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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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The Hollywood Hat

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jun 3rd, 2012
2012
Jun 3

FILM HISTORY

The Hollywood Hat: An Autographed Hat Holds the History of Early Hollywood

 

  

By Joe Biltman
Autograph Magazine 

 

“Can I have your autograph?”

 

The streets of Hollywood have teemed with autograph hunters for a century now. Brandishing an autograph book or scrap of paper, these collectors good-naturedly accost stars wherever they find them — on the street, in restaurants, at the supermarket, at gas stations, in elevators, in their cars when stopped at red lights, and even in restrooms.

 

Click here to continue reading…

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Dixie Lee’s 100th Birthday

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 4th, 2011
2011
Nov 4

100th BIRTHDAY

 

 

AMERICAN SINGER AND ACTRESS

 

 

 

 CLICK HERE TO SEE DIXIE LEE WITH CLARA BOW IN “NO LIMIT”

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Bing Crosby’s stolen Oscar!

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 24th, 2011
2011
Feb 24

OSCAR STORIES

 Bing Crosby’s stolen Oscar!

 

  

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

Bing Crosby graduated from Gonzaga High School in Spokane, Washington in 1920 and received an honorary doctorate from Gonzaga University in 1937. Crosby retained an interest for his former school throughout his life and contributed generously to it. Through his efforts the Crosby Library was constructed and dedicated as a memorial to the Crosby family in 1957. The school’s collection is the largest public Crosby collection containing his 1944 Oscar for “Going My Way,” gold and platinum records, trophies and awards, photographs, correspondence, news clippings, radio disks, records and cassettes, and other memorabilia.

 

One weekend in late April of 1972, Bing’s Oscar was stolen and a three-inch statue of Mickey Mouse was left in its place. Police said that the theft appeared to be a prank since none of the other Crosby memorabilia in display cases was disturbed. The police report at the time valued the gold-plated Oscar at about $75.

 

The following Friday, the university newspaper ran an interview with an anonymous person who said he carried out the theft because “I wanted to make people laugh.” A few days later, the Oscar was found in the University chapel by a priest and returned to the display case.

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The Malibu Colony

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2009
2009
Oct 18

LOS ANGELES HISTORY

Living chic by jowl in the Malibu Colony

 

 Bing Crosby's Malibu house

Bing Crosby’s Malibu Colony home in 1931. The first to sign a lease was Swedish silent film star Anna Q. Nilsson. (Malibu Lagoon Museum)

  

There’s plenty of Hollywood money — and history — packed along that fabled sandy stretch of Malibu.

 

By Veronique de Turenne
Los Angeles Times
October 18, 2009

 

When Cheronda Guyton, a senior vice president with Wells Fargo, used a foreclosed home to host lavish parties last summer in the Malibu Colony, she broke more than a few company rules. But by caving to her craving for the beach life, the now-fired bank executive joined a long line of people aching to lay claim to that fabled stretch of sand.

 

Located in the heart of Malibu just up the coast from Surfrider Beach, the famed Malibu Colony is a half-mile stretch of 100 or so homes that sit inches apart on the shoreline. They’re luxurious retreats outfitted with outdoor kitchens, private cabanas and seaside teahouses. The roster of residents reads like the credits of the world’s biggest ensemble movie. And the price tags, which start in the high seven figures, climb ever upward.

 

To be sure, the century-long history of the land has always been rich and star-studded.

 

Click here to continue reading

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Bing Crosby in the 1930 Census…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Aug 3rd, 2008
2008
Aug 3

THE 1930 CENSUS

Bing Crosby

(1904-1977)

ne Harry Lillis Crosby

Film actor

Father Chuck O’Malley in Going My Way (1944)

 

 

 

 

Ruth Manor Apartments

1746 N. Cherokee Avenue

Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California

 

 

Rent, $70

no Radio

Cenus taken on April 12, 1930

 

HOUSEHOLD RESIDENTS:*

 

  1. Harry L. Crosby (head), 25 / divorced / Washington / Actor / Moving pictures.

 

NOTE: Crosby lived here when he made his first film, Reaching for the Moon (1930).

 

   

 

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* Information includes relationship to head of household, age / place of birth (year of arrival in this country, if applicable) / occupation / industry.

  

The preceeding text is taken from my recent book, Celebrities in the 1930 Census (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2008). This directory provides an extensive listing of household information collected for over 2,265 famous or notorious individuals who were alive during the 1930 United States Census. Please note: The above photographs do not appear in the book.

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