A Woman to Know: Hedda Hopper

I never said anything to Hedda that I didn't want to read the next day on the front page of the Times. — actress Mamie Van Doren

(image via Library of Congress)

Hedda dedicated her life to the thing she loved most: gossip. Well, two things she loved most: gossip and hats.

As one of the most popular gossip columnists in 1950s Los Angeles, Hedda's pen felled many a career: Dalton Trumbo, Charlie Chaplin and a host of blacklisted starlets and screenwriters. She distinguished herself in a crowd of fancy socialites -- even the sight of her crazy hats, sometimes festooned with feathers and pom poms and even dead animals -- struck fear into the hearts of the Hollywood elite.

In the thick of the 1950s red scare, Hedda joined forces with McCarthyist Republicans to use her column in the Los Angeles Times for their political purposes. As one of her colleagues put it, Hedda voted "to the right of Genghis Khan."

At the height of her success, Hedda's column reached more than 35 million readers -- and she was spending more than $5,000 a year to buy even more ridiculous hats. She continued writing well into her 70s, with her writing only becoming more and more acerbic.

"What inspired all the vicious things you've been writing about me?" actress Merle Oberon once asked her. "Bitchery, dear," Hedda quipped. "Sheer bitchery."

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