On this day in 1966, Hollywood fixture and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper died. Born Elda Furry in 1890, the fifth of nine children, she left school after the eighth grade and worked as a chorus girl on Broadway, where she met her future husband, actor DeWolf Hopper. She became a silent-film actress, starring in some 120 films over the next two decades, but her real stardom came later, as a purveyor of Hollywood gossip.
In 1938, Hopper began writing a newspaper column, “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” for the Los Angeles Times. A year later, she spun the column off into a 15-minute radio program, kicking off a decades-long rivalry with established Hollywood gossip Louella Parsons, whose radio show had been around since 1931. Hopper’s show became a hit, running until 1950. Her caustic remarks and loyal following made Hopper one of Hollywood’s most feared and respected public figures: She sarcastically referred to her own luxurious home as “the house that fear built.”
Hopper occasionally played herself in episodes of TV sitcoms spoofing her power. In an episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy and Desi stage publicity stunts to get into Hedda’s column, and in an installment of The Beverly Hillbillies, Hopper posts bail for Jed and Jethro after an incident at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. In 1960, she appeared in her own TV special, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood. She published a book called The Whole Truth and Nothing But! in 1962.
Twenty years after Hopper’s death in 1966, the film Malice in Wonderland portrayed the fierce rivalry between Hopper and Parsons, played by Jane Alexander and Elizabeth Taylor, respectively.