Parsons, Louella Oettinger

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PARSONS, Louella Oettinger

Born 6 August 1893, Freeport, Illinois; died 9 December 1972, Beverly Hills, California

Daughter of Joshua and Helen Wilcox Oettinger; married John

Parsons, 1910 (died 1914); Dr. Harry Martin, 1931; children: one daughter

As a youngster, Louella Parsons showed an interest in writing and had her first story published in the Freeport Journal-Standard before she reached high-school age. While in high school Parsons acquired her first newspaper job, working as the dramatic editor and assistant to the city editor on the Dixon, Illinois, Morning Star. Parsons received most of her journalism education through such practical experiences.

In 1910 Parsons married a real estate agent. The couple soon moved to Burlington, Iowa, where Parsons became frustrated and bored. After the birth of a daughter in 1911, Parsons left with the child to visit an uncle in Montana. From then on, Parsons and her husband drifted apart.

After the death of her husband in 1914, Parsons took her daughter to Chicago and worked as a reporter for the Tribune. Parsons soon became involved in the movie business and took a job with the Essanay Company reading scripts and writing scenarios. She was later able to convince the Chicago Record-Herald to run a series of her articles on how to write for the movies. These articles were well received, and Parsons realized that if people were interested in a behind-the-scenes look at films, they would also be interested in a more surface view—a look at the movie stars.

In 1918 Parsons moved with her daughter to New York City. She became the movie critic for the Morning Telegraph, where she remained until 1924. During her five years with the Telegraph, Parsons was made editor of the motion picture section and was presented with an all-female staff nicknamed the "Persian Garden of Cats." She started writing for the Hearst papers in 1924 and the following year discovered she had tuberculosis; she spent a year (on full salary) resting. After she recovered from the illness, Hearst sent Parsons to California, and she wrote her stories from Hollywood. At this time Parsons's column became syndicated.

In 1931 Parsons's work expanded to the broadcast field when she was hired by the Sunkist Orange Company to do a 13-week radio show. She began a second radio show in 1934, on which she interviewed movie stars. For four years, "Hollywood Hotel" was one of the leading radio programs. Throughout the 1940s, Parsons continued to write her column, which was by then widely syndicated. Even at the age of sixty-four, Parsons was still doing a weekly radio show, writing her column, covering hard news events, writing stories for Photoplay and Modern Screen, and reviewing movies for Cosmopolitan. She retired in 1964.

Besides writing columns and doing radio shows, Parsons was also the author of three books. The first, How to Write for the Movies, was published in 1915 and used as a text in early film classes at Ohio State University. With the advent of the "talkie," however, the book became dated. The Gay Illiterate (1944) is a delightful account of Parsons' life until 1939 and her entertaining style of writing makes the book a pleasure to read even today. Tell It to Louella (1961) is an account of some of Parsons' more memorable celebrity interviews. Her quick and often acerbic wit provides greater insight into her life and personality than into the personalities of the stars she covered.

Parsons was the first widely read gossip columnist in the nation. She once wrote she would "do almost anything" in order to get a scoop. Her columns were largely devoted to interviews with the most popular movie stars and reports on weddings, divorces, and births; she was most proud of "scooping" the divorces of famous stars. Parsons maintained a colorful reputation throughout her career.


Eells, G., Hedda and Louella (1972).

Reference works:

CA (1973). CB (1940).


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Parsons, Louella Oettinger

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