Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Sidney’

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 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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Sylvia Sidney’s 100th Birthday

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

100th BIRTHDAY

Sylvia Sidney

 

 

 

AMERICAN ACTRESS

 

  • BORN: August 8, 1910, The Bronx, New York
  • DIED: July 1, 1999, New York City, New York
  • CAUSE OF DEATH: Throat cancer
  • BURIAL: Cremated, ashes given to family or friend

 

 

 

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