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Miriam Hopkins Biography in the Works

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam HopkinsThough relatively forgotten and, when remembered, usually dismissed as a second-rate talent (quite possibly by those who have never seen her on film), Miriam Hopkins was actually a highly capable performer who worked with some of the most renowned directors in Hollywood history — Rouben Mamoulian, Ernst Lubitsch, and William Wyler, among them.

Hopkins was also a household name in the 1930s, a time when she co-reigned, at least for a brief while early in the decade, as one of the Queens of Paramount.

Apart from the fact that time tends to dim memories, that most early Paramount films are shamefully unavailable (thanks to thoughtless executives at Universal, the studio that now owns most of the Paramount classics), and that most U.S. film critics and historians seem to believe that American movie history begins with Bonnie and Clyde, Miriam Hopkins’ professional legacy has suffered more than those of most major stars of her era because of her off-screen reputation.

To say that Hopkins was considered "difficult" would be an understatement. In fact, when her name comes up in current publications — not infrequently accompanied by the word "bitch" — it is almost invariably tied to that of her arch-enemy Bette Davis, with whom Hopkins had well-publicized fights when they co-starred in two Warner Bros. productions during the height of the studio era.

William Gargan, Miriam Hopkins, Jack La Rue in The Story of Temple Drake

Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) by Rouben MamoulianWhat few care to remember — or to learn — is that before Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert became full-fledged stars, Hopkins was a top Paramount attraction, playing sensual and sexually liberated women in numerous classics.

Among those were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (right, 1931), in which she is outstanding as the "loose" girl who gets strangled by Fredric March’s animalistic (and animalized) doctor; Trouble in Paradise (1932), a brilliantly comic performance, hitting all the rights notes as sophisticated thief Herbert Marshall’s lover and accomplice; the three-way comedy of (sexual) manners Design for Living (1933), making merry with fellow bed partners Gary Cooper and Fredric March; and The Story of Temple Drake (1933, above, with William Gargan and Jack La Rue), in which she gets raped in this controversial film adaptation of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary.

The Savannah native (born in 1902) from a well-to-do family began her show business career while dancing in the chorus of Broadway productions of the early 1920s. With the arrival of sound later in the decade, Hopkins — by then a well-regarded stage performer — was signed by Paramount, which, along with other Hollywood studios, was looking for stage-trained actors to populate talking pictures.

After only two years, Hopkins had become a major film star. Upon leaving Paramount in mid-decade, she received an Academy Award nomination for playing the title role in Rouben Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp (1935) at RKO, the first feature film in three-strip Technicolor.

At about that time, she also signed with Samuel Goldwyn, for whom she starred in These Three (1936), a bowdlerized — though still powerful — version of Lillian Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour. In the play, Hopkins’ character was in love with her fellow (female) teacher; in the film version, the love triangle had Joel McCrea’s character at the top. (Merle Oberon was the third corner.)

Miriam Hopkins

Hopkins was also one of the contenders for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Like the novel’s heroine, the actress was a not-so-prim and not-so-proper Southern belle, thus becoming author Margaret Mitchell’s initial choice for the part.

After signing with Warner Bros. in the late 1930s, Hopkins appeared in several prestigious productions, co-starring with Claude Rains, Errol Flynn, and Bette Davis.

Miriam Hopkiins in The Old MaidIn Edmund Goulding’s first-rate melodrama The Old Maid (right, 1939), her first pairing with Davis (who had reportedly had an affair with Hopkins’ then husband, director Anatole Litvak), Hopkins all but wipes the screen with her badly miscast co-star.

Even so, by the early 1940s Hopkins’ film career had lost steam. A second pairing with Bette Davis, in Old Acquaintance (1943), directed by Vincent Sherman, did little to help stem her professional decline. (In that one, Davis gets the chance to — literally — give Hopkins a thorough shake-up.) By the end of the decade, the former star had been reduced to playing supporting roles — though usually doing so with all the verve of yore.

Among her later films were William Wyler’s adaptation of Augustus and Ruth Goetz’s play The Heiress (1949), which itself was taken from Henry James’ novel Washington Square, and in which Hopkins plays Olivia de Havilland’s aunt; Carrie (1952), playing Laurence Olivier’s prepossessing wife in Wyler’s careful adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel; and The Children’s Hour (1961), excellent as the ditzy aunt in Wyler’s second adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play, now with the lesbian theme restored. (Shirley MacLaine played the old Hopkins role; Audrey Hepburn and James Garner were the other two sides of the triangle.)

Hopkins last film appearance was in the little-seen Savage Intruder (aka Comeback, 1970), a Sunset Blvd. redux in which she plays a former film star who becomes entangled with rough trade in the form of John Garfield Jr. (Despite her stint at Warner Bros., Hopkins never worked with his father.)

A well-to-do woman to the end, Hopkins died of a heart attack in 1972.

Miriam Hopkins, Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant

Miriam HopkinsAuthor Allan Ellenberger, whose previous books include a biography of actor Ramon Novarro and a book on the aftermath of Rudolph Valentino’s death, is currently working on a Miriam Hopkins biography.

Through his research, Allan has uncovered a Miriam Hopkins (above, with Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant) that is considerably more complex than the Mega-Bitch of lore. "Difficult" she may have been, but Hopkins was also a cultured woman who enjoyed to be surrounded by writers and intellectuals, and one who made more than a few male hearts flutter in her heyday.

Allan is currently looking for more leads on Miriam Hopkins. Those who have pertinent information, please contact him at Aellenber at aol dot com.

Photos: Courtesy Allan Ellenberger Collection

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27 Comments to Miriam Hopkins Biography in the Works

  1. I was just thinking how nice it would be to read a biography on Miriam Hopkins, and came here by way of google. I can’t believe there isn’t a book out there on her yet.

  2. Connie

    When is the book due to be released? Cannot wait to read it!

  3. Chuck Ford

    I am an old man and an old classics fan but I had never heard of MH until watching “Virginia City”(1940)over my lunch partner’s shoulder on TCM. I am pleased to find that she had such a great career and that someone has gone to the trouble of documenting it. In this movie (which noone has mentioned)she was a brilliant light in an otherwise cardboard-cutout cast. I will be downloading more.

  4. Paula Jo

    She was a natural blonde, she was a Libra, she was born in Savannah GA, and she had a perfectly proportioned petite body. And I’ve watched her movies on TCM where I found her to outshine Bette Davis, if that’s possible.

  5. Annette Gee Ford

    It is strange to me that a number of websites all list Miriam Hopkin’s birthplace as differently. This one states that she was born Savannah, GA born. Another one says Atlanta, GA, and a third says Bainbridge, GA. I am almost certain that Bainbridge is the correct city. I know that she is buried at Bainbridge in the Oak City Cemetery. There is a genealogy connection with my great grandfather, Bolivar Hopkins Gee, but I’ve yet to determine what it is. Any help will be appreciated.

  6. RICHARD DAVIS MCLEOD

    These is a book entitled, Ginger, Loretta, and Irene Who?, that was written many years back. It made the point that in 1933 certain actresses never shown brighter than in 1933. Miriam Hopkins was one of those listed along with Kay Francis.

    Miriam may not have been the the singular Queen of the Paramount lot, but she definitely shared that position with several other actresses of the time. This is what I meant by that statement “Queen of the Paramount Lot”.

    It is true that there was a downhill slide, but in that magical year of 1933, Miriam did occupy a position at Paramount with several other stars that indeed shown brightly at that time and year. That Star brightness diminished over the years, but for Miriam Hopkins, I think she made the most of it, considering her successful transition to Radio, Broadway, and later television.

    Her performance in many television shows of the 1950′s and 6-’s clearly shows this. From a large variety of roles from “The Flying Nun” to the”The Outer Limits”, confirms this.

    Also, Robert Redford says in his Biography of Miriam Hopkins performance as his mother in the late 1960′s film “The Chase”, she should have gotten an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her very impressive role in standing up to the mighty Marlon Brando quite effectively in that Courthouse scene from the film.

    I don’t think anyone can argue that Miriam could be difficult, but then who that time or now who was really good wasn’t at least somewhat temperamental! That personality characteristic seems to go with the territory, especially if you were to continue to have employment in a field as competitive as an actress in Hollywood, on the Broadway Stage, or even television roles.

    I hope the Biography is coming along well, and look forward to its’ release. There is indeed an interesting personality in the character of Miriam Hopkins, and the information that will be in this Biography should prove to be very interesting reading for those interested in actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

    Richard McLeod

  7. Neal Taylor

    Another fan here eagerly awaiting the biography. To get a really good insite into Miriam’s working relationship with Bette Davis read Shaun Considine’s “The Divine Fued” (The story of Bette Davis & Joan Crawford’s struggle for stardom during Hollwood’s hayday), the few paragraphs relating to Miriam are for me the highlites of the book and a great source of interest!

  8. Please let me know, if possible, when your biography of Miriam Hopkins is published. I really enjoy seeing Mirian’s films and would love to read about her life in detail.

  9. Judith Mclaughlin

    I was one of the many watching TMC which stared Miriam Hopkins in August and I was completely captiveated by her. She was a very beautiful and talanted women. Can’t wait to read more on her. She may be gone but certainly not forgotten. Thanks

  10. Anyone who was fortunate enough to watch more than any two of TCM’s films on Miriam Hopkins today, 20 August 2009 will know how extraordinary she was on screen when writers lived in Hollywood and the industry demanded much of everyone. She was beautiful and talented. Yes, please, we want to see a well deserved biography on Ms. Hopkins.

  11. Joyce Manning

    Miriam Hopkins was lovely and talented. I have wondered why she is not remembered like some others from her era. I would love to read a good biography about her.

  12. Elias Eliadis

    I was wondering when we may expect the biography of Miriam Hopkins to be finished and go on sale.
    Many Thanks!

  13. Andre

    Sorry, Wim.
    Jane Wyman never made a movie with Terry Moore.
    And there’s no Wyman title of the ’50s that matches — or even resembles — “Zij die wij vereren.” (“She Who We Respect.”)
    It could be “The Blue Veil” — in which Wyman plays a children’s nanny-nurse. It’s a very hard-to-find film.
    Others in the cast are Charles Laughton, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Blondell, Audrey Totter, and Natalie Wood.
    Curtis Bernhardt directed in 1951.

  14. wim van den Bosch

    de film in nederlands de naam ZIJ DIE WIJ VEREREN met jane weijman en vermoedelijk Terry Moore uit de jaren 50 heeft u de info kijk al heel lang maar kom er niet achter mvgr wim

  15. Miriam Hopkins was a joy for this 1930′s (especially precode) film lover. No one has mentioned 24 Hours made in 1931 with Kay Francis. Miriam sings two torch songs. One of them is especially good, something about “no use trying to leave that man.” Don’t know the name, but she sure could sing it effectively. Got a copy on VHS tape from a collector. It’s a fascinating film. Why doesn’t Paramount make this available on DVD?? Hope you include info on 24 Hours in your book and I wish you luck. I will look forward to reading it. Two other films from early 30′s I wish they would put on DVD are Dancers in the Dark and Story of Temple Drake.

  16. richard

    by the way…i saw miriam’s childhood home in savannah last month…i found it perusing her family tree on genealogy.com, and chking out the census report they had on there 4 her from 1910 when she was just 8 yrs old…very nice old victorian home that has been divided into apts now…near forsyth park…

  17. richard

    glad 2 hear about the miriam hopkins bio…great actress! surprised that she wasn’t nominated 4 more oscars…hope the book comes out soon!

  18. Harold

    Not only was Miriam Hopkins an outstanding and successful actress, but she was chosen for what turned out to be one of the most memorable covers of Vogue Magazine in 1935 - where she is the epitome of the Woman of the Age. She was also a highly successful hostess, giving numerous A-list parties. I’m delighted to know you’re writing a book on her - she is definitely one of the great stars of the Golden Age of the Silver Screen.

  19. Sue

    Hello, I think that Miss Hopkins was one of early Hollywoods most attractive stars.Have read she could be difficult dont think she was as difficult as Bette Davis who I always thought a completely unpleasant woman.Miriam was very good in Jekyl & Hyde with Frederick March and the two films she did with Davis.As good an actress as Davis who is much overpraised and surely no more difficult.Good luck with the book.Sue.

  20. RICHARD DAVIS MCLEOD

    MIRIAM HOPKINS WAS QUEEN OF THE PARAMOUNT LOT IN THE EARLY 1930′S. HER STAR NEVER SHOWN BRIGHTER THAN IN 1933. SHE WAS A VERY CLOSE FRIEND OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (WHO WROTE HER OBITUARY STATING AMERICA HAD LOST ONE OF ITS’ FINEST ACTRESSES), AND STARRED IN HIS FIRST STAGE PRODUCTION, BATTLE OF ANGELS IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS BACK IN 1941. THIS WAS FINALLY FILMED AS THE FUGITIVE KIND WITH MARLON BRANDO.

    ODDLY ENOUGH, MIRIAM PLAYED ROBERT REDFORD’S MOTHER IN THE CHASE (1960′S), AND REDFORD FELT SHE SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR THE SCENE SHE HAD WITH MARLON BRANDO, WHERE SHE COMPLETELY OVERWHELMS BRANDO (NOT EASY TO DO) IN THIS MOVIE BASED ON THE PLAY BY LILLIAN HELLMAN.

    MIRIAM HAD EARLIER STARRED IN THE ORIGINAL VERSION OF THE FILM TITLED THESE THREE WITH MERLE OBERON, AND ALSO THE LATER REMAKE TITLED THE CHILDREN’S HOUR. WILLIAM WYLER DIRECTED BOTH FILM VERSIONS, AND SPECIFICALLY ASKED MIRIAM TO STAR IN THE REMAKE 30 YEARS LATER. MIRIAM WAS A CLOSE FRIEND OF KAY FRANCIS, AND KAY ACCOMPANIED HER TO RENO, NEVADA WHEN MIRIAM GOT HER DIVORCE FROM NOTED HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR ANATOLE LITVAK.

    MIRIAM’S CAREER LASTED FROM THE LATE 1920′S THROUGH THE LATE 1960′S, WORKING IN STAGE, FILM, RADIO, AND TELEVISION. SHE WAS THE SECOND CHOICE OF SCARLETT OHARA IN GONE WITH THE WIND, AND MARGARET MITCHELL’S FIRST CHOICE!

    MIRIAM HOPKINS WAS PROBABLY THE ONLY ACTRESS IN HOLLYWOOD NOT INTIMIDATED BY BETTE DAVIS, AND GAVE TWO OF HER MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES OPPOSITE BETTE IN THE OLD MAID, AND IN OLD ACQUAINTANCE.

    IN LATER YEARS IN MANY INTERVIEWS, BETTE ALWAYS MENTIONED MIRIAM AS THE MOST DIFFICULT PERSON SHE EVER WORKED WITH, BUT ALWAYS GAVE HER CREDIT AS A VERY GOOD ACTRESS! SHE WAS CHOSEN FOR THE FIRST THREE STRIP TECHNICOLOR FILM, BECKY SHARP, BECAUSE OF HER PHOTOGENIC QUALITIES, AS WELL AS A FIERY TEMPERAMENT NEEDED FOR THIS ROLE IN THE ORIGINAL OF THACKERAY’S NOVEL VANITY FAIR.

    MIRIAM WAS VERY INFLUENCED BY NUMEROLOGY, AND TURNED DOWN IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT BECAUSE THE NUMBERS WERE NOT RIGHT, HOWEVER THAT WAS DETERMINED. THE LEAD PART WENT TO CLAUDETTE COLBERT, WHO LATER WON AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS, AS DID ALL THE PRINCIPLE PLAYERS IN THS FILM INCLUDING CLARK GABLE, INCLUDING BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR!

    MIRIAM’S ONLY PICTURE SHE MADE FOR MGM WAS A STRANGER’S RETURN (LATE 1930′S) WITH FRANCHOT TONE AND LIONEL BARRYMORE. SHE GIVES A VERY GOOD PERFORMANCE, AND ODDLY THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST OVERLOOKED FILMS IN HER CAREER. LEONARD MALTIN STATED THIS IN HIS FILMOGRAPHY LIST OF THE MOST OVERLOOKED FILMS MADE IN HOLLYWOOD WORTHY OF DISTINCTION.

    MIRIAM HOPKINS WAS ONE OF THE BRIGHTEST STARS OF HOLLYWOOD IN 1933, AND ALTHOUGH THAT STAR DIMMED, SHE CONTINUED GIVING GOOD MEMORABLE PERFORMANCES IN A VARIETY OF MEDIUMS FOR THE NEXT 40 YEARS UNTIL HER DEATH.

    MIRIAM TURNED IN A GREAT PERFORMANCE IN THE HEIRESS (1949) WITH OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND, RALPH RICHARDSON, AND MONTGOMERY CLIFT (WITH WHOM SHE GOT ALONG WITH FAMOUSLY). TENNESSEE WILLIAMS WAS RIGHT IN STATING IN THE OFFICIAL OBITUARY(HE WROTE) THAT AMERICA HAD TRULY LOST ONE OF HER GREATEST ACTRESSES.

  21. This might be of interest to some of you: I run a blog called “Carole & Co.,” and about two months ago I wrote an entry on Miriam Hopkins, discussing her career and its many connections with Lombard’s. You can find it at http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/38343.html

  22. Andre

    I can see your point re: Miriam Hopkins and “All This and Heaven Too.” Joan Fontaine would have been good, sure. But I think that Hopkins would have been a major improvement over Davis.

    Davis couldn’t play subdued characters; she always seemed phony when she tried. Hopkins could. She probably couldn’t act “mousy,” but I think she would have been believable as a homely (40-year-old) duckling.

  23. Tom

    I think Miriam would have been awful in ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO, the character is kind of a timid, easily frightened little mouse and I can’t imagine Miriam ever being believable in such a meek role. It’s a very Janet Gaynorish part (who I think WOULD have been better than Bette, although I do think it is one of Davis’ best roles.)

    I’ve always wanted to see radio star Lurene Tuttle (best known for her TV supporting roles today) in her one and only starring part as Ma Barker.

    I do think Hopkins would have made a darn good Belle Watling in GWTW although Ona Munson is wonderful in the role.

  24. Andre

    A few Miriam Hopkins projects that went to somebody else or that were never made.
    Source: Allan Ellenberger

    The Man Who Broke His Heart (1933) [never made]

    Ready For Love (1934) Ida Lupino took the role

    The Song of Songs (1933) Marlene Dietrich

    No Man of Her Own (1932) Carole Lombard

    The Sign of the Cross (1932) Either the Elissa Landi or the Claudette Colbert role

    Passionate Stranger (1932) [not made]

    Samson and Delilah (1934) [not made]

    Bolero (1934) Carole Lombard

    It Happened One Night (1934) Claudette Colbert

    Forsaking All Others (1934) Joan Crawford

    The Trumpet Blows (1934) Frances Drake

    Wharf Angel (1934) Dorothy Dell

    Bordertown (1935) Bette Davis

    Peter Ibbetson (1935) Ann Harding

    Perfectly Good Women (1935) [not made]

    Come and Get It (1936) Frances Farmer

    The Princess and the Pauper (1936) [apparently never made; or made with different title]

    Accuse, Levez Vous (Accused, Stand Up) (1936) with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. [not made]

    Love on Parole (1937) [apparently never made; or made with different title]

    Next Time I Marry (1938) Lucille Ball

    The Sisters (1938) with Kay Francis - eventually made with Bette Davis, Anita Louise, and Jane Bryan

    We Are Not Alone (1939) Flora Robson

    All This and Heaven Too (1940) Bette Davis (Hopkins would have been much better in this one.)

    Devotion (1940) with Bette Davis [made in 1946 with Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland]

    Badlands of Dakota (1941) Probably the Frances Farmer role

    Law of the Tropics (1941) Constance Bennett

    To Be or Not to Be (1942) Carole Lombard

    The Glass Menagerie (1950) [Miriam tested for the role] Gertrude Lawrence

    The Opposite Sex [newspaper columnist] (I’m not sure who plays that role in the film)

    Ma Barker’s Killer Brood (1959) Hopkins filmed for one day and left the film. She was replaced by Lurene Tuttle

    Also, I’ve heard from another source that Miriam Hopkins was considered for the female lead in “My Life with Caroline” (1941). That role eventually went to Anna Lee.

  25. Vincent

    Here’s something not many movie buffs are aware of: In 1932, Paramount received Clark Gable on loan from MGM, and he was to co-star with Hopkins in a film called “No Bed Of Her Own.” However, as part of the deal, Gable was to get top billing, which irked Hopkins, so she backed out of the project. Carole Lombard, then a largely undefined Paramount leading lady, took her spot, and the film’s title ultimately was changed to “No Man Of Her Own.” (And just to clear things up for those who don’t know — no romantic sparks developed between Clark and Carole at this time, although their on-set relationship was deemed cordial; the famed Gable-Lombard romance didn’t ignite until 1936.) Hopkins was still involved in the film long enough for posters advertising her and “No Bed Of Her Own” to be made, and now those are movie memorabilia rarities.

  26. Andre

    When I wrote this article, Mae West had escaped my mind. Even so, I’d still say that Miriam Hopkins was one of the two or three top female stars at Paramount from 1931-1933 (along with West and Marlene Dietrich).

    Anyhow, I’m rephrasing that sentence.

  27. Tom

    While I am happy to hear someone is writing a book on Miriam Hopkins (even if she is, to me at least, one of the least appealing actresses from the golden era, she always seems quarrelsome) I don’t think Miriam could have ever been called “queen of Paramount” at any point. Despite several good performances and generally good reviews, I don’t believe she ever really had a major following with the public not unlike Sylvia Sidney, Merle Oberon, and other actresses who worked for years - even decades - without ever becoming true box office attractions. I would dare to presume the “queen of Paramount” title would have been held by the following:

    1927-29 Clara Bow
    1930 Nancy Carroll
    1931-32 Marlene Dietrich
    1933-35 Mae West
    1936-40 Claudette Colbert
    1941-45 Dorothy Lamour
    1946-52 Betty Hutton
    1953-?? Audrey Hepburn







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