Hopkins, Miriam (1902–1972)

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Hopkins, Miriam (1902–1972)

American actress whose performance in Design for Living propelled her into the top ranks. Born Ellen Miriam Hopkins on October 18, 1902, in Bainbridge, Georgia; died of a heart attack in New York City on October 9, 1972; attended Goddard Seminary in Plainfield, Vermont; attended Syracuse University; married four times; married first husband Brandon Peters (an actor), in 1926 (divorced 1931); married third husband Anatole Litvak (a director).

Selected theater:

The Music Box Revue (1921); Little Jessie James (1923); An American Tragedy (1926); Excess Baggage (1927); The Camel Through the Needle's Eye (1929); Lysistrata (1930); Anatol (1931); Jezebel (1933); The Skin of Our Teeth (1942); Look Homeward Angel (tour, 1960).


Fast and Loose (1930); The Smiling Lieutenant (1931); Twenty-Four Hours (1931); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932); Two Kinds of Women (1932); Dancers in the Dark (1932); The World and the Flesh (1932); Trouble in Paradise (1932); The Story

of Temple Drake (1933); The Stranger's Return (1933); Design for Living (1933); All of Me (1934); She Loves Me Not (1934); The Richest Girl in the World (1934); Becky Sharp (1935); Barbary Coast (1935); Splendor (1935); These Three (1936); Men Are Not Gods (UK, 1937); The Woman I Love (1937); Woman Chases Man (1937); Wise Girl (1937); The Old Maid (1939); Virginia City (1940); Lady With Red Hair (1940); A Gentleman After Dark (1942); Old Acquaintance (1943); The Heiress (1949); The Mating Season (1951); Outcasts of Poker Flat (1952); Carrie (1952); The Children's Hour (1962); Fanny Hill (Ger./US, 1964); The Chase (1966); Comeback (1966, released under the title Hollywood Horror Home, 1976).

Miriam Hopkins was born into a wealthy household in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1902. She attended the Goddard Seminary in Plainfield, Vermont, and Syracuse University. She then moved to New York to study dance in hopes of becoming a ballerina, but after breaking her ankle settled for a career as a chorus girl. Hopkins made her Broadway debut in The Music Box Revue (1921), then successfully switched to drama. Just as Hopkins was making a name for herself on the New York stage, she was lured to Hollywood, where she made an auspicious debut in Paramount's Fast and Loose (1930). Subsequent roles in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) and Design for Living (1933) established her as a star. A lovely, blue-eyed blonde, Hopkins could play well-bred women or floozies. She turned in a delightfully comic performance in Trouble in Paradise (1932) and was considered effectively brittle in the title role in Becky Sharp (1935).

Early in her film career, Hopkins was pegged as uncooperative, a problem that seemed to plague her career. In 1939, during a stint with Warner Bros., she was engaged in a feud with Bette Davis , her co-star in The Old Maid, and the two clashed again on the set of Old Acquaintance (1943). "I don't think there was ever a more difficult female in the world," Davis said later, without a trace of irony. In his memoir, actor Edward G. Robinson called Hopkins "puerile and silly and snobbish, complaining about every line."

When her film career began to wane during the early 1940s, Hopkins returned to the stage, replacing Tallulah Bankhead in The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) and then touring in the role. At the request of director William Wyler, she returned to Hollywood in 1949 to play the aunt in The Heiress. She worked with Wyler again in two sub-sequent films, Carrie (1952) and The Children'sHour (1962). Her last films were The Chase (1966) and The Comeback, which was not released until 1976, under the title Hollywood Horror Home. The actress, who was married four times, died of a massive heart attack in 1972.


Blum, Daniel. A Pictorial History of the American Theatre 1860–1970. NY: Crown Publishers, 1971.

Bowden, Liz-Anne, ed. The Oxford Companion to Film. NY and London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1995.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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