The Golden Age of Gossip

The Chronicle Review spotlights Jennifer Frost’s new book, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism.

Hedda Hopper’s first big scoop came at the expense of the president’s son. In 1939, the 52-year-old failed actress and fledgling gossip columnist obtained an interview with James Roosevelt, eldest son of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a producer and executive at Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Hopper asked the movie honcho if he and his wife were going to divorce. Roosevelt refused to answer, and Hopper wrote a brashly suggestive column anticipating the breakup of the marriage. The story made the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

Hopper’s column took off, and by the mid-50s its daily readership was 32 million, estimates Jennifer Frost, who teaches American history at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. In Hedda Hopper’s Holly¬≠wood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (New York University Press), Frost, drawing on fan mail saved by Hopper, explores the columnist’s long career and especially her relationship with, and influence on, her readers.

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