Malice in Wonderland
Sorry that there are so few images – every time I try to add some my computer crashes so for now this is it – otherwise my laptop will be going for a long walk of a very short pier!!!!
During this past week I got to see Trumbo, one of a number of films that tackles the issue of Hollywood blacklisting. This story focuses on the career of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, he of Roman Holiday, Spartacus and Exodus fame, and how his politics landed him in prison, and out of favour with Hollywood. It was disappointing, registering a ‘meh’ response and a sense of well there’s another two hours of my life that I will never get back. But hey the offers for alternative time wasting that evening were pretty slim, as I, along with countless others await with bated breath the return of Thrones – fervently hoping that Jon Snow is not dead, but knowing ,on some deeply subconscious level, or from unwelcome flashbacks to The Red Wedding, that in all likelihood he is.
When the following morning I reflected on Trumbo as I discussed it with a friend, I realised that I my previous evening had not been an entire waste. That like all the Jon Snow will be resurrected stories that abound, there was a glimmer of hope. And that came in the form of “The bitch of the world”, one Miss Hedda Hopper. In the movie she’s played by Helen Mirren who appears, and by all accounts, did relish her time playing this, well, bitch. Hopper it must be said relished playing the bitch herself and it was she who said that if she ever wrote her memoir it would be called Malice in Wonderland.
A failed actress, she turned her love of gossiping into a most lucrative career that started in 1938 with her column,”Hedda Hoppers Hollywood” in the LA Times. She, along with her fierce rival Louella Parsons, went on to be read by millions, something like 85 million to be exact.
I believe it was Spiderman who was told with great power comes great responsibility. Hopper believed this too, only she felt it was her responsibility to take on all or any who went against her particular set of “American values”. She tore people to pieces if she felt they had behaved in a way that was immoral or unAmerican and with each denouncement her power grew.
And it was the perfect example of just how mighty the pen can be as, if she deemed it so, she destroyed movies, careers, marriages and lives with her words. No one was immune to her lethal brand of justice as she went after everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Isabella Rossinli. Chapiln she loathed and was supposedly instrumental in ensuring his re entry into the US in 1952 was denied. He never lived there again and returned only once, in the 70s, to collect an award.
Like all gossip, it wasn’t really so much about the truth, it was about fear. Hopper was smart enough to know and exploit this and took to calling her fabulous Beverly Hills mansion “the house that fear built”. She rarely had to defend the legitimacy of her accusations- it was just assumed by all that she spoke the truth, and maybe it didn’t even matter. The point was it was obviously both entertaining to hear her dish the dirt, especially about people whose lives were so removed from that of the reader, and of course people are judgmental and like to feel they are taking a moral or religious stance because it makes them fell holier, better than others. Exposing some one’s dirty little secret and through your reaction then having power over the poor unfortunate, is very attractive. It is our dirty little secret, that all too often we revel in another’s misfortune, or delight at the prospect of taking someone down ‘a peg or two’.
After all watching others get torn to shreds for our entertainment has long been part of our history – the colosseum anyone? Or the number of us more than happy to watch executions, hangings, floggings or a burning at the stake. On some level, like Ramsay Bolton, (GoT evil bastard) we must get a kick out of seeing another person being flayed alive. And okay so Hopper may not have actually killed anyone, but her column did destroy lives and her continued readership means millions stood by, encouraged her even, as she did this.
Hopper’s mastery over human nature didn’t begin and end with her pen.She was a shrewd dresser, a woman who purposefully wore extravagant flamboyant hats, hats that were often just plain ridiculous. But hats that nonetheless played a vital role in her persona. These hats meant that people mistook her for the weird eccentric aunt rather than the evil, conniving bitch that she was. These silly hats imbued her with a sense of harmlessness, of whimsy false – people let down their guard, underestimating her at their own peril.
And of course, in many ways what she wrote was all part of the publicity game. In the days before social media and breaking the internet, stars cozied up to her if, or when, it suited their purposes. Many voluntarily gave her ‘an exclusive’, in the hope of both, or either, keeping in her good books or presenting their side of the story.
Not everything she said was full of vile invective either. She, rather unusually for the time, argued that women she not see marriage as an endgame, that “Even the hardest job is easier than pleasing a man”.However this tiny bit of enlightened thinking in no way excuses her or give some validity to her work.
Hopper was a piece of work, but the tradition of gossiping, of writing noxious or vicious material about others is alive and well today. She was simply braver than most who use anonymity or usernames to hide behind. One can only imagine – and involuntarily shudder- at what she would have made of the internet and the plethora of ways social media is used to humiliate and bully.