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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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A. C. Lyles Obituary

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

OBITUARY

A.C. Lyles dies at 95; producer and popular Paramount lot figure

 

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A.C. Lyles produced such westerns as ‘Young Fury’ and ‘Waco’ and was an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the studio, having spent decades on the lot.

 

 

By Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times
September 30, 2013

 

A.C. Lyles’ Paramount career began early in one century and ended well into the next.

 

Click here to continue reading the Los Angeles Times obituary for A.C. Lyles

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The Story of Temple Drake

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jun 6th, 2009
2009
Jun 6

MIRIAM HOPKINS

The Story of Temple Drake

 

The Story of Temple Drake

 

The following is an unsourced review of the film,
The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

 

Those who are supposed to know about the motion picture business were pretty sure that Paramount would never be able to get a version of “Sanctuary” that would get past the censors. Yet Paramount did it and though the story is deodorized and generally spring-cleaned, it still carries the punch and wallop that it packed as a novel.

 

Miriam Hopkins, who is actually far too lovely for just one woman, has the role of the little southern girl and Jack La Rue bagged the role that George Raft turned down. William Gargan, who has certainly found his ideal working conditions in Hollywood, plays the man “who is too good to be married to anyone like me.” And, once more, he does a grand job with it.

 

“Sanctuary,” by William Faulkner, was labeled one of the most sensational stories ever written. Though much of the caustic characterizations must, of necessity, be lost on the way to the screen, there is still enough left to make this production one of the cinematic thrills of the season.

 

Miriam Hopkins bit off a large mouthful… and your reviewer certainly never thought that any real sympathy could be secured for the characters of Mr. Faulkner’s novel — they rang too strange and false — yet that is just what Miriam does. And she deserves your praise and attention.

 

We think you’d better go to see it.

 

Someone has downloaded the entire film onto the You Tube web site. If you haven’t seen the film, here is a chance to enjoy a classic pre-code film that is not available on DVD. NOTE: The film is broken up into approximately 10 minute segments.  Part 1 is below.

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Harry Potter Imposter!

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Apr 11th, 2009
2009
Apr 11

GRAVE IMPOSTERS

Harry Potter

 

Harry Potter

 

Could this be the grave of Harry James Potter, wizard extraordinaire and the subject of best-selling books and blockbuster films? Well of course not — Harry Potter is a fictional character silly. Besides, the grave of this imposter wizard is at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, just a few feet from the walls of Paramount Studios — Warner Brothers would never allow it.

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R-K-O Studios: Then & Now…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Apr 27th, 2008
2008
Apr 27

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

R-K-O Studios

Then & Now

 

Original entrance to RKO Studios

 

Old RKO Studios entrance

 

(Top) THEN: R-K-O Studio entrance

(Bottom) NOW: Paramount Studios side entrance

 

780 Gower Street, Hollywood

 

NOTE: R-K-O Studios was at one time located at the northeast corner of Gower and Melrose in Hollywood. Desilu founders, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz acquired the lot in 1957 and sold it ten years later to Paramount. With that merger, the former R-K-O main entrance became a side entrance for Paramount.

 

 

Hollywood Studios

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Apr 2nd, 2008
2008
Apr 2

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

Hollywood Studios in 1923

 

What follows is a listing of film studios that existed in Hollywood and the surrounding Los Angeles area in July of 1923. Remarkably, some are still in existence or under a different name.

 Better Pictures Service, 780 Gower Street, Hollywood (later RKO, now part of Paramount)

 

Berwilla Studio, 5821 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood (now a warehouse).

 

Brentwood Studio, 4811 Fountain Avenue, Hollywood.

Buster Keaton Studio, 1025 Lillian Way, Hollywood.

Century Film Corp., 6100 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Charlie Chaplin Studio, 1416 La Brea Avenue, Hollywood (now Jim Henson Studios).

Christie Comedies, 6101 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Cosmosart, 3700 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles.

Fine Arts Studios, 4500 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Fox Studio, North Western Avenue, Hollywood.

Francis Ford Studios, 6040 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Fred Caldwell Productions, 4513 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

Garson Studio, 1845 Glendale Blvd., Edendale.

 

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 Goldwyn Studio, Culver City (later became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, now Sony Pictures).

 

Golden West Studios, 4011 Lankersham Blvd., Studio City.

Grand Studio, 1438 Gower Street, Hollywood.

Hollywood Studios, 6642 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

Horsley Studios, 6060 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

 

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Ince Studios, 9336 Washington Blvd., Culver City (later the Selznick Studios, now The Culver Studios).

 

Lasky Studio, 1520 Vine Street, Hollywood.

Mayer-Schulberg Studios, 3800 Mission Road, Los Angeles.

Metro Studio, Romaine and Cahuenga Avenue, Hollywood.

Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, 7100 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood (later Samuel Goldwyn Studios, The Lot).

Principal Pictures Corp., 7250 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

R-C Studios, Melrose and Gower Street, Hollywood.

Sennett Studio, 1712 Glendale Blvd., Edendale.

United Studios, 5341 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood (now Paramount Studios).

Universal Studio, Universal City (still there).

Vitagraph Studios, 1708 Talmadge Avenue, Hollywood.

Waldorf Studios, 6070 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood.

 

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Warner Brothers Studio, 5842 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood (now KTLA-TV).

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