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Rouben Mamoulian Interview


Allan R. Ellenberger Collection

Author Allan Ellenberger has posted on his blog parts of a 1983 interview writer David Del Valle conducted with director Rouben Mamoulian.

In the interview, Mamoulian discusses working with Miriam Hopkins [above], infamous for her (alleged) scene-stealing obsession, in the classic 1931 horror drama Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which Hopkins plays the prostitute who meets a gruesome end at the hands of Fredric March’s bipolar doctor. Miriam Hopkins, one of the brightest Hollywood stars of the 1930s, is the subject of Allan’s current biographical project.

By the way, Mamoulian and Hopkins would work together again four years later on Becky Sharp, the first three-strip Technicolor motion picture ever made. Hopkins received her one and only Academy Award nomination for her performance in the title role.

Trivia bit: the two leading ladies of the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman, also ended up exchanging roles. MGM wanted Bergman, all sweetness and light, to play the nice fiancee, while the sultry Turner was to play the prostitute. Bergman, however, insisted that that should be cast as the unfortunate sex worker. And that’s what eventually happened. That inferior filmization of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel was directed by Victor Fleming and starred Spencer Tracy.

Below is a snippet from the Del Valle/Mamoulian interview:

DDV: Fredric March notwithstanding, Miriam Hopkins is the scene-stealer of the film. Was there any truth to her notoriety?

RM: All of the stories I hear about Miriam Hopkins, her temper tantrums, and her demonic ego were not in play at the time we were filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For me, as a director, Miriam was a very gifted and talented actress who could play comedy (as she did for [Ernst] Lubitsch) or a tragic figure such as Ivy. Originally, Miriam wanted to play Muriel, the Rose Hobart role, and I told her that it would be very dull for her, and that I knew she could play this Ivy character like no one else. Her scenes were considered very erotic for 1931. In fact, we filmed her bed sequence when she first encounters Dr. Jekyll with her removing her clothes under the sheets. Not much of this remained, I am told. Miriam wanted to work with me and I think she sensed how disappointed I would have been, had she played the other role. Directing her performance is one of my fondest memories of the picture. And if anything, she was Bette Davis’ equal!

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2 comments

Andre -

Hey, Joao,

I love Miriam Hopkins in “The Old Maid.” I think she’s eons better than Bette Davis in that one. I’m assuming you strongly disagree…

I think Hopkins could be an excellent actress. She did, however, have fewer chances to shine in good, classy dramas than Davis.

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Joao Soares -

Respect. That’s the first reverent word that comes to mind when reading thoughts by mr. Mamoulian. But to say that Miriam Hopkins was at least Bette Davis’ equal… just watch them together in “The Old Maid” or the shaking scene in “The Old Acquaintance” — that’s a scene stealer!

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