Born Elda Furry, 2 May 1885, Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania; died 1 February 1966, Los Angeles, California
Daughter of David E. and Margaret Miller Furry; married DeWolf Hopper, 1913 (divorced 1922); children: one son
The fifth of nine children, Hedda Hopper grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where she left eighth grade to help at home and in her father's butcher shop. She fiercely resented her autocratic father and grandfather and envied her brothers' freedom. After seeing Ethel Barrymore on stage, Hopper vowed to become an actress. She studied music in Pittsburgh, then joined a road company in New York. In 1908, appearing in the chorus of The Pied Piper, she met actor DeWolf Hopper, 27 years her senior; she became his fifth wife and changed her name to Hedda.
After the birth of her son in 1915, Hopper followed her husband to Hollywood, where he was to make a film. Although she had given up her career at marriage, she now accepted minor stage and screen roles offering her a security her husband could not. In 1922 Hopper divorced him on the grounds of adultery.
In 1938 Hopper began a news column, later syndicated as "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood." Her background in films and theater provided excellent contacts; her innate sense of fashion helped her establish her personal trademark, the elaborate hat. She emerged as an awesome rival for gossip queen Louella Parsons—movie stars, with few exceptions, trod softly to avoid her wrath. She and Parsons became the Scylla and Charybdis of Hollywood. Columnist Hopper's politics grew increasingly conservative, her morality sterner. She campaigned vigorously against communism in Hollywood and her personal feuds were legion. At her peak she claimed 35 million readers. Death came suddenly from complications of viral pneumonia.
Hopper is frequently charged with having a ghostwriter for her column; in fact, she did not write it herself. The column was dictated to her staff (a rewrite woman, two secretaries, and two legmen), who then revised and typed it for her final approval. She could not spell, did not know grammar, and cared less. Hopper's style is breezy and colloquial ("Boy! Heck! "). Sunday feature articles are generally more focused and coherent; daily columns are breathless bits and pieces, with occasional acidic allusions to those currently out of her favor (such as Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, and Joan Bennett).
Hopper's From Under My Hat (1952) has been called "an amorphous autobiography." Hopper officially eliminates five years from her life, omits dates, and ignores chronology wherever possible; thus her book becomes anecdotal and totally confusing. The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963) resembles a dramatized gossip column bridging the years between the two books. Hopper's organization is much tighter (perhaps because of her coauthor). The book also includes considerable grade-B dialogue, as Hopper offers counsel to erring film stars. There is an incredible scene in which Hopper summons Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Wilding to her home for prenuptial advice. (Wilding subsequently sued Hopper and her publisher for $3 million.)
Hopper's real influence came not through her books but through her column and her presence in a Hollywood now vanished. She recaptures some of that nostalgia, but the writing is frequently dull. Her view of women is not flattering; she praises Joan Crawford by writing that she "thinks like a man." Hopper calls herself "The Bitch of the World," delighting in her feuds, yet there is little of the well-turned phrase, the quick wit, in her work. At her best, Hopper recounts anecdotes; at her worst, she insinuates. She is no writer, but a talker, a gossip (albeit a powerful one), and too frequently a minor actress starring at last in her own books.
Eells, G., Hedda and Louella (1972).
CB (Nov. 1942, Mar. 1966). Other references: Chicago Sunday Tribune (24 Aug. 1952). NYT (14 Sept. 1952, 2 Feb. 1966). Time (28 July 1947, 15 Feb. 1963).