This minor detail, and the fact that the majority of her films have not been released for home viewing, have contributed to Hopkins becoming one of the most underrated and overlooked actresses of the silver screen.
Whereas stars like Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Constance Bennett are acknowledged and revered in books, blogs, and photo sites, Miriam Hopkins seems to have been buried in the sands of forgotten film greats. And unjustly so. Hopkins possessed more than just a pretty face. She was one heck of a great actress. Although she was capable of portraying any kind of role she was handed, she really excelling at playing provocative and tantalizing hussies. B****s to be precise. This was her forte and no one came close to displaying the talent she had at portraying these kind of women.
The Early Years
Paramount Studios was eager to sign her to a contract and her experience as a stage actress landed her a plum first part in the film Fast and Loose ( 1930 ). Within a year she was performing opposite Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and starring with Paramount's biggest actor, Maurice Chevalier, in Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant. She went on to make two more films for Lubitsch ( Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living ) which she recalled in later years as being her personal favorites.
Hopkins was basking in the glory of stardom during the early 1930s. It was her most active decade and of the 35 films she made in her entire career, 22 were produced between 1930 and 1937. The majority of these films were huge successes, both financially and critically, notably The Story of Temple Drake, which became famous for clamping the lid on eroticism and sexuality on film and effectively launched the Catholic Legion of Decency into action, putting an end to the pre-production code era.
Some of her most popular films of the 1930s were Dancers in the Dark ( with George Raft ), Two Kinds of Women, Becky Sharp ( the very first three-strip Technicolor feature film ), and the bowdlerized version of Lillian Hellman's scandalous play The Children's Hour - These Three ( 1936 ).
Hopkins was known for being very fussy when it came to selecting scripts and wanting final script approval. Although she was an actress highly in demand by many of the studios and a number of directors, her hen-picking of the scripts stirred up the studio heads to boiling point in frustration. In the four short years that she was with Paramount studios her contract was adjusted three times to suit her demands. RKO wanted her to sign with them after her contract expired, but she chose to go with Samuel Goldwyn instead. RKO needn't have fussed over her, for her temperament at Goldwyn led her to being loaned out many times and they managed to snag Hopkins for four films. While at Goldwyn she was also under contract to Warner Brothers ( for three films ) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It's no surprise that she earned the nickname "Hoppy".
Her flitting ways proved to be her downfall on many an occasion, especially when some of the film projects she was offered turned out to become hits for other actresses. The Song of Songs ( Marlene Dietrich, 1933 ), It Happened One Night ( Claudette Colbert, 1934 ), Twentieth Century ( Carole Lombard, 1934 ), Peter Ibbetson ( Ann Harding, 1935 ), and To Have and Have Not ( Lombard, 1942 ) were all parts that she had declined.
" Miriam Hopkins had been my choice from the beginning, but I [knew] what I had to say wouldn't matter so I said nothing ".
While Miriam Hopkins was filming The Old Maid ( 1939 ) opposite Bette Davis, she was married to director Anatole Litvak, her third of four husbands. Litvak had directed Davis in The Sisters a year prior and Miriam had suspected that the two had had an affair. In the meantime, Warner Brothers had purchased the story rights to All This and Heaven Too as a vehicle for their leading lady, Ms. Bette Davis. For some reason, Bette turned the project down and so Warners offered it to Hopkins, who had signed a three picture deal with the studio. She was delighted to do the film, but first had to settle her divorce with Litvak ( she wouldn't stand for an adulterous husband of course! ). This meant six weeks in Reno. Alas, while the divorce papers were being finalized, Warners changed their mind about All This and Heaven Too, thinking that the European market would be very bad at the moment with Hitler invading. As a condolence they offered Hopkins Virginia City ( 1940 ) co-starring Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott and then threw her a looper, picking up the All This and Heaven Too project but giving the part this time to Bette Davis.
Bouts with Bette
Miriam Hopkins truly did have enemies in Hollywood, especially among her co-stars, but being the southern belle that she was, never publicly dissed them. On the other hand, Davis, who was asked during an interview on a morning news program whom she had difficulty working with, bluntly sputtered "Miriam Hopkins was a bitch!"
Their feud most likely began in the late 1930s, when Warner Brothers cast Bette Davis in the lead role of Jezebel, a role which Miriam Hopkins had made famous on stage. Her ego was deeply damaged and she thrashed the library in her New York home when she heard on the radio that Davis had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her part of Julie Marsden.
The Later Years
Although the days of being a glamorous leading lady were past, Hopkins did not seem to mind at all, instead focusing her energies on giving stellar performances in character roles, some of which included that of the aging hooker in The Outcasts of Poker Flat ( 1952 ) and the deliciously diabolical role of Laurence Olivier's wife in Carrie that same year. Hopkins was also one of the first major actresses to embrace the fledgling medium of television, appearing in Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Lux Video Theater, Studio One, and Climax. Television permitted her to perform a wide variety of characters which she had not tackled on stage or in film. One of these roles was that of Norma Desmond in the 1955 Lux Video broadcast of Sunset Boulevard.
During the 1960s she performed in a handful of films, notably in the remake of The Children's Hour ( 1961 ) starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Ironically, one of her last television appearances was that of an aging forgotten film star in "Don't Open Till Doomsday", an especially memorable episode of The Outer Limits.
This post is our contribution to the Forgotten Film Stars blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click here to read more about all of you favorite forgotten film stars...don't forget now!