Happy Birthday, Miriam Hopkins!

Ask the average man or woman on the street about Miriam Hopkins, who was born 113 years ago today in Savannah, Georgia, and you’ll likely receive a blank stare. But movie buffs well recall her many standout performances.

Hopkins had what TCM.com has described as “an intriguing, husky voice and a brittle, sometimes twitchy yet sexy style.” And like Bette Davis, with whom she was reputed to have had a long-running feud, she was as much a character off the screen as on it.

Miriam Hopkins quote

Hopkins frequently returned to the stage, where her career had begun, when things slowed down for her in Hollywood, and in 1933, she originated the lead role of Julie in Jezebel on Broadway. The play didn’t do particularly well, but when Warner Brothers sought the rights to the play, of which Hopkins was part-owner, for a film adaptation, Hopkins demanded she be cast as Julie before she would agree to the deal. After receiving assurances that she would, in fact, portray Julie in the film, Hopkins signed off the deal, only to see Davis be given the role instead. And worse, Davis went on to win an Oscar, her second, for her work in the film. That didn’t set well with Hopkins.

In 1938, Hopkins and Davis were paired in a film, The Old Maid (1939, based on an Edith Wharton story), and on the first day of shooting, Hopkins got Davis’s goat by showing up in a dress that was a duplicate of one Davis had worn in Jezebel.

Davis wrote of Hopkins’ work in The Old Maid, “Miriam used and, I must give her credit, knew every trick in the book. I became fascinated watching them appear one by one…When she was supposed to be listening to me, her eyes would wander off into some other world in which she was the sweetest of them all. Her restless little spirit was impatiently awaiting her next line, her golden curls quivering with expectancy.”

Among the memorable pictures that stand out in Hopkins’ career are some true classics: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Design for Living (1933) and Trouble in Paradise (1932) for director Ernst Lubitsch, Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), and a picture that is considered among the most memorable of pre-codes, The Story of Temple Drake. She also starred in Becky Sharp (1935), the first three-strip Technicolor feature.

Happy birthday, Ms. Hopkins, wherever you may be!

In Your Hat, pt. 9

In Chapter 9 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she offers recollections of more celebrities than we could possibly list here. Many of the names are still familiar; others all but forgotten. A few we couldn’t even track down via the internet, and heaven knows we tried.

     EVEN Fred Keating, the magician, once forgot where he put his hat check!
     But hat check girls, even red-haired ones, have memories, so sometimes when business at my window is slack, I sit and think of the million and one things that have happened between the celebrity-laden walls of Sardi’s. Incidents, names, personalities galore, and sometimes just a casual word will start my train of thought along almost forgotten tracks. Would you like to lift the lid of the Carroll cranium and see what’s going on inside?
     Here comes George Jean Nathan, world’s best critic by his own admission. I’ll never forget the day I bawled him out because he insisted on having his hat set apart from the others—and how embarrassed he was. I never suspected anyone could embarrass him . . . telling Warner Baxter that he was my favorite movie star, only to be overheard by Richard Dix to whom I had dished out the same line only two days before . . . the day Helen Menken, reddest of the red-heads, gave us a big surprise by changing to the color gentlemen are supposed to prefer . . . Incidentally, she never takes her gloves off when she eats!
     And here is Robert Garland, who pilots (or piles-it) the dramatic column in the World-Telly, and is a regular customer as a certain blind spot in the roaring Fifties (they’re roaring further uptown now). He’d been a regular patient at the drink infirmary for more than a year when one night he showed at the barred door and knocked the magic knock. A weary, unshaved faced appeared in the aperture.
     “Pliss?”
     “Hello, Tony, I wanna come in.”
     “Who are you?” the face inquired.
     Infuriated because he had spent his good shekels for so many nights and still remained a dim bulb in the big sign, he shouted back the first thing that came to his mind—a catchline from a New Yorker cartoon.
     “You must remember me,” yelled Garland, “I’m the guy who punched my wife in the nose here last night.”
     And he was ushered in with any more undue ceremony!
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In Your Hat, pt. 4

Here’s Chapter 4 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll, in which she dishes on such 1930s luminaries as Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Ernst Lubitsch, Clara Bow, and Douglas Fairbanks.

By the way, the Lubitsch movie Carroll refers to in this chapter, the one co-starring Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, and Claudette Colbert, is The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), which New Yorkers (and those willing to travel) can see on the big screen as part of Film Forum’s Hollywood on the Hudson series on Tuesday, August 3rd. It’s paired on a double-bill that night with Laughter (1930), which, as it happens, stars Nancy Carroll, about whom a story is told later in the chapter.

     A LOT of dirt gets swept by my little booth in conversational blobs that can’t stand light from the printed page, but at the same time I frequently pick up little stories that’ll bear repeating.
     I don’t say I chum around with Broadway’s best, but I know most of the crowd by their given names and I’m usually calling a spade a spade even if it’s Bill Robinson. What I crave most is respect because nowadays that’s all a girl gets that doesn’t draw interest.
     But now and then somebody whispers a yarn that’ll stand repeating, and chum or no chum, it has to be given up, which reminds of the time Herr Ernst Lubitsch (the little man with the big cigar) was directing a picture at the Paramount New York studio in Astoria.
     It happened that Claudette Colbert, she of the extraordinary limbs, and Miriam Hopkins, who is now a Paramount star, were in a picture together with Maurice Chevalier.
     In the story Chevalier is supposed to be married to Miriam, but because she is more or less of an ugly duckling, he is particularly fond of the more comely Claudette. The story develops to the point where Claudette is caught by Miriam in her own house. It develops into a verbal bout and then rapidly into a slapping match in which both girls are supposed to slap each other, cry a bit, and then make up. The slaps, like most of the blows in pictures, were supposed to have been pulled punches. But were they? Oh boy, no! And behind that is something of a story.
     It happened that in the making of the picture Herr Lubitsch became more or less attached to the luminous blonde Miriam. He believed in her as a noble actress, a conviction that has been justified since, and Ernst was interested in her sparkling personality. While the picture was being made, the two of them were seen around town together. Lubitsch would take her down to his favorite Second Avenue restaurant for some calves’ brains and wine, and Miriam was having a swell time, particularly when she worked, because Lubitsch was developing her part more and more every day.
     Pretty soon Claudette began to sense the fact that in spite of her billing as a leading player opposite Chevalier and despite her rôle as the heroine of the piece, little Miriam was stealing the picture out from under her very nose.
     Naturally she resented the intrusions and sensed the possibility that she might be a minus quantity in the finished film. Slight differences arose every day,—everyone felt that a blowup was due any second.
     Well, the opportunity finally presented itself on the day that the slapping scene was to be shot. I suppose both girls felt that for once, at least, the microphone would get an authentic record of what slaps can be like.
     Both girded themselves for the fray. If there was to be any serious slapping they were both out to do it. The studio sensed the situation and everybody turned to do honor to the winner. The scene was the bedroom of the princess, and the slapping took place while the two women were seated on the edge of the bed. After the blows were delivered they were supposed to break into tears and then fall into each other’s arms in forgiveness. Everything went fine and the two ladies were eyeing each other as fighting cocks do before being released.
     Lubitsch knew that something was going to happen, but he purposely encouraged it because it lent authenticity to a scene that might not appear real on the screen. Famous fights of screen history started when those two fellows mised it in the first screen version of “The Spoilers,” but never before the cameras—that is, a battle with physical effectiveness. Hair-pulling was a sissy’s game now.
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Question of the day

We won’t lie to you (we never do) — we’ve been disappointed that there haven’t been more comments here at Cladrite Radio since our launch some months back.

But it turns out that (as a kindly member of the Cladrite Clan pointed out to us today) our settings didn’t allow comments (boy, are our faces red)!

We’ve rectified that problem now, and you can comment to your heart’s content. And to celebrate our finally solving this previously unrecognized problem, we’re bumping our first Question of the Day entry to the top of the page, so those of you who’d like to share your favorite obscure pre-1955 movie with us can finally do so.

Sorry for the confusion!

* * * * *

What’s your favorite pre-1955 movie that you’re convinced no one else (no one among your friends and family, anyway) has seen?

Ours would be the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch classic Trouble in Paradise. Starring Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, and Miriam Hopkins, with stellar turns in smaller roles by Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, and C. Aubrey Smith, this wonderful romantic comedy is well nigh perfect — sly, sexy and sophisticated, exuding the famous Lubitsch touch from start to finish.

It’s not a movie for the callow, but for anyone who’s lived a bit, it fairly sparkles.

How about you — what’s the one lesser-known pre-1955 picture you’d urge your friends (and us) to see?