on April 8, 2011
This is a very worthwhile book for anyone interested in the power of gossip and those who sell it. Jennifer Frost creates a portait of Hedda Hopper as a hidebound archly right-wing columnist who used the power of her column
to promote those stars and celebrities to whom she was sympathetic (Dorothy Malone, Robert Taylor,Walt Disney, Betty Grable, for example) and to vilify and persecute those she felt great antipathy towards, most noticeably Charlie Chaplin,
and, with the advent of the Cold War, any of the Hollywood Ten and those who sympathized with them, including members for the Committee for the First Amendment. Ms. Frost rarely puts an agenda in the forefront,
allowing Hopper and her respondents to speak for themselves. It is telling enough to read how much Hopper supported HUAC; no editorializing is needed.
Hopper's popularity was such that she received much 'fan-mail' and comments on her columns from her readership, and the columnist had a give-and-take with them, often publishing letters from readers in her columns. These letters
were largely supportive of Hoppers's postions on celebrities (How dare they pick and English girl to play that most American Heroine, Scarlett O'Hara.) and her political positions (My girlfriends and I will NEVER go see any movie with Bogie in it.) While this demonstrates Hopper's influence it also led to an insular situation where Hooper's influence fed upon itself and she was, in the end, preaching to the choir.
Ms. Frost shows Hopper to be a racist and likely an Anti Semite. On the positive side, Hedda Hopper was possessed of an enormous amount of energy and tenacity. As well, even her detractors would have ro admit she owned one hell of a lot of hats.
That we live in an era of gossip, where information is often confused with misinformation and outright dissembling, is no revelation. The means and speed of gossip-exchange may have been altered since the days of Hopper, Louella Parsons and Walter Winchell, but the attraction and revulsion some people feel towards celebrities was just as alluring then as it is now, and Jennifer Frost, like Neal Gabler before her in his biography of Winchell, has written a book that clearly reveals the power of agenda and innuendo and a gullible public's inability to separate them from a larger truth.
I've been doing a little reading up on the Hollywood Blacklist which has lead me to a lot of books and many celebrities including actors, directors, writers, etc. Curiously, one of the worst enforcers of the 'List' was Hollywood gossip hag Hedda Hopper. Before my time, I knew little of her other than she and her arch rival were both sort of meanies with their typewriters and could make or break careers purely on the basis od whether they liked someone or not. Pity the fools who didn't kiss up to these dames and shower them with gifts on Christmas morn.
When Hedda had fallen into the poison pen columnist role it couldn't have come along soon enough. She was barely making a living as a supporting actress in films usually appearing as a society hag or life of the party type in a party scene. These roles were disappearing quicker than a Florida sinkhole and Hedda was looking old. She relished the columnist role and the Blacklist turned out to be a vehicle for her to spew her venom. It was certainly good for the readers who were also her fans.
This book nails Hedda with her own words taken verbatim from her columns and it also illustrates the power of a questionable form of journalism favored by some nasty news syndicates. It makes for interesting reading and clearly makes no attempts at subtlety.
Honestly, Hedda was a real witch a played to a not particularly inteligent sector of the population. It makes for good and funny reading yet also explains why Joe McCarthy managed to stretch this black,it's thing for so long until it finally crashed down on McCarthy's booze soaked head.
As for Hedda, she proved to be an equal opportunity offender who hated people of color, Jews, Catholics, and anyone else who wasn't like Hedda.
What can I say about this book? Interesting as it breaks down the myth behind the Blacklist and one of its main supporters.
on March 31, 2013
You didn't want to get on the wrong side of Miss Hedda Hopper if you were a would-be star in Old Hollywood. She could find a Commie under any bush you might care to point out. How strange that as a kid I didn't know that she was "right wing" when I saw her on Art Linkletter's show or elsewhere. I guess everybody was "right-wing" back in the day. Gossip shows on TV have replaced the Hedda Hoppers, whether for better or worse,it's hard to say.