Hats Off to Hedda

Hooray for Hollywood as performed by Walt Strony on a Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ, from his 1992 album The Modern Theatre Organ.  Walt is an internationally renowned performer, teacher, and author specializing in those wonderfully grand and complex theatre pipe organs.  He is the only living musician to have been twice-elected “Organist of the Year” and has been inducted into the American Theatre Organ Society Hall of Fame.

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Hedda Hopper

Hedda Hopper

Hedda Hopper’s Malice in Hollywood Cocktail is a perfect Spring-night-on-the-porch kinda drink full of warming flavors and sweet early fruit.

The simplicity of it’s ingredients provide a surprising complexity of aroma and taste.   It’s a powerful potion concocted in the 1940s by The Duchess of Dish, Gargoyle of Gossip, and Scariest Woman in Hollywood herself.  Hedda created and ruined many careers in her Tinseltown kingdom, but was a friend and fan of James Dean.  The recipe and tips appear at the end of this blog (and as always, you can click on any of the images within the blog to view them larger).

FROM QUAKER TO CHORUSLINE

Hedda in the early years

Hedda in the early years

Hedda Hopper was born as Elda Furry on May 2, 1885 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.  She (like James Dean) was raised in a rural Quaker farming household.  She had 6 siblings.  Although the family was well-off financially, Hedda claims her father was “stingy” and she was unhappy.  At the age of 17, she stole $210 from her father’s butcher shop and ran away to New York.  She aspired to become a Broadway actress.  Despite her unique beauty and piercing green eyes, she fell short in the talent department and suffered difficulties landing jobs.  Florenz Ziegfeld called her a “clumsy cow” when she tried out for a slot in the chorusline of his Follies.

Hedda was persistent, landing a few chorus jobs and even a couple of leading roles with traveling productions, but none of this was truly “acting” in her opinion.  In 1913 she met and married DeWolf Hopper, an actor who was head of his own theater company.  According to Hedda, Dewolf who was 27 years older, balding with slightly bluish skin, had been married 4 times previous, and was always calling her by the wrong name (his former wives were Ella, Ida, Edna, and Nella).  She paid $10 to consult a numerologist who told her to change her name from Elda to Hedda.

By 1915 the couple had moved to Hollywood and Hedda was finding work in silent films.  Despite never achieving “leading role” status, she would go on to appear in over 148 film and TV shows (in later years, often appearing as herself or a character based upon her persona).  She made cameo appearances on I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies.  A Broadway show has been written about her career.

The Hoppers had one child (William) and divorced in 1922.  DeWolf remarried one more time. William, who remained estranged from his parents much of his life, pursued acting.  You might remember him as Paul Drake from the Perry Mason series or as the stoic father to Natalie Wood’s Judy in Rebel Without a Cause.

HEDDA’S HOLLYWOOD

Hedda Hopper's Hollywood

Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood

The most powerful person in Hollywood at the time was Louella Parsons, the very first cinema/film gossip columnist.  Her syndicated Hearst newspaper columns were read all around the world, and she had the ability to make or break careers, influence studio heads, and affect box office results.  Attempting to usurp Louella’s strangle-hold on Hollywood, Louis B Mayer as head of MGM studios decided that a little professional rivalry would be the answer.  He recruited the aging actress, Hedda Hopper who began with a local radio broadcast and within 3 years was publishing a weekly column in the LA Times and syndicated internationally.  Parsons and Hopper were read by more than 75 million readers a week in the US alone.  Louis B Mayer would soon realize that he hadn’t destroyed the monster, “but instead I’ve created 2 monsters.”

“One of the cruelest, most primitive punishments our town deals out to those who fall from favor, are the empty mailbox and the silent telephone.”

Hedda Hopper

Hedda was ruthless in her gossip.  “Nobody’s interested in sweetness and light,” was her motto.  Her columns were more accurate than Parson’s and contained juicier, sexier stories. She had a commanding radio voice and personality.  Her popularity soared and the rivalry between the 2 Hollywood gossip mongers became vicious.  Hedda purchased a home in Beverly Hills which she dubbed “The House that Fear Built.”  She was a staunch Republican when most of Hollywood leaned Democrat.  Hedda had strong political ties to Herbert Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, Howard Hughes and reportedly got much of her dirt direct from the FBI.  She was responsible for launching Ronald Reagan’s career in politics.  Hedda refused to ever fly on a plane that wasn’t personally inspected by Howard Hughes and (unfortunately) truly believed she was helping America by calling out suspected communists in Hollywood during the Blacklist period.

She began wearing the outrageous hats that would became her signature trademark.  She claimed them as a business expense and the IRS granted her a $5000 tax exemption.  Stars were polarized…either you loved or hated her.  Spencer Tracy kicked her in the rear at Ciro’s restaurant after she reported on the affair between he and Katherine Hepburn.  Joseph Cotten pulled a chair out from under her at a Social event.  Joan Bennett sent her a live skunk for Valentines Day with a note attached reading, “Won’t you be my Valentine? Nobody else will.  I stink and so do you.”  Hedda named the skunk Joan.

“If you wear a crazy hat, no one notices the tired face beneath it.”

Hedda Hopper, 1963

CHECK OUT THIS SLIDESHOW OF HEDDA AND HER HATS (CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO START, ESC TO RETURN TO THE BLOG)

“I created a sensation at the Beverly club last night in our black feather hat. Of course I couldn’t see, but everyone saw me and came over and commented.”

Hedda Hopper to her designer

Here’s a song called Hedda Hopper’s Hats by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, vocals by Del Porter…this is a clip from the 1946 movie Breakfast in Hollywood based on the live radio show hosted by Tom Breneman at his restaurant at Vine and Sunset.  The clip features a cameo of Hedda wearing a goldfish bowl hat and Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford’s mothers.

THE DUCHESS AND DEAN

Photo by Phil Stern

Hedda witnessed the new actor James Dean and his antics one day in the Warner Brothers Studio Commissary,  tearing his own photo from their wall.  She had an extreme dislike for this “new breed” of actors that were infiltrating Hollywood, calling them “the dirty shirttail school of acting” and the “1954 couldn’t-care-less kind.”  She despised Marlon Brando and a long list of others.  She had no respect for Marilyn Monroe or anyone else who gave an interview to her rival Louella Parsons.

“Against a wall sat two boys (Dean and Davalos) —one slouched on his coccyx.  They balanced forks on water glasses, wiped the face of Keefe Braselle, whose picture hung above them, got extra chairs to rest their feet, and gave the appearance of a couple of Roman soldiers resting up from the wars.  (They) glanced about the room occasionally with brooding eyes.”  She suspected they were imports of Elia Kazan from the Actors Studio and expressed that Dean should be deported back to New York.  Hopper refused to even mention him in her columns for months after the incident.

When invitations were sent for the screening of Warner Brothers new film East of Eden, Hopper boycotted.

“When an invitation came to see East of Eden, nobody could have dragged me there,” recalls Hedda.  “But I heard the next day from Clifton Webb, whose judgement I respect, ‘Last night I saw one of the most extraordinary performances of my life.  You’ll be crazy about this boy Jimmy Dean.’ ‘I’ve seen him’ I said coldly.”

"The House that Fear Built"...Hedda's Beverly Hills Home.

“The House that Fear Built”…Hedda’s Beverly Hills Home.

So on the trusted advise of Clifton Webb (fellow Hoosier, highly respected actor, and friend of Dean), Hedda set up a private screening at Warner Brothers.  “In the projection room I sat spellbound.  I couldn’t remember ever having seen a young man with so much power, so many facets of expression, so much sheer invention as this actor.  I telephoned Jack Warner, ‘I’d like to see your Mr. Dean.’ ”

It was December 1954, the young actor approached the doorstep of “The House that Fear Built”…

“A day or so later he rang my doorbell.  Spic and span in black pants and black leather jacket, though his hair was tousled and he wore a pair of heavy boots that a deep-sea diver wouldn’t have sneezed at…”

Much to the surprise of his close friends (Jim never liked playing the Hollywood Star-system game, but he knew of Hedda’s immense power and influence), Dean poured on the charm.  She fell in love.  He played the sensitive boy and she responded.  When Hedda remarked about someone as young as he having so much knowledge about people and character, he replied with humility, “The gift astonishes me.”  Dean filled her with stories of his childhood and (uncharacteristically sharing) the impact he felt over the loss of his mother.  “When I was four or five, my mother had me playing violin…My family came to California and before it was over, my mother had me tap-dancing.  My mother died when I was eight—and the violin was buried too.  Then I left California.  I was anemic.” (Long pause as Jim suppresses tears.)  “What this story needs is background music.”

Photo by Phil Stern

Photo by Phil Stern

Photo by Phil Stern

When Hopper confronted him about the previous behaviors she had witnessed at the WB Commissary, Dean confessed that he had been wretched, but that he “…wanted to see if anybody in this town had guts enough to tell the truth.”

At the end of the interview Hedda expressed that she’d like him to be her friend if he ever encountered trouble.  “I’d like you to be,” said Dean.  She gave him her private phone number and told him he could call anytime day or night.  “You mean that?” he said. “I don’t say things I don’t mean,” reassured Hedda.

“She’s my friend in court,” he told his friends.  It was Hedda’s only interview with Dean and appeared in her syndicated columns a couple of months later.  She frequently dropped his name in the months that followed.  It left a lasting impression on her and she recounts the encounter in her autobiography.  Hedda was deeply affected when Dean was killed and championed the cause (successfully) for his posthumous Oscar nomination.

Hedda worked (appearing in the film The Oscar) right up until a couple of weeks before her own death at age 80 from double pneumonia in 1966.  In 2009 a TV biopic was made of the infamous feud between Hedda Hopper and her arch rival Louella Parsons, entitled Malice in Wonderland…Hedda was portrayed by Jane Alexander, Louella by Elizabeth Taylor.  The 2015  film Trumbo featured Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper.

“Don’t be swept out. Go before the glow fades.”

party etiquette advise from Hedda Hopper

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HEDDA HOPPER’S MALICE IN HOLLYWOOD COCKTAIL

I first planned this blog more than a month ago.  It was my intention to host a casual cocktail hour featuring Hedda’s cocktail as the centerpiece and requesting guests to show up in silly hats.   The party still hasn’t happened.  It’s still Easter season here in Greece (Greek Orthodox Easter comes on May 1st this year…always the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox).  Easter is the biggest holiday of the year (bigger than Christmas) and I had difficulty scheduling with everyone’s (and our) busy schedules.  It may still happen in the coming weeks…here’s the invitation I created and you’re welcome to copy it and host your own soiree…

I hadn’t fully decided on the menu either.  In Greece, you would NEVER serve alcohol without serving some sort of appetizers (they are called meze here).  This drink is STRONG.  Food is a good idea.  Because the drink has a bourbon base…I tend to think barbeque.  The smoky flavors in the Bourbon and the fruity sweetness from the apricot work nicely with barbecue sauce.  The Sticky Ribs recipe from the Formosa Cafe in the Recipes for Rebels cookbook first came to mind.  Sammy Davis Jr. also has a good barbecue recipe in there.  Then there’s the smoky sweetness of Googie’s Monte Cristo sandwich or Natalie Wood’s Eggplant Caviar that just might be a perfect pairing too…hmmmmmm

Hedda suggests using Jim Beam Black Label for the Bourbon.  It’s a good one, but I say use your favorite.  Living in Greece I had to go with 4 Roses (another good one that I felt lucky to find, halfway across the planet).

The 2nd ingredient is Marie Brizard Apry which is made in France and widely distributed (you should have no trouble getting ahold of it).  Apry falls into the category of Apricot Brandies but really should be called an Apricot Liqueur.  Actual Apricot Brandy is called Eau-De-Vie and not really right in this recipe.  If you can’t find the Marie Brizard brand a 2nd choice might be the “Apricot Brandy” produced by Rothman & Winter Orchard in Austria (also widely distributed).  If you can’t find either of those, I recommend asking your liquor store to order you in a bottle or skipping this recipe.  Most all other brands are sickeningly sweet, foul-flavored imitations and will ruin your experience.

Marie Brizard’s Apry is a classic ingredient in 1950s cocktails and found in many vintage recipes.  Always used in small quantities (rarely more than a 1:4 ratio).  It seems to add a subtle fruity background note that enhances the bigger flavors.

The 3rd ingredient is ice.  If you’re hosting a cocktail event, it is worthwhile to purchase bagged ice.  The ice is clear (which translates as more dense and doesn’t melt or water down your drink as quickly) and more aesthetically pleasing.  If you decide to use homemade ice, you might use bottled water to make it.  Chlorine (that is present in most water supplys) will ruin the Bourbon.

The 4th and final ingredient is the lemon garnish.  Hedda calls for a twist.  There are many ways to prepare this, but my favorite is detailed in the video below (they can be prepared long before the party).  The peel should be thin (at least 1/2 the white pith removed) and the yellow side rubbed around the rim of the glass or twisted above it just before pouring, to release the lemon oils/aroma.

The cocktail should be shaken until the shaker is good and frosty (the bits of ice adjust the drink to just the perfect dilution, opening up all of its flavors).  It tastes best served in a cocktail coupe (vintage sets are easy to find at estate sales and vintage shops) like the one  I used pictured at the bottom of this page.  Classic martini glasses are an acceptable substitute like I used in the video.

Hedda Hopper’s Malice in Hollywood cocktail is strong, but delicious…one meant for polite sipping.  Like Hedda herself, it has a bit of a bite with many fascinating complexities.  Here’s her original recipe:

HEDDA HOPPER’S MALICE IN HOLLYWOOD

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 oz Jim Beam Black Bourbon

1/2 oz Marie Brizard Apry (Apricot Brandy)

Lemon Twist

DIRECTIONS:

-Add both ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

-Shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass or tall shot glass.

-Twist a swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top

Here’s my promo video that contains a fun take on the lemon twist…I use a standard paring knife, but a V-notch knife (especially for garnishing techniques) can be faster and neater.  Georgia Gibbs provides the soundtrack to this video with her 1954 rendition of Tweedlee Dee…a favorite song of James Dean.

THANKS for reading all the way down to the bottom of the page.  I hope you enjoyed this snippet of James Dean history and I’d love to hear your comments.  Please share this blog with your friends. (Easy share buttons are below.)

For more recipes and stories like this check out my cookbook, Recipes for Rebels: In the kitchen with James Dean available from THESE fine retailers and Amazon.com .  European customers can save on shipping costs and order directly from me via THIS website (I ship from Greece).

I love reading your thoughts and comments…leave me a note below, subscribe to receive emails about future postings, and freely use the social media sharing buttons to share this story with your friends and family…

 

6 Comments

  1. Lovely sister! If you bring the ingredients and make me a Hedda Hopper cocktail, I will make you a hat with a goldfish bowl to wear while we drink them (one each, of course!) Lady Jane xx

    • …and the rest of us want photographic evidence Lady Jane! 😉

      • Greg, Lady Jane is not joking! She’s the genius milliner that makes all the hats for The Shellac Sisters! She WILL make a hat with a goldfish bowl on it I have no doubt…

        Just found the time to watch your demo video. LOVE IT! I am going to try your lemon twist technique. My lemon twirls always look rubbish!

        Jx

        • And I wasn’t joking, I REALLY want pictures! 🙂 The lemon twists on the skewers can be done up way ahead when you’ve got the time. I keep them wrapped in the fridge before a party and then just cut off portions for each garnish…

  2. Absolutely loved this post as myself and Mr R are massive fans of the Hedda Hopper cocktail. We have to restrict ourselves to ONE each though as once we had two and went a bit berserk!

    I’m going to take you up on the offer of using your Hats-off To Hedda invite right now, I’ve been promising to make my friends Angus and Clive some Heddas for ages!

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    • You make me laugh! The image in my head of you and Mr. R going berserk with the Malice in Hollywood cocktail is priceless. The Marie Brizard Apry in the cocktail is something special (and an ingredient that surprisingly pops up so often in vintage cocktail recipes)…I’m looking forward to an evening when I get to play around with it more.

      I enjoyed YOUR tributes to Hedda on your blog: http://www.silverscreensuppers.com/category/hedda-hopper . I look forward to seeing a posting featuring Angus, Clive and the Hedda cocktail!

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