Posts Tagged ‘Miriam Hopkins’

Sir Guy Standing’s mythical death

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

One definition of a myth is a popular belief or story that is associated with a person, institution, or occurrence. Hollywood, the land of make believe, is full of myths – and this is one: Actor Sir Guy Standing died from a rattlesnake bite while hiking in the Hollywood Hills.

Sir Guy Standing was born on September 1, 1873 in London, the eldest son of actor Herbert Standing and his wife Emilie, and one of several actor brothers (Wyndham, Herbert Jr., Percy and Jack Standing) to appear on stage. His acting debut was in Wild Oats at London’s Criterion Theatre, using the name Guy Stanton.

His first New York acting job was at age 19 as Captain Fairfield in Lena Despard at the Manhattan Opera House. In 1897, he joined Charles Frohman’s company at the Empire Theatre, where he appeared in several plays.

Guy Standing as a young stage actor.

Among the plays he appeared in before World War I were, The Sorceress, Mrs. Leffingewil’s Boots, The Duel, Hedda Gabler, with Nazimova in 1907, and a tour of The Right of Way in 1909. After seventeen years in the States, he returned to England for four years to appear in a steady run of plays.

Standing returned to the United States in 1913, and appeared in Daddy Longlegs at Chicago’s Powers Theatre. Afterward, he signed a contract with Famous Players to star in the film, The Silver King. While preparing for the film, World War I broke out. He asked Adolph Zukor for permission to break his contract, thinking he would come back soon.

Returning to England, he offered his services, which eventually included membership on the British War Mission to the United States. He also served as a commander in His Majesty’s Navy in the Dover Patrol. For his performance of these duties he was created a Knight Commander of the British Empire in June 1918 by King George V.

The Story of Temple Drake, from left, Sir Guy Standing, William Gargan carrying Miriam Hopkins.

In November 1925, after an absence of eleven years, Standing returned to the American stage in The Carolinian, at New York’s Sam H. Harris Theatre; two years later he appeared with Ethel Barrymore in The Constant Wife.

His stage work continued until 1932 when he met Albert Kaufman of Paramount while on tour in Los Angeles. This led to a contract for his film debut at the age of 60 in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), with Miriam Hopkins. Other films followed: Death Takes a Holiday (1934), The Witching Hour (1934), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Lloyds of London (1936), and his last film, Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937). He was planning to revise his role as Col. Nielson in the next Bulldog Drummond film, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), at the time of his death.

Standing took an active part in Hollywood social life as president of the Malibu Lake Club, and boasted that his baseball team, The Paramount Cubs, was the only one in the world with a British president.

Standing was married three times, first in 1895 to Isabel Urquehar, a stage actress, who preceded him in death. The second, Blanche Burton, also died before him. His third wife was Dorothy Hammond (died 1950), an actress and the mother of his three children, Guy, Jr., Katherine (Kay Hammond)–both actors–and Michael, the first live BBC cricket commentator and live radio commentator, among other accomplishments.

The building was originally Hillcrest Motor Company, a car dealership. The second floor, which now houses a Marshall’s, was where the automobiles were parked. The first floor, the site of Standing’s death, is now a souvenir store. (click on image to enlarge)

On Wednesday, February 24, 1937, Standing was at the Hillcrest Motor Company at 7001 Hollywood Blvd. (across from the Roosevelt Hotel) to make a payment on his car. He was chatting with a salesman and was asked how he felt.

“Excellent,” he responded. “In fact, I never felt better.”

A moment later, his legs gave out and he was on the floor clutching at his chest and writhing in pain. He never spoke another word.

Doctors arrived from Hollywood Receiving Hospital and administered adrenaline and other restoratives, but he failed to respond. Standing died a few minutes later. His body was taken to the hospital where his brother Wyndham filled out the death certificate. Afterward, he was removed to the Le Roy Bagley Mortuary (5440 Hollywood Blvd. – demolished) pending funeral arrangements and word from his wife who was in London.

Close friends at Paramount claimed his death was related indirectly to a black widow spider bite he received two years earlier on location for The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Standing apparently responded to treatment but took the poisoning lightly, according to friends.

Shortly before his death he complained of having leg pains and he walked with a limp. For whatever reason, he neglected medical help, feeling he would recover. The New York Times consulted an expert at the Bronx Zoo who said it was difficult to believe that the cause of Standing’s death was indirectly connected to the insect bite he received two years earlier. He said that he had never heard of a person dying of either a black widows bite or even a snake bite so long after the infliction of the wound. Perhaps this is where the myth of Standing’s death from a snake bite originated. Later reports, and Standings death certificate, noted that the actor died from a heart ailment.

Sir Guy Standing’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

Standing’s funeral was held the following Sunday at St. Stephens Episcopal Church’s (6129 Carlos Street) chapel where more than 250 friends heard Dr. Philip Easley read the ritual. Pallbearers included Philip MacDonald, Henry Herzbrun, Nat Deverich, Christopher Dunphy, Albert Kaufman and Bayard Veiller. At the same hour, employees at Paramount Studios bowed their heads for a five minute period of silence and prayer.

Sir Guy Standing’s grave marker at Grandview Cemetery.

Newspapers reported that Standing’s body would be returned to London for burial, however, that never happened. Instead, Sir Guy Standing was buried at Glendale’s Grand View Cemetery (His son, Guy Standing Jr. is also buried there, reportedly in an unmarked grave). His father, Herbert Standing, died in Los Angeles in 1923, and his cremains are in a vault at the Chapel of the Pines.

Sir Guy Standing did not die from a rattlesnake bite as many biographies state (Imdb lists his death was from a rattlesnake bite). Nor did he die from the bite of a black widow spider as some friends noted after his death. Is that how the myth began – progressing from a spider to a snake bite over the past eighty years? We may never know.

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Monday, September 4th, 2017

AVAILABE JANUARY 2018

UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY

Use discount code FS30 to receive a 30% discount through September 30, 2017

CLICK HERE: University Press of Kentucky

 

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Today at Cinecon… Friday

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Woman Chases Man (1937, Samuel Goldwyn Co.) Friday, September 1, 2017 – Egyptian Theater, 9:10am

Millionaire Kenneth Nolan (Joel McCrea) is sensible and careful with his money, but seemingly everyone else is trying to con him out of it. That includes architect Virginia Travis (the marvelous Miriam Hopkins) and his own father B.J. Nolan (Charles Winninger) who has lost all of his own money investing it in crackpot schemes and inventions. John Blystone, veteran director of Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton features, directed this romantic screwball comedy.

 

 

 

The Brat (1931, Fox) Friday, September 1, 2017 – Egyptian Theater, 8:20pm

From a 1917 stage play written by Maude Fulton and probably inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, this comedy was an early sound film for Director John Ford. In it a novelist (Alan Dinehart) is looking to find a subject for his next book when he comes upon an orphan (Sally O’Neil) who is appearing before a judge at a downtown night court, charged with stealing food. He pays her fine and brings her back to his family’s mansion so he can study her. She soon turns his dysfunctional family around by dispensing the wisdom she has learned living on the street.

Click HERE to see the entire film schedule for CINECON

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

 

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Reviews for Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

 

 

 

UPDATE: Here are reviews for Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky, is available NOW for pre-order at 30% off the cover price thru September 30, 2017 at UPK’s website! Please use discount code FS30 when ordering. Thank you.

 

“As Ellenberger’s approach mines detail after detail and anecdote after anecdote, from Hopkins’s echt southern beginnings to every zigzag of her life afterward, the woman who emerges is complex and compulsively compelling.”—Sheila Benson, former chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times and writer for the National Society of Film Critics

“The too often underrated and overlooked Miriam Hopkins is finally getting the spotlight she deserves. Allan Ellenberger has excavated the nuances and fascinating complexities of the woman Tennessee Williams thought he was complimenting when he said she was ‘the quintessence of the female, a really magnificent bitch.’ It turns out that Hopkins life off camera was as dramatic as any role she played.” — Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood 

“Outstanding for its authoritative research, Allan R. Ellenberger’s Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel is a lively, interesting book about a lively, interesting woman.” — Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

“Tennessee Williams called her a ‘Magnificent Bitch.’ There’s probably no better label to summarize the forceful hurricane known as Miriam Hopkins, whose professional achievements both on Broadway and in Hollywood were as notable as her feuds with Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Samuel Goldwyn, Warner Bros. head Jack Warner, and other luminaries of the studio era. Allan Ellenberger’s Hopkins bio is a must-read for those interested in getting to know this complex, contradictory, and immensely talented 20th century personage who dared to rebel against conventional ‘woman roles’ both on and off screen.” — André Soares, Alt Film Guide

“Allan Ellenberger’s thorough, empathetic biography captures the passionate, full-blooded life of celebrated actress Miriam Hopkins, revealing the idiosyncratic and complex life of one of Hollywood’s most intelligent women.” — Mary Mallory, author of Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes

 

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

*This is a passage that never made it into my upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky. Copies can be preordered at AMAZON.

By Allan R. Ellenberger

One day, in her dressing room at Goldwyn Studios, Miriam Hopkins hosted a lunch for her husband Anatole Litvak, director Edmund Goulding and his Lordship, The Earl of Warwick, who she met in London the previous year. Warwick was in Hollywood to kick start an acting career using the stage name Michael Brooke.

As they dined, she received a call from her ex-husband, Austin “Billy” Parker, asking if he could borrow her car and chauffeur. Since his valet-chauffeur was in an accident, he needed a man to wake him in the morning, make his tea, shine his shoes, and so forth. Thinking fast, Miriam realized this was a chance to play a practical joke on her former husband. She explained that her car was in the shop, but she would ask Edmund Goulding if he could help.

Placing Billy on hold, she said to the Earl, “You want to get in pictures, don’t you? Well, if you can pass yourself off as a servant before [Billy], who knows actors and theaters backward, then you’ll know you’re good.” The Earl nodded in agreement. Miriam told Billy that Goulding would loan him his valet for the day.

“Is the man a good valet?” Billy asked.

“Excellent,” Miriam assured him.

Billy sounded pleased. “That’s marvelous,” he said. Warwick borrowed a chauffeur’s uniform from Goldwyn’s costume department and reported to Billy’s home the next morning, promptly at eight o’clock. Billy, still in bed, bellowed for his tea and toast. Warwick burned the toast. The morning tea was bitter and black, and the teacups and two vases were somehow broken. When Billy ordered him to make the bed, lumps like mountains remained in the coverlets.

His Lordship helped Billy on with his boots, but he was clumsy. The shoe polish spilled into the shoes, on the floor, and everywhere. When they left the house at noon, Billy was terribly pressed; jerkily shaven and the Earl’s erratic driving down Sunset Boulevard left him a nervous wreck. He was disgusted but didn’t want to be ungracious to the man that Goulding had so graciously loaned him.

The Earl dropped Billy off at the Vine Street Brown Derby where Miriam, Litvak and Goulding were waiting. After several minutes, a prearranged phone call was brought to their table. Finally, she hung up and said to her ex-husband, “I’m sorry Billy, but Edmund’s man says he can’t possibly stay the day with you. He says you are impossible, temperamental, sloppy, surly and hard to please.”

Astonished, Billy turned fifty-shades of red, but before he could express his disbelief, Miriam added: “Oh, and by the way. He doesn’t like the way you dress.” Just as Billy was about to spout off his full inventory of obscenities, “Goulding’s man” came in, casually took a place at the table, rubbed his hands together, and gave an off-hand nod at Billy. “May I present the Earl of Warwick?” said Miriam, who, along with the others at the table, had a good laugh at Billy’s expense

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Friday, July 21st, 2017

*This is a passage that never made it into my upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky. Copies can be preordered at AMAZON.

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

In the summer of 1957, Miriam Hopkins was touring in the stage version of The Old Maid, her 1939 hit with Bette Davis. This time around, she played the title role, and her old friend and former Paramount star, Sylvia Sidney, played her cousin, Delia. For their entire careers, these two ladies had an on-again, off-again relationship. “Sylvia was also bigger than life,” recalled a mutual friend, “so you had these two former screen stars with lots of ego. Sylvia would recount stories of things that Miriam did, or did not do.

“Onetime, Miriam tried to thank Sylvia for something, so she sent over a half a case of champagne to Sylvia’s dressing room, which infuriated her because it was strange to only send half a case— ‘Why didn’t she send the whole case?’ Sylvia complained. But this was Miriam’s idiosyncrasies, about her life and everything else.”

Also in the play was Miriam’s niece, 23-year-old Margot Welch, who made her acting debut as Tina, the “old maid’s” illegitimate daughter. “I don’t remember much about The Old Maid, it was so long ago,” Margot recalled. “I got my part through Ben Starbach, a stage manager and a friend of Miriam’s and of Ron Rawson, who ran the John Drew Theatre. Ben had no children and took me under his wing when I started out. Mr. Rawson must have been shocked when I showed up for my audition. I have auburn hair, but he liked my reading and decided to take a chance on me. Both Ben and mom came up to cue Miriam as her part was huge. She’d been persuaded to take the Bette Davis role from the film, while Sylvia Sidney played her old part of Delia. Miriam also helped with the directing, so we hardly saw her.”

Miriam was eager for Margot to succeed, inundating her with advice, almost to distraction. The director had to step in and forbid Miriam from talking to her niece during rehearsals. Even so, when Margot was reciting her dialogue on stage, Miriam would stand in the wings and mouth her lines, which intimidated the young actress.

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Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

*This is a passage that never made it into my upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky. Copies can be preordered at AMAZON.

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger

Stage and film actress, Miriam Hopkins, enjoyed being remembered by the public and her fans, even as she aged. In the early 1950s, a New York cab driver somehow recognized her from her role as Champagne Ivy, the dance hall prostitute in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which was released twenty years earlier. She was flattered that the cabbie remembered her, but it also depressed her. “You see, what they recall so vividly is that scene in which my legs hang over the side of the bed,” she sighed. “An actress spends a lifetime perfecting the art of acting and what do people remember? Dangling legs!”*

 

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Happy Birthday Olivia de Havilland

Friday, June 30th, 2017

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Miriam Hopkins update

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published by University Press of Kentucky

 

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UPDATE: My upcoming biography, Miriam Hopkins: Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, to be published on January 5, 2018 by the University Press of Kentucky, is available NOW for pre-order at 30% off the cover price thru June 30, 2017 at UPK’s website! Please use discount code FS30 when ordering. Thank you.

 

 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

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.”

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