Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

By Siff, Stephen | Journalism History, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism


Siff, Stephen, Journalism History


Book Reviews Frost, Jennifer. Hedda Hopper's Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism. New York: New York University Press, 2011. 304 pp. $35.

Hedda Hopper, a Hollywood gossip whose column ran in the Los Angeles Times and dozens of other newspapers from 1938 to 1966, was famously unforgiving of celebrity adultery, a staunch supporter of the Hollywood blacklist, and impatient with complaints about cinematic racism. An active Republican, she used her column to oppose intervention in World War II and to promote a jingoistic Americanism that had no room for films criticizing the status quo. For decades, she and her cross-town rival, Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons, were Hollywood's "guardian furies," in rhe words of playwright Arthur Miller. They were "the police matrons planted at the portals to keep out the sinful, the unpatriotic, and the rebels against propriety."

Jennifer Frost's new book draws on Hopper's columns, published letters from readers, and the fan mail preserved in her papers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to explore the columnist's political views and her readers' response. "Extant mail from Hopper's readers shaped the content of this book more than events from Hopper's own life, although the two together can tell us much about American popular and political culture," Frost writes. In contrast with traditional biographers, who try to explain an individual's entire life story, she identified with historians "reimagining the biographical form" by seeing through the life to "larger historical contexts and processes." Through this approach, she used Hopper's career and correspondence to illustrate die political, racial, and social views of her time as well as the cultural role of a Hollywood gossip columnist.

Frost's extensive use of letters from readers to shed light on the columnist's ideology and her relationship with her audience is the most innovative aspect ofthe book. Quotations from fan letters are used to give voice to Hopper's audience, providing a perspective that is neglected or overlooked in most journalism biographies. The insight is useful, even if it only represents the reaction ofthe small proportion of audience members who felt moved to write and whose letters Hopper or her staff felt moved to save. Frost acknowledges some limitations of this resource, but it would be helpful if she mentioned the number of letters that were preserved in Hopper's papers and what proportion of her daily mail that they represented.

Hopper's upbringing, work habits, and relationships - the stuff of traditional biography - are briefly dispatched in the book's introduction and first chapter. …

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