Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

Excerpt

In 1944, just six years into her career as a nationally syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper quipped that her future memoirs would be titled “Malice in Wonderland.” Witty and catty, Hopper’s title perfectly captured her reputation in Hollywood. Malicious was the least of it: “unpredictable and ruthless,” “cold-blooded,” “a vicious witch,” and, due to her right-wing politics, “fascist.” Hopper herself did not shy away from such descriptions. When actress Merle Oberon asked why she wrote such cruel things in her column, Hopper replied, “Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.” Hopper was fifty-two years old and an underemployed, struggling supporting actress when the Los Angeles Times picked up her fledgling movie gossip column, “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” in 1938. She soon became a powerful figure in the film industry during its “golden age,” when the movies were the dominant form of mass entertainment in the United States. Syndicated in eighty-five metropolitan newspapers as well as small-town dailies and weeklies during the 1940s, Hopper had an estimated daily readership of 32 million (out of a national population of 160 million) in the mid-1950s and remained influential into the next decade.

Hopper in her famous hats became a Hollywood icon, yet her nasty reputation dominated her career, persists today, and overshadows her historical significance. Industry participants attributed Hopper’s malicious gossip to her jealousy as a failed actress toward others’ success, to her strident conservatism that propelled her on political witch hunts, and to her bitter rivalry with Louella Parsons, who preceded and competed with her in the movie gossip business. The rival columnists were “guardian Furies,” the renowned playwright Arthur Miller noted in his memoirs, “the police matrons planted at the portals to keep out the sinful, the unpatriotic, and the rebels against propriety.” But this image of Hedda Hopper, while not without substance, owes much to her style and self-fashioning and has obscured her cultural . . .

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