The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons

The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons

The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons

The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons

Synopsis

Hollywood celebrities feared her. William Randolph Hearst adored her. Between 1915 and 1960, Louella Parsons was America's premier movie gossip columnist and in her heyday commanded a following of more than forty million readers. This first full-length biography of Parsons tells the story of her reign over Hollywood during the studio era, her lifelong alliance with her employer, William Randolph Hearst, and her complex and turbulent relationships with such noted stars, directors, and studio executives as Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, Louis B. Mayer, Ronald Reagan, and Frank Sinatra--as well as her rival columnists Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell. Loved by fans for her "just folks," small-town image, Parsons became notorious within the film industry for her involvement in the suppression of the 1941 film Citizen Kane and her use of blackmail in the service of Hearst's political and personal agendas. As she traces Parsons's life and career, Samantha Barbas situates Parsons's experiences in the broader trajectory of Hollywood history, charting the rise of the star system and the complex interactions of publicity, journalism, and movie-making. Engagingly written and thoroughly researched, The First Lady of Hollywood is both an engrossing chronicle of one of the most powerful women in American journalism and film and a penetrating analysis of celebrity culture and Hollywood power politics.

Excerpt

In Hollywood, it was a difficult time. Though film attendance was at an all-time high—that year eighty-five million tickets were sold each week—the major studios were under attack. The war in Europe and Asia had led to a decline in foreign markets, the House Un-American Activities Committee was investigating the alleged involvement of several prominent actors with communism, and a Senate commission accused Hollywood of warmongering by making films that promoted U.S. intervention in the overseas conflict. Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission had allowed regular commercial television broadcasting to begin on July 1, 1941, panicking those in Hollywood who saw the new medium as potentially formidable competition.

Louella, too, had struggled that year. In the spring, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, a scathing attack on her employer, William Randolph Hearst, had been released in theaters across the nation. Americans watched Welles’s onscreen portrayal of a manipulative, megalomaniacal Hearst, and they read in national publications about Louella’s conniving attempts to suppress the film. The New York Times and Newsweek described Louella as a vicious opponent of free speech who used her power to carry out her employer’s tyrannical wishes. Shortly afterward, the Screen Actors’ Guild launched an attack on her, publicly condemning her refusal to pay actors who appeared on her radio show and calling her an enemy of the film industry. Though Louella’s worldwide readership of nearly twenty million was more than triple that of her primary rival, Hedda Hopper, pundits predicted that it would not be long until Hopper surpassed her and became the new first lady of Hollywood.

Yet all this seemed to matter little on the morning of Friday, September 12, when Louella left her home on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills for Los Angeles’ Union Station. The strain of turning out a daily movie gossip column . . .

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