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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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Hopkins vs Davis

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Nov 6th, 2010
2010
Nov 6

MIRIAM HOPKINS

“Old Loathing” starring Miriam Hopkins and Bette Davis

 

  

By Allan R. Ellenberger

 

As many are aware, I have been working on a biography of actress Miriam Hopkins, on-and-off for several years. I was stalled for several months because of personal duties, my nine-to-five job and this blog, which takes an enormous amount of time, but I love it. With any luck I’m on track with Hopkins now and I’m sure some have noticed I have cut back on blog entries recently, which I have to until Hopkins is completed, so please understand and have patience.

 

Most of my research is completed (except for some last minute library and archive work), although there are a few people I would like to interview, such as: Dick Van Patten, and his sister Joyce, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Leticia Roman, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Clint Eastwood and Sylvia Miles, among others; many I have tried to contact with no success (So if anyone has entry to any of the above people, please contact me here or at aellenber@aol.com).  I have been so fortunate to interview more than forty people including family members, costars of film and stage, personal friends, producers, and film historians. Such people as the late Kitty Carlisle and Doris Eaton; Dickie Jones, Andrew Prine, Lizabeth Scott and Olivia de Havilland have been gracious enough to help.

 

The challenge has been to present the real Miriam Hopkins and not just the personality that most people are familiar with as being difficult and hard to work with. Yes, that was part of her persona but as with most people, there is much more to her than that. Bette Davis was so vocal about her dislike of Hopkins that, because she is such an iconic and beloved actress, she virtually turned people that have never seen a Hopkins film, except perhaps for the two they made together. Bette would always claim how difficult Miriam was but yet had that reputation herself. In fact, in one interview, when comparing Debra Winger and her alleged reputation, to herself, said that “all good actresses are difficult.” Bette admitted that Hopkins was a good actress – and she was – however her reputation has overshadowed that over the years.

 

With all their differences, Davis and Hopkins had more in common than either one would dare to admit. They could be “over the top” in their performances if not guided by good directors. However, both were great actresses and felt they had to fight to get what they deserved. As well as being “difficult” and stealing scenes, Hopkins had more to fight for than Davis – at least that was her perception. Warner’s was Davis’ studio and of course they would favor her. When Jezebel was made, Warner’s tricked Hopkins out of her share to the rights of the film (she played the role on Broadway) letting her think she would play it and instead, gave the part to Davis who won an Academy Award. I could go on (and will in the book).

 

Of course Hopkins battled with other costars during her career; except for Davis, all were men. Hopkins was sometimes difficult to work with, there is no arguing that, however so was Davis and her fans (of which I am one) need to accept that. She also had a sensitive side and might show compassion to those who couldn’t help themselves. In any event, don’t judge Hopkins too harshly, at least until you know the entire truth, which hopefully I will be able to expound on with some success. I hope to be completed by September 2011 – at least that is my goal.

 

If anyone has information about, or perhaps knows someone who knew Miriam Hopkins, or even knew her themselves, please contact me.

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Warner Bros. Layoffs…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Jan 20th, 2009
2009
Jan 20

ENTERTAINMENT NEWS

Warner Bros. to cut 800 jobs

 

Warner-Bros-tower

 

By Claudia Eller
Los Angeles Times
January 20, 2009

 

Warner Bros. Entertainment is eliminating 800 jobs, or about 10% of its global workforce, becoming the latest media company to take drastic cost-cutting measures amid a deepening recession.   (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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Continue Reading »

Former Radio Building May Go…

Posted by Allan Ellenberger on Mar 25th, 2008
2008
Mar 25

Landmark Hollywood Building in Danger of Demolition 

 

Hollywood may lose yet another historical building. The former KFWB (980-FM) news-radio studio at 6230 W. Yucca Street, will be razed unless it can be rehabilitated by April 3. City inspectors have declared it a fire hazard and an eyesore. The trash-filled studios must have its doors barricaded, graffiti painted over and must be fenced in. The current owner plans to build a 16-story combination commercial and residential tower — just what Hollywood needs.

 

KFWB radio was started on March 1, 1925 by Warner Brothers when the studio was located on Sunset Boulevard. The call letters stand for “Four Warner Brothers” however, other sources have reported it to be, “Keep Filming Warner Brothers.” Which ever is true, the radio station moved into the Yucca Street building in 1977.

 

A few years ago KFWB moved to a Wilshire Boulevard high-rise in the Miracle Mile area, joining four other local radio stations. Sadly, Hollywood is no longer the center for radio that it had been for more than 85 years.

 

Source: “Bad News for a Landmark of Radio,” Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2008

 

Just a few Hollywood landmark buildings that have bit the dust:

 

Brown Derby. 1628 N. Vine [huge hotel and residential complex being built on the site]

Don the Beachcomber. 1727 North McCadden Place [parking lot]

Fox Studios. 1428 North Western Avenue [strip malls and parking lot]

Garden Court Apartments. 7021 Hollywood Blvd. [commercial building]

Garden of Allah. 8152 Sunset Blvd. (West Hollywood) [bank, McDonald’s, parking lot]

Gilmore Stadium. 7800 Beverly Blvd. [CBS Studios]

Hollywood Canteen. 1451 Cahuenga Blvd. [parking structure]

Hollywood Ranch Market. 1248 Vine Street [mini mall]

Hollywood Hotel. 6811 Hollywood Blvd. [Hollywood & Highland complex, Kodak Theatre]

Famous Players Lasky Studios. 1520 Vine Street [bank, parking lot]

Lucey’s Restaurant. 5444 Melrose Avenue [parking lot]

Masquer’s Club. 1765 Sycamore Street [apartment building]

Wallich’s Music City. 1501 Vine Street [commercial development]

Western Costume. 5335 Melrose Avenue [now part of Paramount Studios]

 

 

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