Childhood & Early Life
She was born Elda Furry, on May 2, 1885, in Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania, to David Furry, who was a butcher, and his wife, Margaret (née Miller). She grew up in a large Quaker family. She was one of the nine children in the family. Her siblings included Dora, Sherman, Cameron, Edgar, Frank, and Margaret. She was of Pennsylvania German descent.
Hopper had aspirations of becoming a theater star. However, as her parents did not approve of her career choice, she ran away from home at 18 years of age.
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In 1909, Hopper made her debut in the chorus of an opera company on ‘Broadway.’ However, she did not achieve much success. Later, she joined the musical theater company of actor-singer and theatrical producer William DeWolf Hopper Sr. She toured with the company and appeared in the chorus.
With her persuasive ways, Hopper auditioned and got the lead role in ‘The Country Boy.’ She was the second lead in ‘The Quaker Girl.’ In 1913, she married DeWolf Hopper and became his fifth wife. To avoid being mistaken for his previous wives, Hopper consulted a numerologist and changed her name to “Hedda.” Reportedly, she also changed her date of birth to June 2, 1890.
In 1915, Hopper began appearing in silent movies, with ‘The Battle of Heart’ (1916) as her debut movie. In those days, actors were supposed to buy or wear their own costumes. For her 1918 movie ‘Virtuous Wives,’ she spent her entire paycheck of $5,000 on her costumes for the film. This was done to attract attention and to steal the show from the lead, and she succeeded in doing so. In 1923, she relocated to Hollywood (some references mention 1915), where she worked as a contract actor. Hopper worked in more than 120 films during her career of 23 years. During the later years, she appeared as herself in movies such as ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) and ‘The Patsy’ (1964). She also appeared on TV shows such as ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘The Ford Show,’ and ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’
In 1932, she ran for the ‘Los Angeles City Council’ but lost. Later, she tried to return to work but found it difficult to find work.
During the 1930s, film roles were difficult to come by. She searched for other avenues and worked with a cosmetic firm. She then joined a radio station, where she appeared as a fashion commentator.
In 1937, she got an offer for writing a gossip column. She made her debut with the column ‘Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood’ in the ‘Los Angeles Times’ on February 14, 1938. Some references state that before launching this column, Cissy Patterson, who was the first woman to head a national newspaper, had hired Hopper to write the column ‘Letter from Hollywood.’ Later, this column was syndicated by the ‘Los Angeles Times’.
Hopper had a strong rival in Louella Parson of ‘Hearst Corporation,’ who was an established gossip columnist back then. However, with her network of inside informers from the entertainment industry, Hopper’s column soon gained popularity. She was at the peak of her career as a columnist and soon commanded a readership of 35 million.
In 1939, Hopper’s column was made into a radio show. Later, with the increasing acceptance of TV, it was also developed into a TV show. Her controlled voice and expressive face brought more life to ‘The Hedda Hopper Show,’ making it popular.
With time, Hopper grew powerful. With the influence of her words, she could sway the opinions of those who mattered and could thus make or break careers in Hollywood. She often rubbed people the wrong way with her vicious words and, sometimes, with incorrect stories. She even faced libel suits because of her writing.
Hopper was a conservationist and openly opposed communists, people who sympathized with communists, homosexuals, and people who (according to her) led self-indulgent and immoral lives. She was among those who created the ‘Hollywood Blacklist.’ She made use of her vast readership to manipulate the public outlook for or against any person related to the film industry. Those who faced her criticism included screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman, and Joan Bennett. Hopper also disapproved of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton for their dissolute lifestyles.
In 1952, Hopper published her autobiography, ‘From Under My Hat.’ Her second book, ‘The Whole Truth and Nothing But,’ was published in 1962.
Family & Personal Life
Hopper married actor and theatrical producer William DeWolf Hopper Sr. on May 8, 1913, in New Jersey. He was more than 2 decades senior to her. They got divorced on January 29, 1922. They had one son, William DeWolf Hopper Jr., who was an actor and played ‘Paul Drake’ in the series ‘Perry Mason.’
Hopper was known for her collection of flamboyant hats. She enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle and called her mansion “the house that fear built.”
She continued writing her column till her death. On February 1, 1966, Hopper died of double pneumonia at Beverly Hills. She was 80. Hopper was interred at the ‘Rose Hill Cemetery,’ Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Hopper has a “star” on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame.’