Hedda Hopper's Hollywood
Celebrity Gossip and American Conservitism
New York University Press 2011
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FilmNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network October 25, 2011 Erin Lee
Any pop culture scholar worth her salt will tell you that discussion of Beyonce’s baby bump or Charlie Sheen’s unique sex life is far from apolitical, but, at times, gossip columnists have engaged more transparently in political debate. Hedda Hopper, Hollywood insider and conservative hat enthusiast, was one such columnist. Jennifer Frost‘s book, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (New York University Press, 2011), lays out the political issues on which Hopper felt called to weigh in, including American involvement in World War II, wartime civil liberties, anti-Communism and the Hollywood blacklist, and civil rights.
Hopper used her role as a celebrity gossiper to communicate her political ideology: celebrities and their stories were often conduits through which she could express her conservative views. Her support for Hattie McDaniel, for example, was a way for Hopper to comment on her preferred performance of blackness. A strong believer in the sanctity of family, she considered Frank Sinatra a “hypocrite” for warning about the dangers of juvenile delinquency, while being a “delinquent” (womanizer) himself. Given her power as a gossip columnist, stars who ran afoul of Hopper’s politics took considerable risk.
Frost uses letters from Hopper’s readers to explore the strange intimacies and (sometimes politicized) affiliations readers felt with Hopper and, by extension, with the celebrities whose lives she revealed. In this way, Frost offers a private side to the public nature of gossip, and this she threads through the book, even noting Hopper’s protection of her own privacy.
Hopper is a particularly fascinating case, but Frost clearly sees the Hopper phenomenon as part of a larger strain of American political culture in the celebrity era. The boundaries between celebrity news and politics are as permeable as ever, and the difference between CNN and Perez Hilton is disturbingly unclear. Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood points out that the roots of this strange convergence are deeper than we often acknowledge.