Miriam Hopkins biography to be published by University Press of Kentucky
By Allan R. Ellenberger
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
- Book/Film News , Miriam Hopkins | Tags: Allan R. Ellenberger, barbra streisand, Bennett Cerf, Bette Davis, bing crosby, Cal York, Carole Lombard, Carrie Nye, Diane Ladd, Dorothy Parker, ernst lubitsch, faye dunaway, Gary Cooper, Gertrude Stein, Helen Hayes, Jane Fonda, Jean Harlow, joanne woodward, John Gunther, Loretta Young, margaret mitchell, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia de Havilland, Orson Welles, Paramount, RKO, Robert Redford, rouben mamoulian, Sally Field, Samuel Goldwyn, Sylvia Sidney, tennessee williams, Theodore Dreiser, University Press Of Kentucky, UPK, warner bros., william saroyan, william wyler
Laguna Art Museum presents early photographs and Hollywood glamour portraits by George Hurrell from 1925–1944
Laguna Art Museum presents George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood, on display through May 19, in the museum’s upper level gallery. George Hurrell was a famed Hollywood glamour photographer with roots in Laguna Beach. The exhibition traces his beginnings as a photographer and his leap to photographing Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 40s. The exhibition presents a selection of over sixty works from 1925-1944 (mostly from the museum’s permanent collection), curated by Laguna Art Museum’s Curator of Early California Art, Janet Blake.
George Hurrell (1904–1992) was born in Covington, Kentucky, and studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Learning to photograph his paintings spurred an interest in photography as a medium. In 1924 he was befriended by Laguna Beach artist Edgar Payne and his wife, Elsie Palmer Payne, who were spending several months in Chicago after returning from a long European sojourn. The following spring, the Paynes motored back to California accompanied by Hurrell. After a short time in Los Angeles, Hurrell moved to Laguna Beach, living for a time in the vacant cottage of silent film director Malcolm St. Clair. He became part of the art community and developed close friendships with artists William Wendt and William Griffith. He began photographing the leading artists of the Laguna Beach Art Association, including, besides Griffith and Wendt, Anna Hills, Thomas Hunt, and Frank Cuprien. Laguna Art Museum traces its roots to the Laguna Beach Art Association.
It was in Laguna Beach that Hurrell met Florence “Pancho” Barnes, who, in turn, introduced him to silent movie star Ramon Novarro. Hurrell’s photographs of Barnes and Novarro caught the attention of Hollywood, and he moved there in 1927. By 1930 he was the head of the MGM portrait gallery. He was soon dubbed the “Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait.” He established his own studio on the Sunset Strip and later worked for Warner Bros. The museum’s collection contains many Hurrell photographs, including those of the early artists and other prominent people of Laguna Beach, as well as a portfolio of ten portraits of important Hollywood stars, including John Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Katharine Hepburn.
ABOUT LAGUNA ART MUSEUM
Laguna Art Museum is a museum of California art. Its mission is to collect, care for, and exhibit works of art that were created by California artists or represent the life and history of the state. Through its permanent collection, its special loan exhibitions, its educational programs, and its library and archive, the museum enhances the public’s knowledge and appreciation of California art of all periods and styles, and encourages art-historical scholarship in this field.
Laguna Art Museum stands just steps from the Pacific Ocean in the beautiful city of Laguna Beach. The museum is proud to continue the tradition of the Laguna Beach Art Association, founded in 1918 by the early California artists who had discovered the town and transformed it into a vibrant arts community. The gallery that the association built in 1929 is part of today’s Laguna Art Museum.
Laguna Art Museum
is located at
307 Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach,
on the corner of PCH and Cliff Drive,
next door to Las Brisas restaurant.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday: 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Closed Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day
General admission: $7.00
Students, seniors, and active military: $5.00
Children under 12: FREE
Museum members: FREE
By Allan R. Ellenberger
For the first time in its history, emissaries from leading Hollywood organizations took part in observance of Memorial Day 1929, which included the unveiling of a marble replica of Antonio Canova’s sculptural masterpiece, “Cupid and Psyche, or Love’s Triumph Over Death,” in plaisance before the memorial chapel of Hollywood Cemetery.
The ceremonies would be conducted under the auspices of Hollywood Post, No. 43, of the American Legion, with other organizations participating including such groups as Hollywood First Presbyterian Church, Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Hollywood and Fairfax High School Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), Hollywood Bowl Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, G.A.R. and the Hollywood Police Department.
Above, the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ replica on display at Lake Como
where the Hollywood Forever replica was carved.
The exact replica of “Cupid and Psyche,” carved from Italian marble, was ordered by Hollywood Cemetery’s manager, Frank Heron and was carved at Lake Como, Italy at a cost of approximately $25,000. Another replica carved by a student of Canova’s still rests in Lake Como and was the inspiration for the Hollywood Cemetery reproduction.
Canova’s original called ‘Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss,’ first commissioned in 1787, was donated to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1824 by Joachim Murat; Prince Yusupov, a Russian nobleman who originally acquired the piece in Rome in 1796, gave a later version (created in 1796) to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Above, the original Canova statue at the Louvre
Art representatives in Europe assured Frank Heron that few experts could tell the difference between the original and the replica being sent to Hollywood. The statue is reputed to be the only marble replica of the masterpiece in the United States. There were three copies of “Cupid and Psyche” in America but they were made of plaster – at the Metropolitan, Chicago and Carnegie Museums. The statue reached New York City on May 9, 1929 and arrived in Hollywood two weeks later.
On Thursday, May 30, 1929, Hollywood’s first Memorial Day parade assembled at the Legion Stadium on El Centro and, with a police escort and the Hollywood Legion band leading, proceeded down El Centro to Sunset Boulevard, west on Sunset to Vine, south to Santa Monica and east on Santa Monica to Hollywood Cemetery where Memorial Day services were conducted.
Dr. H. M. Cook, world traveler, was master of ceremonies. The principal feature of the exercises was the unveiling of the marble replica of “Cupid and Psyche,” in front of the Chapel of the Pines followed by addresses from Judge Rosenkranz and Mrs. Leland Atherton Irish, the military salute to the dead and decorating of soldiers’ graves. More than 300 veterans of all wars were buried in Hollywood Cemetery at the time.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, under the direction of Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Douglas, conducted a service at the Confederate plot. A brief address was delivered by W. E. Edmondson, retired chaplain of the United States Navy and of the American Legion of California.
On Monday, May 30, 2011, the statue will celebrate 82 years at its present location.
It’s rumored that when Jean Harlow died in 1937, her fiancé William Powell considered purchasing the statue for her final resting place but decided on Forest Lawn in Glendale instead.
I have no idea if the statue is still available for purchase or the asking price if it is, however it certainly would make a beautiful and historic permanent residence.
BORN: March 3, 1911, Kansas City, Missouri
DIED: June 7, 1937, Los Angeles, California
CAUSE OF DEATH: Uremic poisoning brought on by acute nephritis
Wall of Fame recalled Star’s visits to courthouse press room
Above is the County Courthouse that was located at Temple and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles where the Wall of Fame resided in the press room. Notice the low granite wall at the bottom of the photo. Remarkably, portions of this wall still remain. (lapl)
By Allan R. Ellenberger
The Civic Center in downtown Los Angeles is where several courthouses mete out their justice, sometimes to Hollywood celebrities. Before many of the building that now stands there were erected, there stood an old brownstone Courthouse located at Temple Street and Broadway. It stood for forty-five years until it was razed after being damaged in the Long Beach earthquake of March 1933.
When it was finally demolished in 1934, it took with it the old press room and its unique Wall of Fame and the signatures of stars, who for this or that reason had been in court, or the marriage license bureau. Scrawled in either pencil or crayon, one could find the names of Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, George Bancroft, Harry Langdon, Eugene O’Brien, Doris Kenyon, Ethel Clayton, Constance and Natalie Talmadge, Pauline Starke, Jean Harlow and Bebe Daniels. There were a lot more and each one had its own story.
Of course, not all the screen stars who appeared in court, inscribed their names on the Wall of Fame. Some, the reporters failed to corral; others could not be lured to the press room. There were some who flatly refused. Among the latter was William Powell, who had come with Carole Lombard, for a marriage license. Powell, when confronted by the wall, glared reproachfully at the reporters and demanded: “Gentlemen, isn’t anything sacred?” The reporters thought he was kidding until he turned and stalked out of the press room fairly oozing indignation.
Jack Hoxie was first to sign the wall and his signature was the largest. Oddly enough, Tom Mix’s name was one of the smallest and Charlie Chaplin’s was the hardest to read.
And what did they appear for? Harry Langdon, asserting he had but $40 with which to pay $60,000 his divorced wife sought as property settlement. The case was dismissed and Harry was smiling when he signed the wall. Divorce also steered the Talmadge sisters into the press room. Natalie Talmadge was fighting Buster Keaton over custody of their children. Constance was a witness. The prolonged contests between Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey Chaplin, also concerning the care of their children is well known. When the reporters tried to lure Lita to the press room she balked, saying she always wanted to know what she was expected to do before she went places with strangers.
Besides the signature of James Quirk of Photoplay magazine, was pasted the headline announcing his death. His wife, May Allison, also signed. Reporters tried to get Paul Bern to sign the wall when he and Jean Harlow applied for their marriage license, but both refused to visit the press room because they were “radiantly happy and in a terrible hurry.” A few months later, dressed in widow’s attire, Jean returned to probate Paul Bern’s will. This time she signed the wall.
Doris Kenyon, widow of Milton Sills, was considered by a majority of the court reporters, as the grandest girl to affix her signature to the Wall of Fame. They designated Polly Moran as “the hard egg with the soft heart.” Polly crashed the press room the day she appeared to legally adopt a 16-year-old boy she had taken from an orphanage when he was only a few months old.
One of the funniest incidents connected with signing the wall centered on Richard Barthelmess who was suing to recover securities alleged to have been misappropriated. His wife was with him and they consented to have a picture taken together. She sat in a chair and Barthelmess stood beside her. The photographer snapped his picture and after the couple had gone, remarked to the reporters: “I think I got a good picture of that dame but I had an awful job keeping that rube out of it, he was standing so close.” The reporters, on informing him that the “rube” was Richard Barthelmess, used language which allegedly made even the signatures on the wall blush.
Richard Barthelmess, his wife and family
The names of Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels graced the wall as the result of the trial of Bebe’s lunatic lover.” Edna Murphy signed when she got her divorce from director Mervyn LeRoy. Gertrude Olmstead was a witness at the trial and also signed. The reporters recalled, however, that Gertrude was rather embarrassed by the ordeal of clambering on the table in order to write her name.
George Bancroft divided honors with Jack Hoxie as the most massive man to have perpetuated his signature. He appeared in court to contest an agent’s claim for $30,000 of commissions. Hoxie had been up on alimony charges.
Several of the signatures recalled the tragic death of Alma Rubens. They were obtained during the libel suit brought against Photoplay and James Quirk by Ruben’s mother, and included Eileen Percy’s and Claire Windsor’s. ZaSu Pitts was another witness, but would not sign. The reporters declared her to be the most “publicity shy” screen star they encountered. She also eluded the news-hounds when she divorced her husband, Tom Gallery. The Courthouse scribes were not certain which cases brought Tom Mix, Edwin Carewe and Mae Murray to the Wall of Fame, as their court appearances was so numerous. Legal battles over the Mix children and property disputes made Mix a familiar figure and both Mae Murray and Carewe were central figures in countless suits over property, contracts and other things. Pauline Starke’s court appearance was mainly due to the protracted battle with her former husband, Jack White.
The reporters captured director Robert Vignola and Eugene O’Brien when they appeared in court as character witnesses for a young man who had gotten into trouble and Stanley Fields immortalized himself by apprehending a burglar in his apartment.
Above a rare image of the Wall of Fame located in the County Courthouse press room
Most of the females who signed the wall were space conservers. That is except Constance Cummings and Vivian Duncan, whose names stand out like sore thumbs. Cummings had just won a contract suit, while the half of the famous Duncan sisters won a divorce from Nils Asther on the ground of too much mother-in-law. Another signer brought to the wall by the divorce route was Lola Lane when she parted company with Lew Ayres.
Duncan Renaldo was the only signer of the Wall of Fame who had gone to jail, though this happened later than when he actually signed the wall. His name was obtained when he was the central figure in the alienation case against Edwina Booth, which came as the aftermath to a “location” trip to Africa.
Snub Pollard also appeared on the wall as did that of Lowell Sherman, whose matrimonial adventures with Pauline Garon and later with Helene Costello brought him into the press room.
When the fate of the old courthouse was sealed, the reporters lost interest in their famous wall, knowing it soon would be destroyed. The visitors of the last few months were not asked to sign. During the last two or three months there were many noteworthy eligible’s including Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Estelle Taylor, Colleen Moore and Marian Nixon. Crawford was one of the last asked to sign, the occasion being her divorce from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She refused. The reporters asserted she was so nervous and shaky it was doubtful if she could have written her name of the floor, much less on the wall.
Signing the Wall of Fame grew to be quite a ceremonial and somewhat of an athletic function. It was necessary to step onto a chair and then mount onto a table in order to reach the designated spot and in addition to the gentlemen of the press, court attachés and sometimes the judges themselves would assemble to witness the event. In fact, gazing up at a movie star was really something to talk about afterward.
It’s too bad that the Wall of Fame could not have been saved or moved to another location. When the new courthouse was built, there was another press room, but it was never the same.
- Book/Film News , Film History | Tags: Alma Rubens, Bebe Daniels, Carole Lombard, Charlie Chaplin, colleen moore, Constance Talmadge, doris kenyon, Douglas Fairbansk Jr., Duncan Renaldo, estelle taylor, Eugene O'Brien, Helene Costello, James Quirk, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Lowell Sherman, Mae Murray, May Allison, milton sills, Paul Bern, Richard Barthelmess, Tom Mix, Vivian Duncan, Wall of Fame, William Powell
Jean Harlow Reincarnated?
It’s been 72 years since screen siren, Jean Harlow died prematurely at the age of 26. Recently Lisa Burks, writer and Franchot Tone biographer, interviewed Valerie Franich, a woman who is believed by some to be the reincarnation of the Blonde Bombshell.
“I don’t go around saying ‘I’m the reincarnation of Jean Harlow’ because I think that would be disrespectful,” explained Valerie from her home in the Seattle area. “But because of my personal experiences, I’m open to the high possibility that it’s true. What I do say is ‘someone prove it to me,'” she added.
Check out Lisa’s very interesting story and decide for yourself.