Posts Tagged ‘tennessee williams’

Miriam Hopkins update

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

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



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


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.”



Why a Biography on Miriam Hopkins?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011


 By Allan R. Ellenberger


I’m often asked, “Why a biography on Miriam Hopkins?” I confess that I get this question mostly from people who are not fans of the actress. They can’t understand why anyone would be interested. On the other hand, those who are fans seem thrilled that one is being prepared. It’s scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.


A few reasons why Miriam Hopkins would make a good biographical subject:


  • Hopkins appeared in 35 films, 2 shorts, 18 Broadway plays, 20 plus summer stock plays and road tours, 20 television programs and multiple radio plays and appearances.


  • Hopkins made her first film, Fast and Loose (1930) during the day while performing on the Broadway stage in Lysistrata in the evenings.


  • Hopkins appeared in the very first Technicolor film, Becky Sharp (1935).


  • Hopkins starred in the first produced play written by Tennessee Williams, Battle of Angels (1941).


  • Hopkins appeared in a silent short film in 1928 with Humphrey Bogart.


  • Hopkins had a love-hate relationship with her mother.


  • Hopkins did not have contact with her father for more than twenty years — not until she became a Hollywood star.


  • Hopkins was indirectly descended from Revolutionary figures, Arthur Middleton and John Dickinson.


  • Hopkins was Margaret Mitchell’s choice to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).


  • Hopkins was nominated for an Academy Award (Becky Sharp) and a Golden Globe (The Heiress).


  • Hopkins bought and remodeled John Gilbert’s house after his death and sold it ten years later to David O. Selznick.


  • Hopkins costars include: Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Maurice Chevalier, George Raft, Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, Lionel Barrymore, Kay Francis, Bing Crosby, Fay Wray, Joel McCrea, Edward G. Robinson, Merle Oberon, Gertrude Lawrence, Rex Harrison, Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Olivia De Havilland, Gene Tierney, Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and of course, Bette Davis.


  • Hopkins was directed four times by William Wyler, three times by Ernst Lubitsch and twice by Rouben Mamoulian.


  • Hopkins was married four times and had numerous lovers.


  • Hopkins lived on Washington Square in New York during the late 1920s, the same place as her character in The Heiress (1949).


  • Hopkins was seriously interested in astrology and numerology.


  • Hopkins adopted a child as a single parent.


  • Hopkins was involved in political causes during her Hollywood years.


  • Hopkins was an authority at scene stealing.


  • Hopkins preferred writers, directors and intellectuals as friends and not Hollywood types.


  • Hopkins had an extensive book collection in her homes and was a voracious reader.


  • Hopkins actions were followed closely by the FBI for more than 15 years.


  • Hopkins never revealed her first marriage to her son

(he read about it in his mothers obituary)


  • Hopkins died nine days before her 70th birthday.


  • Hopkins feuded with Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Errol Flynn and numerous others and pissed off half of Hollywood.


What’s not interesting about that?



Tennessee Williams 100th Birthday

Saturday, March 26th, 2011


Tennessee Williams











Review of “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond”

Sunday, December 20th, 2009


A rediscovered Tennessee Williams screenplay opens at theaters


The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond


“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” has the Williams touch and the feel of the south in the 20s


 By Allan R. Ellenberger


The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly Last Summer – all are classic plays written by the prolific playwright, Tennessee Williams. All and several others were translated to the screen with judicious success.


This new film, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, is an original script that Williams wrote expressly for the screen decades ago. Williams affection for memorable, unstable, sometimes southern women such as Blanche DuBois and Maggie the Cat, now includes Teardrop’s  Fisher Willow, played in the film by Bryce Dallas Howard.


Fisher is a headstrong young debutante who rises against being a proper southern belle. At a Halloween party she loses her aunt’s teardrop diamond earring and suspicion falls on her escort and possible love interest, Jimmy Dobyne (Chris Evans). Fisher is forced to face her own demons which are putting her relationship with Dobyne in peril.


When Williams was writing the script in 1957, he expressed his desire to have Julie Harris play Fisher and Elia Kazan, with whom he worked before on Broadway and in films, to direct it. “That’s premature, of course,” Williams said at the time, “but they’ll get the first chance at the completed script.”


Unfortunately that chance never came and the screenplay was not produced. It stayed in Williams catalogue of works for fifty years until first-time director, Jodie Markell decided to direct it. Markell first read the script while studying acting years earlier and was struck by the character of Fisher Willow, a young woman trying to find herself.


Filmed in Louisiana, the look of the film is authentic; the locations, cinematography, and costumes all confer the feel of the 1920s south. The acting accolades go to Howard and veteran actress, Ellen Burstyn who plays Miss Addie, a free spirit, not unlike Fisher, who is now trapped in her stroke-ridden body and asks for the girls help. Burstyn is amazing and the scenes where Addie recalls her scandalous past and how she came to be bedridden, are some of the films highlights.


Recently I had the opportunity to interview the film’s director, Jodie Markell, on the making of The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond.



Jodie Markell

Jodie Markell, director of “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” in limited release on December 30, 2009 


Q&A with Jodie Markell:


The “Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” was made in 2007; what were the obstacles in getting the film released?


JM: Yes the film was shot in the fall of 2007, played at Toronto in the fall of 2008, but the final adjustments were made in 2009.  Of course we all remember that the economy crashed last fall, which sent the independent distribution market into a tail spin that it is still recovering from.  We received offers from different companies, but we were waiting for the right distributor and we found him in Mark Urman of Paladin.  He has such an understanding of the film. He also knows how to market it to the right audience, not just in New York and LA but in additional markets across the country. When looking for a distributor, you have to be discerning and not desperate. I feel so grateful to be working with Mark Urman.


What’s the story behind the “rediscovered” Tennessee Williams screenplay? How did it come to your attention and what attracted you enough to want to film it?


JM: When I was fifteen, growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was cast as Laura Wingfield in a high school production of The Glass Menagerie. From that moment on, I was hooked. By the time I was seventeen, I had read everything I could find by Tennessee Williams and had been inspired by Elia Kazan’s classic films of A Streetcar Named Desire and my favorite, Baby Doll. As a teenager with artistic tendencies, who often felt a bit different, I had a real affinity for Williams’ sensitive characters who are searching for something authentic in a harsh world.  A few years later, when I was studying to be an actress in New York City, a teacher showed me the un-produced screenplay of Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond written in 1957. The script was the only film Williams said he had written “directly for the films.” It was re-discovered amongst his papers many years later. I was immediately struck by the lead character, Fisher Willow, a young woman struggling to find her voice. I related to Fisher’s call for understanding. When a story touches me, I tend to carry it in my heart until the time is right to see it realized. A few years after I read the screenplay, I brought it to producer Brad Michael Gilbert who has a knack not only for getting what he wants, but also for supporting an artist’s vision. Gilbert knew I had an interest in finding lost American classics that have been overlooked. He had produced my first short film, Eudora Welty’s Why I Live at the P.O. which played the festivals and won several awards. Over the course of a few years, Gilbert made several attempts to acquire Teardrop Diamond, but it wasn’t until the estate changed hands that he was able to secure the rights.


Do you have a favorite Tennessee Williams character and why?


JM: Well,aside from Fisher Willow in our film, I have always liked the character of Carol Cutrere in Orpheus Descending and in the film The Fugitive Kind.  She is a rich, rebellious girl, who has a bad reputation in a small southern town.  A bit older than Fisher, she is almost like what Fisher would have become if she didn’t find her Jimmy.  Carol goes “juke-ing”: she drives her speedster to juke joints on old country roads, picks up men, and takes them to the local graveyard in the middle of the night. She is a wild one, but she speaks so poetically about it –in one scene she talks about how the dead have one message to us and it is “Live, just live.” She is so desperate, but she is brutally honest and she breaks our hearts. I always wanted to play that role.


This is an impressive directorial debut. What did you love about directing and what areas were not that enjoyable for you?


JM: What I love about directing most is working with the actors and the designers. I also love working with the camera and playing with color and light. And I love being on location.  As a director,  you have an opportunity to use your whole brain- it really wakes up areas of your mind that you don’t always use- and you need to keep so many thoughts going at once – like multi-tracking. You need to be present not only for the actors but also for everyone on the crew. Ready to answer any questions or concerns. You need to be ready to put out fires but at the same time to ignite the creative energy in your actors and designers. You need to be inspired so you can inspire others. It is quite an enlivening experience.


I had some frustrations shooting the levee sequence at the end of the film. We selected a levee in the middle of nowhere or so we thought.  We soon discovered that even though we were shooting in the middle of the night we were bombarded with interfering sound issues. It was like we were suddenly at the hub of all forms of modern transportation! Not great for a period film. We heard cars on an unforeseen highway nearby, planes, trains, and worst of all the barges and tugboats that slowly went by on the river, ruining the scene we were shooting. We had to wait sometimes half an hour for a boat to go by. That was frustrating because the actors were really in a great place emotionally and we kept having to cut for sound. I hated having to say CUT when the actors were so connected. But that comes with the territory.


The look of the film is amazing. The costumes, sets and cinematography, and even the poster, recreate the 1920s. Can you briefly tell how you accomplished this?


JM: From the beginning, I wanted an authentic look set in the period. The designers and I immersed ourselves in imagery of the period from books of photographs and from early films. Our production and costume designers also have theatrical experience so they were used to making magic out of an independent film budget. We also spoke about how we did not want to create a faded old timey look, but we wanted to push the painterly use of color and light to create a dream-like atmosphere. We did not want to create an old fashioned movie, we wanted to create a film in a classic style. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens and I selected to shoot scope (anamorphic), to not only give the film a larger than life canvas, but also to heighten the intimacy of the subtle emotional shifts that take place in the characters’ faces. The widescreen enabled the actors to move within the frame, even at times to share a close up. Shooting in cinemascope also allowed us to recall the style of the great films of the fifties (like Kazan’s East of Eden) when the screenplay was written.


Bryce Dallas Howard

Bryce Dallas Howard (above) stars as Fisher Willow in “The Loss of A Teardrop Diamond” 


The entire cast is incredible and Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance is, of course, central to the film. How did you decide on casting her and is the story about Lindsay Lohan originally being cast — or wanting the role — true?


JM: Bryce was always my first choice. I first saw her in Shamalyan’s The Village.  She is so grounded and earthy as an actor.  She is very present, honest and direct. And she has paid her dues in the theater. I knew the film called for actors with theater background because the language can be so elusive, almost as challenging as Shakespeare requiring a certain musicality. And many actresses make the mistake of playing Williams’ heroines in a very artificial mannered way that tends to keep the audience at a distance. I knew that Bryce would never fall into that trap.  She prepares her work with great focus and detail and yet her work always feels fresh.  But she was not available when we first offered her the role because she was pregnant. As our start date kept changing I met with several other talented actors, but had not quite found our Fisher.  About 6 months later, I received a call from Bryce’s agent suggesting that we could re-approach Bryce. I was ecstatic and we were able to delay our start date until she was ready to work again after her son was born. 


Academy Award winning actress, Ellen Burstyn, is memorable as Addie. What was it like to work with her?


JM: Working with Ellen was a dream come true – exactly what I wanted to experience when I became a director: to work with great actors, providing them a supportive environment where they can feel free to make discoveries.  Those discoveries are what ignite the screen and make their characters come alive.  Ellen arrived on location having already done a great deal of research. She even went to a hospital and met stroke victims who had been paralyzed like Miss Addie.  Ellen’s emotional well is very deep and she takes us on an inner journey without moving her body. Her character is on the brink of death and only an actress with great spiritual strength like Ellen could even approach this role. She is so honest and in the moment. Her work throughout her illustrious career has been such an inspiration and it was a real honor to work with her.


What project are you working on now?


JM: I have several scripts that I have developed and am reading others…I’ve got them all on the fire – we’ll see which one lights up first.




The film’s cast also includes Chris Evans as Fisher’s love interest, Jimmy Dobyne, Ann-Margaret as Aunt Cornelia and Will Patton as Old Man Dobyne. The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond opens in limited markets on December 30, 2009 and later in wide release.