Tammy Lynn Michaels before November 4.

 

DeGeneres released an online video message this week urging California voters to strike down Proposition 8.

 

Gay and lesbian marriage was legalized last week in Connecticut, bringing to three the number of U.S. states that allow it. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant and Peter Cooney)

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Diane Keaton on The Ambassador…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 13th, 2008
2008
Oct 13

OPINION

The Ambassador Hotel lesson

 

 

The Ambassador Hotel just before its demolition

 

Demolishing such iconic buildings not only destroys history, it wastes resources.

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By Diane Keaton

From The Los Angeles Times
October 13, 2008

 

Last week, I drove past the 22-acre vacant lot once known as the Ambassador Hotel. As I looked at the rubble of our lost cause, I pulled over, sat back and gave in to a feeling I can only describe as guilt. I thought about my connection to the once-iconic hotel, about why places like it are so difficult to save, and about what it takes to be a better, more effective advocate for historic buildings.

 

I was just a little girl the first time I visited the Ambassador. My father held my hand and led me down a long hallway before we stopped in front of an ornate facade. I remember Dad’s smile as he slowly opened the door to … the fabulous Cocoanut Grove nightclub! In the magic of a perfect moment, I looked up and saw a parade of dreams etched across the face of the man I loved more than anyone in the world. It was at that moment that something clicked inside my little 9-year-old brain, something that helps me, even today, believe in the ability of the built world to change the trajectory of our lives.

 

In our battle against the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to tear down the Ambassador and put up a new school, we made many arguments. We focused on “reuse” as an economic incentive. The LAUSD wasn’t buying it. We hired a team of architects to come up with options that would transform Myron Hunt’s 350,000-square-foot building into a series of classrooms, administrative offices and low- and moderate-income housing. That didn’t fly either. Neither did the argument that the Ambassador was a national landmark, or that six Oscar ceremonies had been hosted there, or that Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and even Barbra Streisand broke hearts on the stage of the Cocoanut Grove. It didn’t matter. Nothing stopped the Ambassador from becoming another little death of no consequence.

 

Preservation has always been a hard sell in Los Angeles. But maybe in the years ahead it won’t be as hard as it used to be, considering several new facts. No. 1, as my Dad would have said, a building represents an enormous investment of energy — much bigger than we thought when we were fighting to save the Ambassador. No. 2, we now know that construction of new structures alone consumes 40% of the raw materials that enter our economy every year. No. 3, according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the resources required to manufacture these materials and transport them to a site and assemble them into a structure is the equivalent of consuming 5 to 15 gallons of oil per square foot. No. 4, a Brookings Institution study indicates that the construction of new buildings alone will destroy one-third of our existing building stock by 2030. And finally, No. 5, the energy used to destroy older buildings in addition to the energy used to build new ones could power the entire state of California for 10 years, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

 

The Ambassador in its heyday

 

We’ve treated old buildings like we once treated plastic shopping bags — we haven’t reused them, and when we’ve finished with them, we’ve tossed them out. This has to stop. Preservation must stand alongside conservation as an equal force in the sustainability game. More older and historic buildings have to be protected from demolition, not only because it affects our pocketbooks but more important because it threatens our environment. Let’s face it, our free ride at the expense of the planet is over.

 

I’ll never understand why architecture is considered a second cousin to painting and film. We’ve never been married to our romance with architecture. A building, unlike a canvas or a DVD, is a massive work of art with many diverse uses. We watch movies in buildings. We look at paintings on their walls. We pray in cathedrals. We live inside places we call homes. Home gives us faith in the belief of a well-lived life. When we tear down a building, we are wiping out lessons for the future. If we think of it that way, we will begin to understand the emotional impact of wasting the energy and resources used to build it in the first place.

 

As for me, I’m keeping the door to the Cocoanut Grove open. I’m still holding on to my father’s hand and the memory that grew to inspire my dream of a golden — now green — future among structures that stand as invitations to a past we can only imagine by being in their presence.

 

Diane Keaton is an Oscar-winning actress. She is a former board member of the Los Angeles Conservancy and is currently a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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Jimmy Bangley Memorial

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 31st, 2008
2008
Mar 31

A Tribute to Jimmy Bangley

 

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 Jimmy Bangley (1956-2004) 

 

On December 8, 2004, our friend Jimmy Bangley sadly passed away from our lives. He was returned to his family in Suffolk, Virginia to be interred next to his beloved grandmother. The memorial service the following January was a standing-room-only event. Since then, his friends have made donations to purchase a cenotaph niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A place where we can visit and remember. Yesterday, that dream came true when more than 30 friends gathered at the cemetery’s Cathedral Mausoleum to unveil the decorated niche to his memory.

 

For those who did not know him, Jimmy Bangley was an accomplished actor, writer and film historian. He appeared in numerous plays both here in Los Angeles and his hometown in Virginia. His film credits included roles in the films Rollercoaster (1977), Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (2000) and the Faye Dunaway short film, The Yellow Bird (2001).  He also appeared in more than 200 television programs representing Hollywood memorabilia and film costumes since the early 1990s. Although his first love was acting, he was also a successful writer. He wrote numerous articles for Collecting magazine, Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.

 

Over the years Jimmy waited tables, performed stand-up comedy and sold celebrity memorabilia. For a while he worked at the Writers Guild and spoke at the yearly Rudolph Valentino Memorial at Hollywood Forever. He was also working on a biography of the “Too beautiful” silent screen siren, Barbara La Marr, with his close friend Margaret Burk. Jimmy was multi-faceted and had his hands in many pies during his brief life.

 

For more about Jimmy, please click on CONTINUE READING…

 

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