Anyone who attended Thursday night’s 24th annual Big River Chautauqua heard the gossip Ruth Pangrace, M.Ed, as Louella Parsons and Ellen Rooney, PhD as Hedda Hopper dished out.
The evening kicked off with a performance from the Chautauqua singers followed by Parsons taking center stage. She said 20 million people read her column and 40 newspapers carry her column.
“I am very excited because I just released my new biography. It’s called the ‘Gay Illiterate’… now hold on,” exclaimed Parsons. “I am just happy. The illiterate is kind of an act, because I have always been told that I can spell anything except words.”
She stressed it’s amazing what people will tell you when they think you aren’t very smart.
Parsons asked the crowd how they liked her new hat she just bought to celebrate her new book. Hopper appeared on stage and told Parsons that her hat was to cover her bald spot.
“Hedda Hopper! What are you doing here, this is my radio show,” Parsons said. “This is my stage and I want you to get out of here right now! There is no bald spot!”
“Oh yes there is,” Hopper exclaimed. “You are a journalist trying to be a ham!”
Parsons said she was at least a journalist, and that Hopper was the ham.
“A washed up grade C actress who couldn’t make it in Hollywood and now you are trying to be a journalist,” Parsons said.
Hopper asked Parsons if she read the review on that movie.
“The review on my movie, I did make an appearance in a Hollywood hotel movie and I appeared as myself,” Parsons said. “The critics said Louella Parsons looks exactly the way she sounds. I thought that was a complement. Hedda, go, go, go, queen of the quickies, it’s time for you to quickly leave.”
Hopper left the stage and Parsons started her radio show giving all the good gossip to the crowd as they roared with laughter.
“I am the one who invented this business, writing about the movies,” Parsons said. “Before anyone read photoplay or watched any other news reels about movie stars, I was the one who did it first. I’ve got a nose for news, an eye for a story and the hide of a rhinoceros. You have to ... it’s a tough business.”
Parsons said some people like to say she starts each day with a tumbler full of whiskey, which is true. She said there is only one person who can make or break a star in Hollywood and that is her. Everyone is moving up or moving down and if they are moving up or down it is because of what Parsons writes in her column or talks about on her radio show.
Parsons said her column caught a lot of attention, especially from the man who owned the papers, William Randolph Hurst. He moved her to New York and her column was making him good money.
She said she had a lifetime contract from Hurst and there were two reasons why. One, she always complimented his mistress in her column, and the other was for an incident that happened in Hurst’s yacht that she never published.
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“It involved a young producer by the name of Thomas, his mistress and Charlie Chaplin,” Parsons said. “I don’t know what happened after the party, but I heard a gunshot. I ran out of my room and saw the crew wheeling a stretcher with someone on it.”
Parsons said Thomas had a bullet hole and Hurst told everyone he had a heart attack and there was nothing to see. The authorities were never notified and there was never an autopsy.
She said the rumor was that Chaplin was having an affair with Hurst’s mistress or that Thomas had hit on her. No one knows for sure.
Parsons said the young stars, like Marlin Brando and Marilyn Monroe, don’t think it is important to talk to her and don’t care if they have their name mentioned.
Hopper came back on stage and told Parsons it was because she is too old. Parsons said she was just four years older than her and Hopper said Parsons has been lying about her age forever.
“I know that you all here for the book signing of my new autobiography, ‘From Under my Hat’, you brought your copy right,” Hopper asked the crowd. “You don’t? I also notice you didn’t wear your hat.”
Hopper asked if anyone would like to borrow a hat and she started throwing hats into the crowd for people to wear. She said her book would not be possible if it wasn’t for William DeWolf Hopper.
“Life with him was a liberal education. I had only been on stage for a few years when I joined his company and his massive size, his voice, his gift for storytelling. And from the moment I saw him I was fascinated,” Hopper said. “I was (with) his company for several seasons and we toured the country from one end to the other.”
Hopper said she married him in 1913 and he was 27 years older than she was and had so many wives they called him the husband of the country.
“I had a baby and I ate what I want and never upchucked,” Hopper said. “My strategy was not to tell anyone I was pregnant and went back out on the road. How did I keep it a secret? I wore full long coats.”
Hopper said "Wolfie" was a man’s man at heart and wasn’t much of a husband and didn’t deserve having one wife, much less six. She said being married to him was more like having legal license to live with a star.
“I went back to New Jersy and started making money,” Hopper said. “I was making as much money as he was. He told me I was not an actress and that was when I started to fall out of love with Wolfie. Then my friend said she saw me in Central Park with Wolfie and that I looked beautiful. I was in New Jersey making a movie ... and then I noticed gloves and lipstick in the car.”
Hopper said she gave Wolfe a divorce in 1922, then went to Hollywood to make movies. She said she must have made 120 movies.
“Louella Parsons called me ‘Queen of the Quickies’ and as I got older the roles didn’t come around as often,” Hopper said. “I resolved to see all, hear all, and tell all and to let the chips fall into place.”
Hopper and Parsons had it out on stage and to wrap the show up resolved to go have lunch together.