Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jennifer Frost's "Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood"

Jennifer Frost is senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and the author of “An Interracial Movement of the Poor”: Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s.

Here she shares her preferences for the above-the-line talent for a cinematic adaptation of her recent book, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism:
Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was a powerhouse of Hollywood’s golden age, and people either loved the “duchess of dish” or hated this “gargoyle of gossip.” For 27 years and 32 million readers over the mid-20th century, Hopper wrote her movie gossip column about the big stars, their movies and marriages, their secrets and scandals. What made her most stand out from the crowd of celebrity journalists of her day—apart from her famous, flamboyant hats—were her political coverage and her political conservatism. The intertwining of popular and political culture was exceptional in Hopper’s column but is commonplace in today’s mass media.

Whether reporting on entertainment or politics, Hopper wrote in a witty, catty style, wielding her gossip as a weapon. In return, she earned a reputation for herself in Hollywood as “unpredictable and ruthless,” “cold-blooded,” and “a vicious witch.” But she also was smart, blond, and attractive, always well groomed and dressed, and had many close friends and committed fans. Her great rival Louella Parsons, who preceded and competed with her in the Hollywood gossip business, was not one of them however. The Hopper-Parsons feud shaped both their careers, and should be a key plot line in the movie.

Hopper: Jane Alexander played a young Hopper in a 1985 television movie, Malice in Wonderland, but that movie only took Hopper to the start of her career and Alexander played her sweetly. To portray Hopper throughout her powerful career, Glenn Close would be perfect. She can play smart and ruthless as she does currently on Damages, and she can wear the fashions and hats of old Hollywood well as she did in the musical Sunset Boulevard.

Parsons: Elizabeth Taylor played Parsons in Malice in Wonderland, as did Jennifer Tilly in The Cat’s Meow, but again these movies covered Parson’s early career. Kathy Bates would be wonderful as the middle-aged Parsons, seeking to hold on to her exclusives and her edge in the face of Hopper’s rising career. Bates has proved herself many times over portraying historical figures convincingly, as she did with Gertrude Stein in this year’s Midnight in Paris.

Director: For director, Todd Haynes is the right choice. He has made movies set in Hopper’s heyday—the 1940s with HBO’s Mildred Pierce and the 1950s with Far from Heaven—and he beautifully establishes the mood, feel, and color of these historical eras. Also he would be up to the challenge of casting a host of famous supporting characters, such as Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, and Elizabeth Taylor. What makes him even more appropriate is his self-conscious use and understanding of nostalgia, which was a major theme of Hopper’s gossip column. Throughout her career, she expressed disappointment in the present and sought to return Hollywood and America to her imagined “golden days of yesteryear.”
Learn more about Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood at the publisher's website.

At the Wall Street Journal, film historian Steven J. Ross named Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood to his list of the five best books about politics and the movie industry.

--Marshal Zeringue