27 June 2019

In search of colour - Miriam Hopkins

In 1935, the arrival of Becky Sharp, the first feature-length Technicolor film, forever changed the vision of film viewers around the world. The three colours of the new process were so beautiful they could transcend the reality. Not only had cinema made the coveted technological achievement of colour reproduction, but the process also made such brilliant and blazing colours that it perhaps was the most dazzling technology that audiences had ever experienced since the arrival of sound! It instantly became a new, richly nuanced means of expression. Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935), featuring the great Miriam Hopkins (1902-1972), is one of the highlights of the In search of colour programme at Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. Hopkins had joined Paramount in 1930, after ten years on the stage as a successful actress. She soon became one of Hollywood's top-ranking stars. When her film career slowed in the 1940s, she returned to the stage, and during the 1950s she added television to her repertoire.

Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp (1935)
French postcard by Editions EC, Paris, no. 504. Photo: RKO. Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935).

Maurice Chevalier and Miriam Hopkins in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5976/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Paramount. Maurice Chevalier and Miriam Hopkins in The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931).

A rebellious girl as a good start

Ellen Miriam Hopkins was born into wealth in Savannah, Georgia in 1902. Her parents were Homer Hopkins and Ellen Cutler.

She spent most of her formative years with her maternal grandmother. After her parents separated, she moved as a teen with her mother to Syracuse, New York to be near her uncle, Thomas Cramer Hopkins, head of the geology department at Syracuse University.

She attended Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont and Syracuse University. Upon graduation, she decided to become a ballet dancer. Studying dance in New York, she received her first taste of show business as a chorus girl at twenty.

Hopkins appeared in Broadway revues and vaudeville before she began expanding her horizons by trying out dramatic roles four years later. By 1928, Miriam was appearing in stock companies on the East Coast and her reviews were getting better after having been vilified earlier in her career.

In 1930, Miriam decided to try the silver screen and signed with Paramount Studios. Since she was already established on Broadway, Paramount felt they were getting a seasoned performer after the rave reviews she had received on Broadway. Her first role was opposite Carole Lombard in Fast and Loose (Fred C. Newmeyer, 1930). Her role as a rebellious girl was a good start.

Miriam Hopkins
French postcard by EPC, no. 116. Photo: Paramount.

Miriam Hopkins
British postcard by De Reszke Cigarettes, no. 36. Photo: Radio (RKO).

A talent that had all the earmarks of stardom

Miriam Hopkins was killed by her husband (Regis Toomey) in 24 Hours (Marion Gering, 1931). She played Princess Anna in The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) opposite Maurice Chevalier. Still considered a newcomer, Miriam displayed a talent that had all the earmarks of stardom.

She was to finish out the year by playing the prostitute Ivy Pearson in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian, 1931) featuring Fredric March. She received rave reviews, but because of the character's and film's potential controversy, many of her scenes were cut before the official release, reducing her screen time to about five minutes.

Miriam began filming The World and the Flesh (John Cromwell, 1932) with George Bancroft, which was not a box-office blockbuster. Later, she appeared in Dancers in the Dark (David Burton, 1932) with George Raft. The film was unexpectedly strong and enjoyable which served as a catalyst to propel Miriam and Raft to bigger stardom.

In Two Kinds of Women (William C. de Mille, 1932), Hopkins once again performed magnificently. Later that year she played beautiful and jealous pickpocket Lily Vautier in the sophisticated comedy Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932) with Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall. Denny Jackson at IMDb: "A film that should have been nominated for an Academy Award, it has lasted through the years as a masterpiece in comedy - even today, film buffs and historians rave about it."

Miriam's brilliant performance opposite Fredric March and Gary Cooper in Design for Living (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933) propelled her to the top of Paramount's salary scale. Later that year, she played the title role in The Story of Temple Drake (Stephen Roberts, 1933). Paramount was forced to tone down the film's violence and character being raped to pass the Hayes Office code. Despite being watered down, it was still a box-office smash.

In 1934, Miriam filmed All of Me (James Flood, 1934) which was less than well-received. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for the historical drama Becky Sharp (Rouben Mamoulian, 1935). The film was considered a landmark in cinema as the first feature film to use the newly developed three-strip Technicolor production throughout.

She also starred in the drama These Three (William Wyler, 1936) with Joel McCrea and Bonita Granville. The screenplay by Lillian Hellman was based on her 1934 play 'The Children's Hour'. It was the first of four films, Hopkins would make with director William Wyler.

Miriam Hopkins
British Real Photograph postcard by Milton Postcard, no. 41. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Miriam Hopkins in Men Are Not Gods (1936)
British Real Photograph postcard. Photo: London Film Productions. Miriam Hopkins in Men Are Not Gods (Walter Reisch, 1936).

Two divas in a boxing ring, gloves up

Soon, the country was abuzz as to who would play Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939). Miriam Hopkins was Mitchell's first choice to play Scarlett. Hopkins wanted the coveted spot especially since she was a Southern lady and Georgia native. Unfortunately, as we all know, she didn't win the role.

As a matter of fact, her only film role that year was in The Old Maid (Edmund Goulding, 1939) starring opposite her arch-enemy, Bette Davis. By this time, the roles were only trickling in for her. With the slowdown in film work, Miriam Hopkins found herself returning to the stage.

She made two films in 1940, none in 1941, and one in 1942 and 1943, respectively. Hopkins had well-publicised fights with Bette Davis, when they costarred again in Old Acquaintance (1943). Davis admitted to enjoying very much a scene in which she shakes Hopkins forcefully when Hopkins's character makes unfounded allegations against Davis's. Press photos were even taken with the two divas in a boxing ring, gloves up, and director Vincent Sherman between them like a referee. Davis described Hopkins as a "terribly good actress", but also "terribly jealous" in later interviews.

For Hopkins, the stage was her work now. However, in 1949, she received the role of Lavinia Penniman in The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949), starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift.

Hopkins made only three films in the 1950s, but she had begun making appearances on such television programmes as The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre (1949), Pulitzer Prize Playhouse (1951), and Lux Video Theatre (1951-1955). She later guest-starred on dramatic series like The Outer Limits (1964) and an episode of The Flying Nun (1969).

Hopkins made her final big screen appearance in the horror thriller Savage Intruder (Donald Wolfe, 1970) as an ageing, drunken and washed-out film star living in a decaying mansion in Hollywood Hills.

In July 1972, despite concerns about her health and a premonition that she shouldn't travel, she flew to New York to attend the special screening of Story of Temple Drake, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Paramount Pictures, followed by a gala party in her honour at the Museum of Modern Art. Just as she had feared, she suffered a major heart attack and died in her hotel suite before getting back to her California home. She was 69.

Hopkins had married and divorced four times. Her husbands were Brandon Peters (1926-1928), Austin Parker (1928-1932), film director Anatole Litvak (1937-1939), and Raymond Benton Brock (1945-1951). In 1932, at a time when single-parent adoption was illegal in most states, she adopted a baby boy while between marriages. She adored her son, Michael, and always called him the most important man in her life.

Miriam Hopkins
French postcard by EPC, no. 116. Photo: Paramount.

Sources: Denny Jackson (IMDb), Herman Seifer (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

No comments: