Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hedda Hopper

Have you ever thought of Hedda Hopper (1885 - 1966) as a Bit Actress? She was, at the beginning of her career in Hollywood.

Most people remember Hedda as a gossip columnist and Hollywood reporter. She didn't begin her column, "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" until 1938. Her first appearance on film was in a 1916 movie called The Battle of Hearts.

In 1917 she was in Seven Keys to Baldpate starring George M. Cohan (1878 - 1942). It would be a shame to feature Cohan, one of America's greatest song writers and performers in a silent film, but he made three of them. And only two talkies. I guess that was the technology at the time, and I am too young to remember vaudeville.
Hedda Hopper in the 1920s

In the silent era, she worked with Mae Marsh, Norma Talmadge, and Billie Burke. In 1922 she was in Sherlock Holmes with John Barrymore as Holmes and Roland Young as Watson.

I love a good silent film as much as most of you do, but when you look through the list of silents that Hopper was in, you realize that there were many, many silent films that are probably best as lost films. She made three films with Conrad Nagel (1897 - 1970), and four with John Gilbert (1887 - 1936) including three of his talkies. But the vast majority of her early films were with stars that will never be featured in film festivals.

And then, in 1927, Hedda has a small part in Wings, the very first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, Production. She was uncredited. By the way, that was the only silent film to win that Oscar, until The Artist in 2011.

Hopper's first talkie was The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) starring Norma Shearer (1902 - 1983) and Basil Rathbone (1892 - 1967). She would make four films with Shearer, plus a cinematic fundraiser short called The Stolen Jools (1931), which also featured Laurel and Hardy and many other stars.

Now that we have put silent films behind us, a look at Hopper's talkie career isn't much better. Highlights include working with Bette Davis in The Man Who Played God (1932); with Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935); and she was in Topper (1937) again with Roland Young and Billie Burke, not to mention Cary Grant.
Hedda Hopper in the 1950s

Another very good film was The Women (1939) with an all female cast including Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. She also made two films with Jackie Cooper (1922 - 2011), What a Life (1939) and Life With Henry (1941).

By this time she was well into writing her column, and she was being recognized as a writer rather than an actress. It was time to start drawing on her popularity, so she started portraying herself in films. She made a series of Hedda Hopper's Hollywood documentaries in the 1940s, but also look for her as herself in -
The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Pepe (1960)
The Patsy (1964)
The Oscar (1966), which was her final appearance in film.

Of course Hedda Hopper also appeared on many television shows, and that is where I remember her. She was always outspoken, and her feuds with Louella Parsons (1881 - 1972), Spencer Tracy and Joseph Cotten are well documented. But let's not forget her start as a Bit Actor.