Hedda Hopper was known throughout Hollywood in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s for many things: her acerbic wit; deft acting; flamboyant headwear; enduring elegance; and procuring of delicious gossip which, it was recognised in show-business, could make or break a career. While Hopper gained the trust and loyalty of many of the era’s brightest stars – she counted at various times the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford as allies, though these relationships were often sacrificed in favour of scoops – to flesh out her column, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, she was also engaged in an infamous rivalry with fellow writer Louella Parsons. Parsons had been in the business of gossip longer than Hopper, but the two writers shared a fierce competitive spirit and were aware of the power their column inches held (their joint readership mounted to 75 million – nearly half of the American population).
Hopper’s ability to enthrall her readers with tales of Hollywood – simultaneously instilling equal measures of fear and admiration in the icons about whom she wrote – allowed her to maintain a glamorous lifestyle, indulging in beautiful clothes, an impressive home (“the house that fear built”, she called it) and, famously, many fabulous hats. So many, in fact, that she notoriously spent $5,000 a year on them (tax-deductible, of course), and titled her 1952 memoir From Under My Hat. If you have 53 minutes spare, we recommend this 1960 tour of Hollywood by Hopper, in which she sports six different headpieces.
Though she eventually enjoyed a lavish life, Hopper’s beginnings in Hollywood were less easy. She began her column writing at 52, when Parsons was the only established gossip columnist on the scene. Prior to Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, her acting career had thrived, and met with critical acclaim in both New York and Los Angeles. Hopper’s marriage to older actor DeWolf Hopper saw her thrust into the social scene, where she was able to acquaint herself with celebrities and become a fixture at parties. Thus, when the work waned and she struggled to find employment in Hollywood, it was her knowledge of the town’s inner workings and its inhabitants that rendered Hopper qualified to start a column.
During the height of her column’s power, Hollywood was almost governed by the formidable writer, with stars hoping for good coverage and clamouring for attention in a grand game of seduction. Hopper maintained her unique style and beauty until her death from pneumonia aged 80, and even returned to acting briefly before she died. Today her powerful legacy prevails: she’s been portrayed by Tilda Swinton (whose characters in Hail, Caesar! were based on Hopper), Helen Mirren (Trumbo) and most recently Judy Davis in Feud, as pictured above, which chronicles the legendary dispute between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and the meddling role that Hopper played within it. Her words, as much as her style, also still resonate – here we look at ten of her fearless lines.
- “They should know what I haven’t written!”
- Merle Oberon: “What inspired all the vicious things you've been writing about me?” Hopper: “Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.”
- “Don’t be swept out. Go before the glow fades.”
- “I can wear a hat or take it off, but either way it’s a conversation piece.”
- “I wasn’t allowed to speak while my husband was alive, and since he’s gone no one has been able to shut me up.”
- “Smart writers never understand why their satires on our town are never successful. What they refuse to accept is that you can’t satirise a satire.”
- “In Hollywood gratitude is Public Enemy Number One.”
- “I got around a lot, and lots of people talked to me. I salted down stories by the barrel load.”
- “She looks like she combs her hair with an egg beater.”
- “At one time I thought he wanted to be an actor. He had certain qualifications, including no money and a total lack of responsibility.”