Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood

Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism

304 pages

10 illustrations

January, 2011

ISBN: 9780814728239

$40

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Author

Jennifer Frost is senior lecturer in history at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and the author of An Interracial Movement of the Poor Community Organizing and the New Left in the 1960s, published by NYU Press.

All books by Jennifer Frost

Before Liz Smith and Perez Hilton became household names in the world of celebrity gossip, before Rush Limbaugh became the voice of conservatism, there was Hedda Hopper. In 1938, this 52-year-old struggling actress rose to fame and influence writing an incendiary gossip column, “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” that appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers throughout Hollywood’s golden age. Often eviscerating moviemakers and stars, her column earned her a nasty reputation in the film industry while winning a legion of some 32 million fans, whose avid support established her as the voice of small-town America. Yet Hopper sought not only to build her career as a gossip columnist but also to push her agenda of staunch moral and political conservatism, using her column to argue against U.S. entry into World War II, uphold traditional views of sex and marriage, defend racist roles for African Americans, and enthusiastically support the Hollywood blacklist.

While usually dismissed as an eccentric crank, Jennifer Frost argues that Hopper has had a profound and lasting influence on popular and political culture and should be viewed as a pivotal popularizer of conservatism. The first book to explore Hopper’s gossip career and the public’s response to both her column and her politics, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood illustrates how the conservative gossip maven contributed mightily to the public understanding of film, while providing a platform for women to voice political views within a traditionally masculine public realm. Jennifer Frost builds the case that, as practiced by Hopper and her readers, Hollywood gossip shaped key developments in American movies and movie culture, newspaper journalism and conservative politics, along with the culture of gossip itself, all of which continue to play out today.

Read a review of the book from the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, Tenured Radical.

Reviews

  • "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood is a well researched and written account of Hopper's career...Frost's book reminds us that while  technology has advanced, the deep fissures of American politics and culture from the post war era remain with us, undermining efforts to promote toleration, dialogue, and respect for diverse opinions."

    History News Network

  • "A satisfying entree into the world of classical Hollywood gossip." 

    The Journal of American History

  • "The author has deftly interwoven the skeins of Tinseltown with U.S. conservatism in a well-researched study filled with apt quotations."

    —R. Muccigrosso, Choice

  • "Valuable to scholars interested in studio-era Hollywood gossip writing about which few scholarly books have been written."

    —Stephen Siff, Journalism History

  • "Every once in a while you read a book that is pure joy, and Jennifer Frost’s Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood hits all the right notes. It’s got movie stars, it’s got intrigue, and it’s got humor, it’s got a light but effective theoretical frame...[A] wonderful book."

    —Claire Potter, Professor of History, The New School for Public Engagement

  • “A major contribution to our understanding the political importance of gossip. During the 20th century, few gossip columnists had more influence in shaping the ways in which millions of Americans thought about film and politics than this sharp-tongued conservative loyalist. Jennifer Frost reveals the role Hopper played in furthering the power of the Hollywood Right and undercutting that of the emerging Hollywood Left. She offers us an important glimpse into the the power of gossip to influence popular thinking about race, class, gender, and politics in America.”

    —Steven J. Ross, author of Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics

  • “In this fascinating book, Jennifer Frost shows how the famous Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper combined celebrity gossip with the promotion of Right-wing politics. In the process, Frost offers a welcome corrective to the notion of an always liberal Hollywood, and reveals how apparently private tittle-tattle can become a public political force.”

    —Linda Gordon, author of Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

  • “Jennifer Frost reveals how important celebrity gossip was to the film industry in the l940's and l950's. But she also reveals the central place that Hollywood and Hedda Hopper played in advancing anti-Communist politics as well as laying the foundation for the culture wars that have pervaded national life ever since. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in postwar politics and American culture.”

    —Lary May, author of The Big Tomorrow, Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way

  • “In a study of the gossip industry, the reader expects stories of ‘Mad-Hatter Hopper’ and her connections with the FBI and HUAC. The surprises come with insights into a Hollywood not generally covered in standard histories: Hopper’s Anglophobic response to casting Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, her support of Lew Ayres as a WWII conscientious objector, and her campaign for a special Oscar for African American actor James Baskett who played Uncle Remus in Song of the South. A valuable contribution to American cultural history!”

    —Janet Staiger, author of Media Reception Studies

  • "Readers get a study of Hopper’s politics and those of her readers, both explored through Hopper’s vastly popular newspaper column, from which this book takes its title."

    Library Journal