If Louella Parsons was the Bitch Goddess of my career, Hedda Hopper was my Guardian Angel. As the other most powerful gossip columnist in Hollywood, Hedda was constantly in competition with Louella. Since Louella didn't like me, Hedda took me under her wing and became my champion.
Hedda was more flamboyant than her archrival. Hedda wore her trademark hat whenever she appeared in public. (In fact, her column in the L.A. Times was titled, "Under Hedda's Hat." The column was syndicated in more papers than Louella's.) Adorned with everything from feathers to cityscapes, Hedda's hats were as wildly outrageous and eccentric as she was.
She first wrote about me when "Yankee Pasha," starring Jeff Chandler, Rhonda Fleming, and me opened. It was my second movie and I was as happy as the Universal Publicity Department to see that Hedda was climbing on my bandwagon.
When my third movie, "Francis Joins the WACS," premiered, the Publicity Department called and told me to go meet Hedda in her office because she wanted to do a story on me. Dutifully, I went to the interview and found that Hedda and I hit it off. She wrote a wonderful article about me that ran under the title "The Wacky WAC" on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. As time went on we developed a genuine affection for each other, but I was always wary of Hedda. She could be as savage with her enemies as Louella. I never said anything to Hedda that I didn't want to read the next day on the front page of the Times.
In 1954 Hedda called me to make an appearance on the television show, "The Colgate Variety Hour." It was a live TV show to celebrate the gala grand opening of the brand new Beverly Hilton Hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy would be co-hosting the show with Hedda. These were the days before videotape when television was really live. I had done a few live shows by then and didn't particularly want to do it. I tried to make some lame excuses to talk my way out of it, but Hedda kept selling me.
"You've got to do it, Mamie," Hedda insisted.
"Why don't you give Jayne (Mansfield) a call?" I suggested, thinking quickly.
"Pah! That Jayne Mansfield!" Hedda snorted in disgust. "She'd shit out the May Company window if it would get her publicity. No, Mamie, I insist! Do this show with me. It'll be a great little appearance for you."
I was looking for a house in 1956 right after the birth of my son, Perry. His father, bandleader Ray Anthony and I were not getting along too well, but I wanted a place where I could comfortably raise Perry. One day I got a phone call from Hedda.
"Mamie, I've found the perfect house for you. The place next door to me is for sale. It's got everything you'd need. You must come look at it."
The house was next door to the Beverly Hills Hotel-some of the best real estate on the planet. Ray and I looked it over, but he didn't like it. Not an impossible obstacle, but the living room floor was sagging from termites. Even that wouldn't have been so bad, but when I looked out the window, I saw that Hedda's windows were just a few feet from mine. This, I thought, was all I would need. Hedda Hopper ten feet away while my husband and I argued. Whenever she had a slow day in the column, all she would have to do was print the latest from Mamie's house.
Hedda is credited with appearing in 140 movies from 1916 to 1966, sometimes as Hedda Hopper and other times as Mrs. DeWolf Hopper. She had political aspirations as well. A staunchly conservative Republican, she made a bid for a city council seat but lost. When Kennedy ran against Nixon in 1959, she began to enlist all her friends against Kennedy. She hated JFK with a passion. She called and asked me to make an appearance with her and some other celebrities at a rally for Nixon. Though I was a supporter of Nixon (and really liked him-at the time), I begged off by saying that I had something to do that day. Not thinking any more about it, I went about my business.
I was driving home and made the turn off of Sunset Boulevard on to Sunset Plaza Drive when I saw Hedda with Dick Powell and some other celebrities on a flatbed truck with a jazz band. Hedda was bellowing, "Vote for Nixon!" through a bullhorn at everyone who drove by. She stopped in mid-sentence and glared at me as I wheeled past. Hedda never spoke to me again.
In early February 1966 I was in San Francisco to do the Gypsy Rose Lee television show. I was walking up the steps to the studio and was stopped by a group of reporters who asked if I had heard that Hedda had died. I hadn't, and when they asked for my reaction I hesitated. Dozens of pictures of her raced through my head-all the parties where we'd laughed, all the pieces she'd written about me, how she'd taken my side against Louella. I don't remember now what I told them. I mumbled something appropriately nostalgic, I guess. Looking back now, though, I can say that I lost more than a friend, I lost an ally.