Healthy competition can be a good thing. The spirit of competition has helped spur on some of the greatest technological advancements in human history. From an economic standpoint, competition helps ensure better consumer prices while promoting innovation. Ultimately competition can be tremendously beneficial for a country’s economy.
While competition can be of great benefit in the realms of economics and commerce, it can be detrimental when it pits too strongly opinionated and powerful people against each other. Now, we could discuss how such rivalries have historically had disastrous consequences when it came to global politics and war, but in today’s video, we’ll be tackling a high-profile rivalry that proved to be a serious threat to the entertainment industry.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, celebrity feuds have been the source of constant tabloid fodder. From Taylor Swift’s beef with Kanye West to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s rivalry, the public can’t seem to get enough of star-studded feuds. The two women were about to discuss, however, butted heads during a time when Hollywood and the world at large were going through immense changes.
We’re talking about the Golden Age of Hollywood when the world was still adopting to the monumental changes that had taken place following the two World Wars. This post Hay’s Code era was notable for being a time when many stars suspected of being communists or communists sympathizers were put on the Hollywood blacklist. The two celebs featured in this video were uniquely affected by this pivotal period in American history and politics and had a tremendous amount of power in terms of what they could accomplish with a stroke of a pen. Keep watching to see how.
Facts Verse Presents: The Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons Feud was Dangerous to Hollywood.
The Age Of The Hollywood Star System
Back in the 1920s, Hollywood studios created the infamous star system that would persist until the 1960s. This system plucked young men and women out of total obscurity, gave them a fresh coat of paint and polish, and transformed them into film stars. They received new stage names and elaborate backgrounds to increase their star appeal. The name of the game was glamour, and that was achieved by any means necessary.
Every aspect of these young star’s lives was under strict control by the studios, who would slap them with moral clauses and would hire ‘fixers’ to cover up any scandals that they found themselves in. Romances were all orchestrated, photographers were tipped off when they would go out in public, and gay stars were set up with so-called ‘lavender’ marriages to hide their sexual orientations. Favorable stories were meticulously planted in the tabloids, while unbecoming ones were typically bought out.
For the better part of three decades, two women were considered to be at the top of the Hollywood gossip machine. These two ladies had the ability to make or break the careers of just about anyone that they talked about in their popular weekly columns.
Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons: Arch-Rivals
Hedda Hopper was an American actress who got her start as a chorus girl on the Broadway stage. In 1915, she began acting in silent films. She made her motion picture debut in 1916s The Battle of Hearts. Her follow-up role in 1918s Virtuous Wives established her as an actress who played high-society women.
She eventually moved to Hollywood in 1923 and became a contract player with Louis B. Mayer Pictures. She went on to appear in more than 120 movies throughout her 23-year acting career. As her film career began to wane in the mid-30s, Hedda looked for another source of income.
In 1935, she took a job writing a weekly Hollywood gossip column for the widely-circulated Washington Herald. That gig eventually came to an end when she refused to take a substantial pay cut, but in 1937 she was offered an opportunity to write another gossip column for the Los Angeles Times. Hedda’s column was entitled ‘Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood’ and it debuted in the paper on the 14th of February, 1938.
She used the contacts that she made in Hollywood during her acting days to gather juicy material for her column, which she dictated to her typists over the phone since she wasn’t that great at typing or spelling.
Her first big scoop made national headlines when she printed a story that President Franklin Roosevelt’s son James Roosevelt was leaving his wife, Betsy, after he was caught having an affair with a Mayo Clinic nurse.
Hopper went on to make enemies of just about everyone in the public arena after running dozens of stories covering the supposed scandals that stars and famous politicians were said to be caught up in. In time, Hopper’s audience expanded into the tens of millions, making her one of the most powerful individuals in Tinsel Town. With a stroke of the pen, she had the ability to cause more chaos than just about anyone.
Louella Parsons, on the other hand, had been a Hollywood Gossip columnist long before Hedda arrived in Hollywood. In fact, she was considered to be the unchallenged ‘Queen of Hollywood gossip’ until Hopper made her dramatic arrival.
Parsons was born in Freeport, Illinois, in 1881. She decided that she wanted to become a reporter when she was still in high school. After graduating, she enrolled in a teacher’s program at Dixon college. While still in college, she landed her first newspaper job as a part-time writer with the Dixon star. During this time, she made her first steps toward her Hollywood career when she published gossip articles about Dixon’s social circles.
After marrying and not long after divorcing her first husband, John Parsons, she moved to Chicago, where she got her first taste of the film industry, working as a scenario writer for George K. Spoor. She sold her first script for a measly $25 and went on to write several film scripts, including one for 1912s The Magic Wand.
In 1914, Parsons scored her first job as a gossip columnist for the Chicago Record-Herald. Not long after that, she moved to New York City to write for the New York Morning Telegraph. In 1923, she landed a $200 a week job writing for William Randolph Hearst’s New York American newspaper.
After a bout with tuberculosis that nearly claimed her life, Parsons moved to Los Angeles after briefly living in Palm Springs and Arizona. There she found work writing a Hollywood gossip column for the Los Angles Herald. That job proved to be the big break that she was waiting for because in a matter of no time, her columns were being read by more than 20 million people worldwide.
The Feud That Nearly Broke Hollywood
When Hedda Hopper first showed up in Hollywood, she and Parsons initially had a mutually beneficial arrangement in place. At the time, Hopper was considered to be a moderately successful actress. Whenever something would happen on or off the set of the films she was working on, like if a star or leading man was having an affair, she would immediately call up Parsons and let her know. In return, Hopper was guaranteed a few glowing lines of copy under Parson’s increasingly prestigious byline.
After MGM canceled Hopper’s contract, she struggled to maintain her acting career. That’s when she decided that she should transition to a career in journalism instead. In time, she was offered a position with the Esquire Feature Syndicate as a Hollywood Columnist. One of the first newspapers to pick up her column was the aforementioned Los Angeles Times – a morning paper quite similar to Parson’s Examiner.
After Hopper ran that column about Roosevelt’s son’s divorce, Parsons was infuriated. She had beaten her to the scoop, and after years of being the ‘Queen of Hollywood Gossip’, she finally had someone to compete against.
Collectively Hopper and Parson’s had an audience of about 75 million readers at the peak of their careers. Bob Hope once said that their columns were often the first thing that he and his fellow Hollywood leading stars looked at every morning to see what was going on in Hollywood.
Parsons and Hopper were incredibly powerful forces in old-school Tinsel Town. If you were an aspiring actor in Hollywood, at some point, you would have to pass muster and get a favorable write up by one of them. If neither of them favored you, you might as well pack your bags and hop on a bus back home, because more than likely you would spend the remainder of your days pumping gas, waiting on tables, or worse, if you stuck around in the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood.
Actress Mamie Van Doren knew this all too well. Her manager Jimmy McHugh was Parson’s boyfriend. And one day, in a jealous rage, Parsons managed to pressure Paramount to drop her contract by making a threat to boycott all their stars and upcoming projects. The only way that Van Doren was able to get another role was when Parsons was out of the country getting cosmetic surgery done. That’s when Van Doren seized her opportunity and signed with Universal.
Both Parsons and Hopper were seen as ferocious forces to be reckoned with. The studios, knowing just how influential their respective columns were, showered them with lavish gifts and made it a point to encourage their rivalry. The studios even went as far as planting informants all throughout Hollywood, from receptionists to hat-check girls to florists and even studio spies.
Hopper was also known for making unannounced late-night visits to her prospective victim’s homes, grilling them for information, and threatening to end their careers if they dared lie to her.
One of Parson’s most damaging actions was when she attempted to suppress the release of Orson Welles’s film Citizen Kane in 1941. Since the film was a thinly veiled tale about her old boss, Hearst, she started labeling Welles as a closeted communist in her columns.
Hearst apparently even ordered her to threaten to expose RKO Pictures, the studio that produced Citizen Kane, with stories about alleged misbehavior by the studio’s execs. While Citizen Kane is widely regarded as being one of the greatest movies of all time, Welle’s career never fully recovered.
A similar scenario unfolded in the early ’50s when The Los Angeles Examiner ran a front-page story right above Parson’s byline that read ‘Ingrid Bergman Baby Due In Three Months at Rome’. Hopper had been a very public supporter of Ingrid and believed her initial denial of being pregnant. She even printed a repudiation of the rumor.
In the end, however, Bergman really was pregnant, and Hopper was made to look like a fool. In response for being scooped, she launched a vicious PR campaign attacking Bergman for getting pregnant out of wedlock and for bearing a married man’s child. Reportedly, Parsons had received a tip from Howard Hughes that Bergman was pregnant with director Roberto Rossellini’s child after she was unable to show up for a film shoot for Hughes as promised.
While Hopper reportedly saw her public feud with Parsons as being humorous and good for business, Parsons took it very personally and saw Hedda as a rival in every sense of the word. The two would remain arch-enemies for the remainder of their lives.
We’re just about out of time, but before we wrap things up, we’d love to ask our viewers a couple of questions. Did you know that Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were such bitter rivals? And were you aware that their columns had the power to make or break up-and-coming Hollywood stars? Let us know in the comments.