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Louella Parsons (born Louella Rose Oettinger; August 6, 1881 – December 9, 1972) was the first American movie columnist and a screenwriter. She was retained by William Randolph Hearst because she had championed Hearst's mistress Marion Davies[1][2] and subsequently became an influential figure in Hollywood. At her peak, her columns were read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide.

Louella Parsons
LouellaParsons.jpg
BornLouella Rose Oettinger
(1881-08-06)August 6, 1881
Freeport, Illinois, U.S.
DiedDecember 9, 1972(1972-12-09) (aged 91)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
OccupationGossip columnist, screenwriter
NationalityAmerican
SpouseJohn Dement Parsons (1905–1914; divorced)
John McCaffrey Jr. (1915–1929; divorced)
Harry W. Martin (1930–1951; his death)
ChildrenHarriet Parsons

She remained the unchallenged “Queen of Hollywood gossip” until the arrival of the flamboyant Hedda Hopper, with whom she feuded for years.

Early lifeEdit

Louella Parsons was born Louella Rose Oettinger in Freeport, Illinois, the daughter of Helen (Stine) and Joshua Oettinger. Her father was of German Jewish descent, as was her maternal grandfather, while her maternal grandmother, Jeanette Wilcox, was of Irish origin. During her childhood, her parents attended an Episcopal church.[3] She had two brothers, Edwin and Fred, and a sister, Rae. In 1890, her widowed mother married John H. Edwards. They lived in Dixon, Illinois, hometown of Ronald Reagan.

Parsons decided to become a writer or a reporter during high school. At her 1901 high school graduation, she gave a foretelling speech, entitled "Great Men", after which her principal announced that she would become a great writer.[4]

After high school, Parsons enrolled in a teacher's course at a local Dixon college. She received a financial contribution from a distant German relative. While still in college, Parsons obtained her first newspaper job as a part-time writer for the Dixon Star. In 1902, she became the first female journalist in Dixon, where she gossiped about Dixon social circles, making a step towards her Hollywood career.[5]

She and her first husband, John Parsons, moved to Burlington, Iowa. Her only child, Harriet (1906–1983), who grew up to become a film producer, was born there. While in Burlington, Parsons saw her first motion picture, The Great Train Robbery (1903).

When her marriage broke up, Parsons moved to Chicago. In 1912, she had her first taste of the movie industry by selling a script for $25 to the Essanay Company,[6] which would soon be employing Charlie Chaplin. Her small daughter, Harriet, was billed as "Baby Parsons" in several movies, which included The Magic Wand (1912), written by Louella Parsons. She also wrote a book titled How to Write for the Movies.[7]:29

CareerEdit

Hearst CorporationEdit

In 1914, Parsons began writing the first movie gossip column in the United States for the Chicago Record Herald.[6] William Randolph Hearst bought that newspaper in 1918 and Parsons was out of a job, as Hearst had not yet discovered that movies and movie personalities were news[citation needed]. Parsons then moved to New York City and started working for the New York Morning Telegraph writing a similar movie column, which attracted the attention of Hearst. In 1923, she joined a Hearst newspaper, the New York American.

There was persistent speculation that Parsons was elevated to her position as the Hearst chain's lead gossip columnist because of a scandal she did not write about. In 1924, director Thomas Ince died after being carried off Hearst's yacht, allegedly to be hospitalized for indigestion. Many Hearst newspapers falsely claimed that Ince had not been aboard the boat at all and had fallen ill at the newspaper mogul's home. Charlie Chaplin's secretary reported seeing a bullet hole in Ince's head when he was removed from the yacht. Rumors proliferated that Chaplin was having an affair with Hearst's mistress Marion Davies, and that an attempt to shoot Chaplin may have caused Ince's death. Allegedly, Parsons was also aboard the yacht that night but she ignored the story in her columns. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure.[8][9][10]

According to Hearst's mistress and protégé Marion Davies, Parsons had encouraged readers to "give this girl a chance" while the majority of critics disparaged Davies; it was likely on this basis that Hearst hired Parsons.[11] Parsons showered the former chorus girl with praise which led to a friendship between the two and led to an offer from Hearst in 1923 to become the $250-a-week motion-picture editor of his New York American. Her perpetual praise of Davies did not go unnoticed by others as well. The phrase “Marion never looked lovelier” became a standard in her column and a tongue-in-cheek cultural catchphrase.[12][13]

SyndicationEdit

In 1925, Parsons contracted tuberculosis and was told she had six months to live. She moved to Arizona for the dry climate, then to Los Angeles, where she decided to stay. With the disease in remission, she went back to work, becoming a syndicated Hollywood columnist for the Hearst Corporation. As she and the publishing mogul developed an ironclad relationship, her Los Angeles Examiner column came to appear in over six hundred newspapers the world over, with a readership of more than 20 million, and Parsons gradually became one of the most powerful voices in the movie business with her daily allotment of gossip.

Radio ProgramEdit

Beginning in 1928, she hosted a weekly radio program featuring movie star interviews[14] that was sponsored by SunKist. A similar program in 1931 was sponsored by Charis Foundation Garment. In 1934, she signed a contract with the Campbell's Soup Company and began hosting a program titled Hollywood Hotel, which showcased stars in scenes from their upcoming movies.

"First Lady of Hollywood"Edit

Parsons saw herself as the social and moral arbiter of Hollywood and many feared her disfavor more than that of movie critics. Eventually, Parsons’ daily gossip column appeared in more than 400 newspapers and was read by 20 million people around the world.[6]

Parsons had informants in studio corridors, hairdressers’ salons, and lawyers’ and doctors’ offices.[12] Her husband was a urologist and Hollywood physician, and it was thought that he passed on information he learnt in his position as a studio doctor. She worked from her Beverly Hills home with a staff consisting of a secretary, her assistant reviewer (Dorothy Manners who eventually took over the column), a "leg" man who gathered news and a girl reporter who covered café. She had three telephones in her office.[7]:4

She considered the biggest scoop of her career to be the divorce story of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford, then the most famous power couple in Hollywood. Parsons had learnt of the split from Pickford herself, who had made the mistake of counting on the columnist's discretion.[12]

When she had received a tip that Clark Gable was divorcing his second wife Ria, Parsons essentially held Mrs. Gable hostage at her home until she was sure that her story was speeding across the wire ahead of any other service.[12]

Her unofficial title ‘Queen of Hollywood’ was challenged in 1938 by newcomer Hedda Hopper, to whom she was initially friendly and helpful.[15] However they came to be fierce rivals.[16]

Parsons also appeared in numerous cameo spots in movies, including Hollywood Hotel (1937), Without Reservations (1946), and Starlift (1951).

Writing StyleEdit

In contrast to her arch-rival Hedda Hopper who was unapologetically bitchy, Parsons' writing style was often described as "sweetness and light" or "gooey".[12] She received criticism for her causal chatty tone and causal regard for dates and places.[7]:1 She countered that "the best gossip" is informal[7]:2 and that the speed at which she needed to complete her daily column did not allow for much rewriting or polishing. She stated that she would rather get the word out then potentially disappoint her readers.[7]:3

She became notorious in Hollywood for assuming an air of goofy vagueness in order to snap up material without people suspecting she was listening or otherwise letting their guard down.[12]

DeclineEdit

After the 1950s, like many of her colleagues Parsons's influence diminished. She began to show signs of physical deterioration and when the Los Angeles Examiner folded in 1962 her column was switched to the Hearst afternoon paper, the Herald-Express. This meant she lost an edge to Hedda’s morning Los Angeles Times.[12]

She continued her column until December 1965 when it was taken over by her assistant, Dorothy Manners, who had already been writing the column for more than a year.[6][12]

Feud with Hedda HopperEdit

When Hopper had initially come to Hollywood, she and Parsons had a mutually beneficial arrangement. Hopper was then a moderately successful actress, and according to Parson's successor, Dorothy Manners, "if anything happened on a set—if a star and leading man were having an affair—Hedda would give Louella a call.” In return, Hedda was guaranteed a few lines of copy under Louella’s increasingly influential byline.[17]

After MGM canceled her contract, Hopper struggled to maintain her career as an actress. Luckily, she was offered a position as a Hollywood columnist by the Esquire Feature Syndicate due to a recommendation by Andy Hervey of MGM’s publicity department.

One of the first papers to pick up “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” was the Los Angeles Times, a morning paper like Louella’s Examiner. Hopper first publicly scooped Parsons with the divorce of the president’s son Jimmy Roosevelt (a Goldwyn employee), who was involved with a Mayo Clinic nurse, from his wife, Betsey. The story became front page news across the country.[12]

Citizen KaneEdit

When rumors began to surface that Orson Welles debut film Citizen Kane was inspired by Hearst's life, Parsons lunched with the director and believed his evasions and denials.[12] Hopper arrived uninvited to an early screening of the film and wrote a scathing critique, calling it a "vicious and irresponsible attack on a great man".[18]:205 As a result Hearst sent Parsons a letter complaining that he had learned about Citizen Kane from Hopper and not her.

On the warpath, Parsons then demanded a private screening of the film and threatened RKO chief George Schaefer on Hearst's behalf, first with a lawsuit and then with a vague threat of consequences for everyone in Hollywood. On January 10 Parsons and two lawyers working for Hearst were given a private screening of the film.[18]:206 Horrified by what she saw, Louella rushed out of the studio screening room to cable Hearst, who telegraphed back the terse message STOP CITIZEN KANE.[12] Soon after, Parsons called Schaefer and threatened RKO with a lawsuit if they released Kane.[19]:111 She also warned other studio heads that she would expose the private lives of people throughout the industry and reveal long-suppressed scandalous information.[12][18]:206

When Schaefer—who had also been threatened by Hearst with legal action—announced that Citizen Kane would open in February 1941 at Radio City Music Hall, Parsons contacted the manager of Radio City Music Hall (where the film was set to premiere) and advised him that exhibiting the film would result in a press blackout.[12] The premiere was canceled. Other exhibitors were fearful of being sued by Hearst and refused to show the film.[18]:216 As a result, despite support from Hearst adversaries as Henry Luce on release overall the film lost money.[18]:215[20] Parsons was by no means alone in her campaign against Welles but he never quite recovered his position in Hollywood afterward.[12]

Ingrid BergmanEdit

In the early 1950s, the Los Angeles Examiner ran on its front page, above Parsons’s byline: INGRID BERGMAN BABY DUE IN THREE MONTHS AT ROME. Bergman had left her husband, neurologist Peter Lindstrom to live in Italy with director Roberto Rossellini but the news that she might be pregnant was met with some skepticism. Bergman was well-known for the angelic role of Sister Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary’s.[12]

Hopper who had been public supporter of Bergman, had believed the actress' denial of the pregnancy, and printed a fervent repudiation of the rumor.[21] However, Bergman was indeed pregnant and Hopper enraged at being scooped launched a PR campaign decrying Bergman for being pregnant out of wedlock and carrying a married man's child.[22] Parsons had allegedly received the tip from Howard Hughes[12] who was incensed at Bergman for being unable to shoot a film for him as promised.

ReactionEdit

Reportedly, whereas Hopper was more inclined to see their much-publicized antagonism as funny and good for business, Parsons took it personally and saw Hopper as a rival in every possible way. Hopper also referred to Doc Martin as 'that goddamn clap doctor’ which infuriated Parsons.[12]

It has been suggested that Hopper was set up as a columnist by Louis B. Mayer (with the blessing of other studio chiefs) to offset Louella’s monopolistic power. Gossip columnist Liz Smith, stated that “The studios created both of them. And they thought they could control both of them. But they became Frankenstein monsters escaped from the labs.”[12] Hopper and Parsons had a combined readership of 75 million in a country of 160 million.[12][15]

MemoirsEdit

In 1944, she wrote her memoirs, The Gay Illiterate, published by Doubleday, Doran and Company, which became a bestseller. That was followed by another volume in 1961, Tell It to Louella, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

In her personal histories, she expunged significant bits of her history in order to align her life with the Catholicism she began to practice in her middle age. She alleged that her first husband died on a transport ship on the way home from World War I, leaving her a widow instead of a divorced single mother. Her second marriage to Jack McCaffrey and eventual divorce is omitted.[12]

Personal lifeEdit

Parsons was married three times. First, to real estate developer and broker John Dement Parsons, whom she married in 1905. From this union, they had one daughter named Harriet who was born on August 23, 1906, in Burlington City, Des Moines County, Iowa. Parsons divorced John in 1914. A year later, she married second husband John McCaffrey Jr. in 1915. The couple later divorced.

Her third marriage was to Los Angeles surgeon Dr. Harry Martin (whom she called "Docky") in 1930; Martin served in the Army Medical Corps during World War I and World War II. His specialty was venereal diseases and he advanced to the post of Twentieth Century Fox’s chief medical officer. He was also known as a heavy drinker.[12] They remained married until Martin's death on June 24, 1951.[23]

After Martin's death she dated songwriter Jimmy McHugh, a fellow Catholic who introduced her to many of the new teenage musical sensations of the time, including Elvis Presley. The couple was a fixture at parties, premieres, and such nightspots as Dino’s Lodge on Sunset Strip.[12]

Harriet would later follow her mother's passion for writing, and would find employment as a writer for a popular California magazine. She also became one of the few female producers in the Hollywood studio system although she still struggled in this role despite the influence of her powerful mother.

Later years and deathEdit

After her retirement, Parsons lived in a nursing home where she died of arteriosclerosis on December 9, 1972, age 91. A convert to Roman Catholicism,[24][25] her funeral mass was attended by individuals from the movie industry with whom she had maintained genuine friendships. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery Culver City, California.[26]

Parsons has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, one for motion pictures at 6418 Hollywood Boulevard and one for radio at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard.

Cultural LegacyEdit

Audio recordingEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Anger, Kenneth (1975). Hollywood Babylon. New York: Dell. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-440-15325-2.
  2. ^ Collins, Amy Fine. "The Powerful Rivalry of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons". Vanity Fair. Conde Nast. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  3. ^ Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of Calinfornia Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
  4. ^ Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of California Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
  5. ^ Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of California Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
  6. ^ a b c d "Louella Parsons - American newspaper writer".
  7. ^ a b c d e Parsons, Louella. The Gay Illiterate.
  8. ^ Fleming, E.J., The Fixers, McFarland & Co., 2005pg. 46-48
  9. ^ Name *. "The Mysterious Death of Newport Movie Mogul Thomas Ince". New England Historical Society. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  10. ^ "Thomas Ince Death". Snopes.com.
  11. ^ Davies, Marion (1975). Pfau, Pamela; Marx, Kenneth S. (eds.). The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. ISBN 9780672521126.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Collins, Amy Fine. "The Powerful Rivalry of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons". vanityfair.com. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  13. ^ Desjardins, Mary (199). "Marion Never Looked Lovelier: Hedda Hopper's Hollywood and the Negotiation of Glamour in Post-war Hollywood". Quarterly Review of Film and Video. 16 (3–4): 421–437. doi:10.1080/10509209709361474.
  14. ^ "RadioEchoes.com". RadioEchoes.com. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  15. ^ a b "Hedda Hopper: the woman who scared Hollywood". telegraph.co.uk. 2016. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  16. ^ Niven, David (1975). Bring On the Empty Horses. New York: Putnam. p. 69. ISBN 9780399115424. [Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper] were an unlikely couple, but they had one thing in common—they loathed each other.
  17. ^ Vanity Fair
  18. ^ a b c d e Leaming, Barbara (2001). Orson Welles, A Biography. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-618-15446-3.
  19. ^ Carringer, Robert (1996-10-24). The Making of Citizen Kane. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20567-3.
  20. ^ Jewell, Richard (1994). "RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951". Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1. p. 45.
  21. ^ Karen Krizanovich (2015-11-05). "Hedda Hopper: the woman who scared Hollywood". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-03-18.
  22. ^ Town & Country
  23. ^ Dr. Martin is dead. Fox Film official. The New York Times. June 25, 1951
  24. ^ "Louella Parsons". www.nndb.com.
  25. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=IHDXmW_Cda8C&dq=Louella+Parsons&source=gbs_navlinks_s pp. 131,199
  26. ^ Louella Parsons at Find a Grave
  27. ^ Vernon, Terry (March 8, 1956). "Tele-Vues". Long Beach Independent. California, Long Beach. p. 42. Retrieved April 21, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  
  28. ^ Louella Persons http://lacasadelaportera.com/progamacion-marzo/louella-persons/ Archived 2013-03-12 at the Wayback Machine

Further readingEdit

  • Wagner, Rob Leicester (2000). Red Ink White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962. Dragonflyer Press. ISBN 0-944933-80-7.
  • Parsons, Louella (1944). The Gay Illiterate. Doubleday, Doran and Company.
  • Eells, George (1973). Hedda and Louella: A Dual Biography of Hedda Hopper & Louella Parsons. Warner Paperback Library. ISBN 0-491009-73-9.
  • Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520249-85-2.

External linksEdit