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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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Miriam Hopkins 113th Birthday…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2015
2015
Oct 18

MIRIAM HOPKINS

Happy Birthday Miriam Hopkins!

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MIRIAM HOPKINS

October 18, 1902–Savannah, Georgia

October 9, 1972–New York City, New York

Oak City Cemetery, Bainbridge, Georgia

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As a sneak preview, below are the individual chapters/titles

to the biography on Miriam Hopkins

“Magnificent Bitch” THE LIFE OF MIRIAM HOPKINS

by Allan R. Ellenberger

CONTENTS
Foreword
Preface
Chapter One: “From a Fine Old Family” (1653—1920)
Chapter Two: The Road to Broadway (1921—1927)
Chapter Three: Billy (1927—1930)
Chapter Four: Of Paramount Importance (1930—June 1931)
Chapter Five: Hollywood (June 1931—October 1931)
Chapter Six: An Expensive Leading Woman (October 1931—December 1932)
Chapter Seven: The Redemption of Temple Drake (January 1933—June 1933)
Chapter Eight: The Lubitsch Touch (July 1933—March 1934)
Chapter Nine: 13 Sutton Place (March 1934—November 1934)
Chapter Ten: The Real Becky Sharp (December 1934—November 1935)
Chapter Eleven: “It’s About Lesbians” (November 1935—October 1936)
Chapter Twelve: Tola (October 1936—February 1937)
Chapter Thirteen: “Goldwyn Blamed Me” (March 1937—March 1938)
Chapter Fourteen: “In a Year of Drought…” (April 1938—March 1939)
Chapter Fifteen: “Perfect Little Bitches…” (March 1939—August 1939)
Chapter Sixteen: All This, Jack Warner and Bette Davis, Too (August 1939—January 1940)
Chapter Seventeen: A Blonde with a Redhead’s Temperament (January 1940—November 1940)
Chapter Eighteen: Angels Battle in Boston (December 1940—July 1942)
Chapter Nineteen: “This is Pure Hopkins” (July 1942—March 1943)
Chapter Twenty: To New York and Back by the Skin of Her Teeth (April 1943—October 1947)
Chapter Twenty-One: A Little Off Center (November 1947—1950)
Chapter Twenty-Two: “They Surely Are Reds” (1950-1958)
Chapter Twenty-Three: “How Many Times Can You Come Back?” (1958—1962)
Chapter Twenty-Four: “As Long As She Lives…” (1962-1965)
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Final Years (1966—1971)
Chapter Twenty-Six: “If I Had It to Do All Over Again…” (1972)
Epilogue

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The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jan 24th, 2015
2015
Jan 24

MIRIAM HOPKINS

The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon

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I’m pleased to announce The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon being hosted by Silver Screenings and A Small Press Life / Font & Frock websites on January 22–25, 2015. The Blogathon has been running for a couple days now but still check it out and all the great articles written about the fabulous Miriam Hopkins. The following is from the Silver Screenings website:

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“We are so excited, we can hardly contain ourselves – and for Two Big Reasons!

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“Firstly, you’re invited to help us celebrate one of the most remarkable actresses in Classic Hollywood: the fabulous Miriam Hopkins. The blogathon will run January 22-25, 2015, and we’d love to have you join us.

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“Secondly, we’re excited to be co-hosting this event with our über-chic friend Maedez of A Small Press Life. But that ain’t the half of it! This blogathon with correspond with the launch of her new movie blog, Font and Frock, in January, 2015.”

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So read what other bloggers are saying about Miriam Hopkins and check back here for more updates on my  biography of the actress!

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Miriam Hopkins Birthday

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 18th, 2014
2014
Oct 18

MIRIAM HOPKINS

Happy Birthday Miriam Hopkins!!

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Today, October 18, 2014 would be the 112th birthday of stage, screen and television actress, Miriam Hopkins. To celebrate, the above photo shows Miriam being introduced to actress Lee Remick. What event are they attending and what is it they have in common at this event and in film history?

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If you think you know the answer, click the CONTINUE READING tab to find out.

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Continue Reading »

Miriam Hopkins fan magazine cover

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Oct 5th, 2014
2014
Oct 5

MAGAZINE COVER SUNDAY

Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp

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Miriam Hopkins as Becky Sharp, on the cover of the October 1935 issue of Cine-Mundial magazine…

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Miriam Hopkins on TCM

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Sep 11th, 2014
2014
Sep 11

MIRIAM HOPKINS

Miriam Hopkins on Turner Classics Movies tomorrow evening

 

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Every Friday evening in September, TCM is showing classic pre-code films. Tomorrow evening, in addition to Jean Harlow, Kay Francis and Myrna Loy, four films of Miriam Hopkins are playing in a row including Design for Living, Trouble in Paradise, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Story of Temple Drake.

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NOTE: All times are Eastern:

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Remembering Dickie Jones in “Virginia City”

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jul 9th, 2014
2014
Jul 9

INTERVIEWS

Remembering Dickie Jones in Virginia City

 

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Miriam Hopkins with Dickie Jones in Virginia City (1940)

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Actor Dick “Dickie” Jones passed away at age 87 on Monday at his home in Northridge, California, a community north of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. A few years ago I interviewed Mr. Jones for my biography of Miriam Hopkins, A Really Fantastic Bitch: The Life of Miriam Hopkins. Dickie Jones, as he was known when he was a child actor, worked with Hopkins in the 1940 film, Virginia City, which also co-starred Errol Flynn. For the short time we spent together, Jones was a delight. He’s one of the few costars of Hopkins that I interviewed that had only nice things to say about her. In fact, it upset him that so many of her coworkers have said negative things.

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Below are excerpts of Jones’s involvement in the making of Virginia City:

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According to eyewitness accounts, the location set of Virginia City was a war zone. John Hilder, a correspondent for Hollywood magazine, went with the cast to Flagstaff. He reported “tempers flared, and feuds raged. For one eventful weekend it appeared that the cast was about to choose sides—the blues and the grays—and re-fight the Civil War with bare hands, rocks or practical bullets.” Columnist Sidney Skolsky wrote that, according to his spies, several feuds were going on simultaneously. “Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart are feuding,” he reported, “Flynn and Miriam Hopkins are feuding, and Mike Curtiz and Miriam Hopkins are feuding.”

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Dickie Jones, who played Cobby, was twelve-years-old and recalled there were no tensions on the set, especially between Miriam and Errol Flynn. However, he understood how there could be after working with Flynn a decade later in Rocky Mountain (1950). “He didn’t get along with his leading lady, Patrice Wymore,” Jones recalled. “They fought like cats and dogs and afterward, they got married.”

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Errol Flynn was Jones’ favorite actor. To the young boy he was a professional and was never a “softie” about his work. “On the set he was all professional,” Jones said. “Behind the camera he was a fun guy. I didn’t socialize with him, so I don’t know about the other things that he did, or so they claimed, but I liked him.”

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Jones was very fond of Miriam as well because she treated him as an equal. “She talked to me and not at me,” Jones said. “And we worked together. Never did she throw a tantrum while I was around. Some of them did.”

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In one scene, Cobby falls from the wagon and is crushed by the turning wheels. Jones performed the stunt himself. “I went out of the boot of the wagon and off the back of the horse and rolling over, just dropped into the sand,” Jones recalled. “And then the camera rose up a little, so I was out of range, and that’s when they pulled me out before the wheels ran over the log that would simulate my body. That was the only catch in that shot—pulling me out before the wheels actually rolled over me.”

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As Cobby lies dying in Miriam’s arms, which was filmed later at Warner Bros., he is swabbed with glycerin to simulate sweat as she gently mops his head. “I remember I’m trying to fake dying and Miriam’s carrying on a conversation, I think with the doctor, in the cramped quarters of the bed of the wagon,” Jones recalled. “And that went on for a long time with everyone’s long shots and close-ups, and that was a whole day just for that one scene. It was very boring for me.”

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Jones was disappointed that some have spoken unkindly about Miriam. To a twelve-year-old boy, she made a great impression and, as far as he knew, she got along with everyone. “Maybe that was professional jealousy on their part,” he said. “A youngster can pick out someone that’s nice and someone that isn’t, and not just by their attitude and the way they talk.”

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For performing his own stunt in the film, the director, Michael Curtiz gave Jones a large Concho belt made from silver and turquoise. The director knew that Dickie collected Native American artifacts and jewelry called “Pawn Jewelry,” and it was sold dirt cheap on the reservation. “You don’t get adjusted for stunt work,” Curtiz told Jones, “but I’m adjusting you for doing such a good job.”

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Jones had the following the say about his other costars:

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RANDOLPH SCOTT

“He was a charming gentleman. He was very quiet. He was too busy reading the Wall Street Journal, making his fortune.”

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HUMPHREY BOGART

“He was just a run-of-the-mill guy. He wasn’t pretentious or anything like that. In his early career, he was really struggling with his work and Black Legion (Jones also appeared in this film) was one of his first serious things. I look back, and I watch Virginia City and there he is with a little thin mustache and he’s the Mexican bandito with a broken accent. It broke me up. It was too phony.”

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MICHAEL CURTIZ

“There were a lot of times we were sitting around doing nothing and waiting. Michael Curtiz was a fanatic for clouds. He called them goobers. ‘We wait here ‘til the goobers to come,’ he would say. It made the film more picturesque with all the clouds floating around the sky out there in Arizona.”

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“I enjoyed Virginia City very much,” Jones said. “It was fun to work on.”

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Thank you Mr. Jones.

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Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park & Crematory: Hollywood’s Dog Heaven

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 30th, 2013
2013
Nov 30

 LOS ANGELES CEMETERIES

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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On Thanksgiving Day, 1935, a small group of people gathered on a hill in Calabasas to pay their last respects to actress Alice Brady’s beloved Sammy. Age 16, Sammy had been Brady’s pet wire-terrier, and rather than consign his remains somewhere disrespectful, Brady had him interred in a crypt at the local pet cemetery. The epitaph reads, quite simply, “Sammy—My Boy.” Two years later, her favorite dog Nina passed away and was buried at a cost of $300. The next week, her dachshund died of distemper.

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Newspaper notice of the death of Alice Brady’s terrier, Nina

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The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park & Crematory,  was founded in 1928 and is located off the Ventura Freeway twenty miles from Hollywood, has a mausoleum (built in 1929), combined with crematory and columbarium, for the interment of a beloved pet. With more than 40,000 pets interred, on the cemetery’s thirty acres, it is one of the largest and oldest of its kind on the West Coast.

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Humphrey Bogart’s cocker spaniel, Lionel Barrymore’s dozen dogs and cats, Tonto’s horses, Good Scout and Smoke, and Hopalong Cassidy’s Topper have been buried here since the 1920s.

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Because of its proximity to the film capitol, many of the creatures buried on its thirty acres are the pets of famous movie stars. One of them is Mae West’s pet monkey, Boogie who made his screen debut in I’m No Angel and died in late 1933. Boogie was laid out in a fancy lined casket, but no headstone. Around the same time the Countess di Frasso’s fourteen year-old dog died and was buried in a white casket.

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And there is Jiggs, a nine year-old chimpanzee who died in March 1938 of pneumonia. Jiggs had his own social security number and was a member in good standing with the Screen Actor’s Guild. His funeral at the cemetery was attended by Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby and Ray Milland. He last appeared on film in Her Jungle Love (1938) with Lamour.

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Rudolph Valentino and his pet, Kabar. 

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Marker of Rudolph Valentino’s pet, Kabar (Source: Weird California)

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Kabar, a Doberman pinscher, was the pet of Rudolph Valentino and was sent to him as a present from a Belgian diplomat in appreciation of Valentino’s acting. When Valentino died, Kabar disappeared for months and when he returned he was half-starved and his feet were bleeding. Veterinarians who examined him estimated that he had crossed the continent to New York and back searching for his owner. For two weeks he hung around Valentino’s old home, depressed and unhappy, then with a broken heart, he died. Alberto, Valentino’s brother rewarded Kabar’s faithfulness with a grave and a bronze maker that reads, “Kabar, My Faithful Dog. Rudolph Valentino, Owner.”

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Not far from Kabar is the pet of Valentino’s former wife, Jean Acker, a pet she named Bunky Valentino. The bronze marker reads: “1931—1945, Bunky Valentino, All My Love. Jean Acker Valentino.” In the same area is Puzzums, the Mack Sennett cat. Puzzums freelanced most of the time and in his heyday earned $250 a week. Found abandoned as a kitten, Puzzums appeared with Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald. His last film was Handy Andy (1934) with Will Rogers. He died from complications caused by an ulcerated tooth in August 1934 at age eight.

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Maurice Chevalier holding Puzzums the cat.

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Miriam Hopkins with her wire terrier, Jerry.

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When Miriam Hopkins’s wire-haired fox terrier, Jerry passed away in 1932, she telephoned the cemetery. In a short time a funeral car called for the body and he was placed in a hermetically sealed casket. Jerry was then taken to the cemetery and placed in his designated plot, one that had been reserved for him.

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Also among the pets buried there are John Gilbert’s Topsy, Dolores Del Rio’s Da Da, and Oscar Strauss’s Hansi. Marian Marsh’s Pekinese, King, has a tombstone costing $150 and there is also Dumpsie, who acted opposite Eddie Cantor, Lee Tracy, Elissa Landi and other stars and who was slain, it was rumored, by foul means.

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Louise Dresser’s Bubbie is honored with an epitaph: “Bubbie. A Gallant Little Soldier, July 12, 1929.” Not far from Bubbie lie two of Corinne Griffith’s pets, Bozo, a prize St. Bernard, and Black Raider, a once lively terrier. In the mausoleum, in one of the crypts, is Jiggs, the Boston bull terrier of Jimmy Murphy. Across from the crypts, there are niches. Here you will find Billie Burke’s police dog, Gloria Swanson’s Rusty, a pet of John Barrymore’s and a dog belonging to stage and screen actor, Edmund Breese.

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To learn more, check out the cemetery’s website HERE

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Joel McCrea’s beginnings

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 8th, 2013
2013
Feb 8

HOLLYWOOD BEGINNINGS

How Joel McCrea got his start

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Nearly ruined career when, teamed with Dorothy Jordan, he took her to dinner with the Boss’, who married her

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

When Joel McCrea was 12 or 13 years old, attending the Gardner Street grade school in Hollywood, Ruth Roland was making serials in the hills above Sunset Boulevard. McCrea, who was big for his age, had an ambition to be a cowboy, and used to hang around and watch the Roland troupe in his spare time and sometimes even was allowed to hold the horses.

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A New York stage actor came out to play Ruth’s leading man. His job was to be rescued from some dire predicament by the heroine every reel or so.

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“That guy could act all over the place,” McCrea recalled, “but when they brought on the horses he was scared stiff. That was how I got to ride his horse in a couple shots. They dressed me all up in buckskins, and for two days’ work I was paid $5. Boy that appealed to my Scotch blood! Five dollars for having a swell time. Right then I forgot about being a cowboy and decided I was going to be an actor.”

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But it took McCrea eight years to get his second film job. Belonging to one of the town’s “oldest families,” he mixed with the film crowd and was on speaking terms with most of the celebrities of the early days.

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“But as far as getting a job was concerned,” he say, “it didn’t do me a bit of good. I was invited to dinner at the homes of the big shots and they were always awfully nice to me, but nobody seemed to think I was an actor.”

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At the Santa Monica Beach Club one day, Conrad Nagel and Mitchell Lewis took McCrea aside and tried to persuade him to give up the idea of  acting.

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“Listen, Joel,” Nagel said. “We like you, and we don’t want to hurt your feelings, and we wouldn’t tell you this if we didn’t like you, but you just haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got the stuff. Give it up and go into business.”

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Jack Mulhall happened to overhear them. “Listen, kid,’ he told McCrea, “don’t listen to those birds. I haven’t got anything either, but I’ve been getting away with it for seven years now, and they pay me $3,750 a week at First National.”

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McCrea got his first break, just out of Pomona College, when he bought a trench coat and was so proud of that he wore it all the time, rain or shine, around the RKO lot. He picked up some extra work there. He wore the coat so much that Bill Sistrom, who later became an associate producer, finally noticed it.

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“What do you wear that for?’ Sistrom wanted to know—probably thinking that he had a role that called for it.

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 “Oh, because I like it,” McCrea answered.

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“What do you do around here?’ he asked.

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“I’m an actor,” he told him.

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“How do you know you are?” demanded Sistrom.

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“Well, I would be if they’d give me a chance!” McCrea replied.

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“How’d you like to play a lead? Sistrom asked.

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“I thought the guy was crazy,” McCrea said, “especially when he shoved a script at me and told me to report to George Archainbaud, the director, and tell him I was to play the lead in The Silver Horde (1930).”

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 Archainbaud said no; they already had somebody, and, anyway, McCrea was too big. Sistrom insisted McCrea was the guy for the part and everybody else said he wasn’t and there was a terrific argument but Sistrom out yelled everybody. The next thing McCrea knew he was leaving for Alaska and he had his first major role. He asked Sistrom afterwards how he managed it.

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Louis Wolheim with Joel McCrea in The Silver Horde (1930)

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 “Well,’ Sistrom said, “I’d always wondered how much influence I had around here, so this looked like a good time to find out.”

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It was Louis Wolheim who saved McCrea on that picture. After he’d been yelled at all day for lousy work, Wolheim would jump in and give everybody a hard time for making things tough for McCrea. Then when the day’s shooting was over, Wolheim would really bawl him out.

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“Why, you dumb, lazy so-and-so,” Wolheim told him. Then he would go over the script with McCrea, word by word. A former university math professor, Wolheim was just a natural born teacher.

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Two roles with Will Rogers in Lightnin’ (1930) and Business and Pleasure (1932) boosted McCrea’s popularity after that. Rogers liked him because he could talk horses and cattle to McCrea and the latter could make intelligent answers.

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Winfield Sheehan,” McCrea recalled, “who didn’t know me from Adam, used to see me on the Rogers set, and knowing that I was a friend of Will’s, had his secretary call up RKO every year for three years, one month before my option was up, and offer to put me to work, I think that was the only reason RKO ever kept me.

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After McCrea made Bird of Paradise (1932) with Dolores del Rio, and the gorgeous tan which he had spent years in acquiring got a chance to be immortalized in celluloid, the studio intended to team him with Dorothy Jordan in a series of stories. That was when McCrea came nearest to inadvertently wrecking his screen career. Merian C. Cooper, then production head of RKO, came on the set one day and asked McCrea what he thought of Dorothy. “She’s a swell girl,” said Joel.

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Dorothy Jordan and Joel McCrea in The Lost Squadron (1932)

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“Yes, but can she act?” Cooper asked.

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“I think she can,” McCrea replied. “She’s not as good as Loretta Young,”

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McCrea had visions of the team breaking up. He’d been spending considerable time promoting himself with the various studio bosses who were flashing through there at the time, and was having a hard time keeping up with the changes in executive personnel. He finally persuaded Cooper that he at least ought to get acquainted with Dorothy Jordan, and when Cooper invited him over to dinner one night, Joel took Dorothy with him, after spending an hour or more telling Dorothy that their jobs depended on her making a good impression on the boss.

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When they arrived for the dinner, it was one of those “love at first sight” things. McCrea scarcely saw Dorothy for the rest of the evening; within a week she and Cooper were engaged, and very shortly afterward, married. And there went the McCrea-Jordan team. For eleven months McCrea did absolutely nothing but pick up his pay check each Wednesday. Stories had been bought for him and Dorothy. Every two or three months Cooper would hand him a script, say that Dorothy was coming back to work, ask him to study his part and see what he thought of it. One or two of the stories were finally used for Ginger Rogers. Dorothy Jordan decided to raise a family, instead.

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Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea and Miriam Hopkins in These Three (1936)

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Eventual free-lancing and then a Goldwyn contract followed for McCrea. After attending a preview of These Three (1936), in which he co-starred with Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon, he came out and asked one of the boys in publicity department: “Who is this guy McCrea I’ve been seeing? he said. “It can’t be me.”

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McCrea had come a long way since the days when Louis Wolheim taught him dialogue. Known as one of the most unspoiled of the younger celebrities, who didn’t kid himself about the part “breaks” had played in his career. His life as a youngster in Hollywood, growing up with the films, had helped him keep his balance while marriage to Frances Dee and a couple of young sons gave him a sense of responsibility.

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Miriam Hopkins biography update

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Feb 4th, 2013
2013
Feb 4

MIRIAM HOPKINS

Miriam Hopkins biography–an update

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

I thought it was time to give an update on my Miriam Hopkins biography. It’s been several years of research, talking to people who knew her, questioning her family, film historians, going to libraries and surfing the internet. There are probably about three or four more chapters remaining, but then there are the rewrites. There are still four actors that I would like to interview. Does anyone out there know how to contact them?

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DICK VAN PATTEN: In 1943, Miriam replaced Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway version of The Skin of Our Teeth. I assume that Van Patten, who played a telegraph boy, was still with the show when Miriam joined, though I couldn’t find confirming evidence.

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JOYCE VAN PATTEN: The following year, Miriam appeared in the Broadway play, The Perfect Marriage with Victor Jory. Joyce Van Patten, the sister of Dick, played her daughter.

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SHIRLEY MACLAINE: In The Children’s Hour, Miriam played MacLaine’s aunt. Miriam originally played MacLaine’s role in the original version, These Three. I contacted MacLaine last year and asked for an interview but she refused. She said she was too busy which surprised me. I thought she would be one of the easiest to talk to.

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ROBERT REDFORD: Miriam played Redford’s mother in The Chase. I was told that Redford said that Miriam should have received an Oscar nomination. I’m not sure if that is true but I’d love to find out.

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SALLY FIELD: In her last role, Miriam played a Mother Superior on The Flying Nun, which starred the current Oscar nominee.

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If you know any of the above actors and could put in a good word for me, or if you have contact information where I could write or email them, I would appreciate it.

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My email contact is aellenber@aol.com . More to come…soon. Thank you.

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One of the last pictures taken of Miriam Hopkins (© Allan R. Ellenberger)


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