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Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper Were the Mean Queens of Hollywood Gossip for Half a Century

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Karina Longworth’s hit podcast You Must Remember This explores the secret histories of Hollywood, debunking myths and shedding necessary light on the gifted but overshadowed people who make the dream factory what it is.

Some seasons focus on the women who made vital contributions to the industry. There’s a whole litany of the stories of dead blondes, once worshipped and now forgotten. Recently, we met the writer Polly Platt and actress Jean Seberg, who were constantly overshadowed by circumstance and vainglorious men.

Longworth's new season “Gossip Girls” focuses on Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, who wrote influentially dishy gossip columns giving different actors and films the hype that their studios needed. It was about promotion, shaping public opinion, and making their way in the boys’ club of Hollywood by wielding the power of the pen.

These days, social media and the paparazzi industrial complex can thrust instantaneous and extensively detailed updates on the private lives of the rich and famous in our faces all day, every day.

We’re much more cynical about how the cinematic sausage gets made these days than we were even 50 years ago. Maybe it’s because we’ve already been offered countless backstage glances in the form of celebrity tell-all books, documentaries, and salacious accounts of decadent Tinseltown. Longworth, a veteran film critic, spent an entire—and entirely entertaining and informative—season getting to the real scoop of the tabloid book Hollywood Babylon, which fed so many of the rumors about formerly big stars that eventually became mythologies.

Parsons and Hopper aren’t necessarily saints or even icons—at some basic level, they were paid propagandists for extremely rich, powerful studio heads who had a vested interest in getting their money back on their various investments. Since movie stars were more easily mythologized in the prewar years, and movies still packed an exotic punch, cultivating their public image was necessary.

So even though in some ways Parsons and Hopper were serving Hollywood Mammon, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Everyone’s gotta serve somebody. Longworth shows us their personal faults, and the system of power and money and social influence that set their whole scene. And she is showing us a couple of feisty, ambitious, streetwise women who knew what they wanted and how to get it. There’s deliciously all-too-human cattiness and feuds. I loved hearing how some columns were all about trash talking, ticking off who was fat, who had no talent, who was a snob that week. That delightful mean girl vibe is probably the natural result of having a widely read column, an axe to........

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