With the advent of the internet, the world of collectibles has been turned on its head. Vintage movie magazines I paid fifty dollars for forty years ago are on Ebay, listed at twenty-thirty bucks. But I don’t have to spend a cent. I can access on-line archives of vintage material, for free. Incredible!
Above: Elda Furry. Tell me she doesn’t look like a mouse. Below: One of my stabs at creating Marcelline Mulot. I see a definite resemblance. Do you?
I’ve started another Animals-in-Pants thing, this project featuring a silent-screen-star mouse.
Well, I’ve not started it, exactly. I’m going to recreate it. I wrote the novella forty years ago. I considered it done. My life got crazy. I set it aside. I went through ups and downs. I started Sly. I started Celestine.
My celebrity bio intimidated me. It needed to be illustrated, heavily illustrated. I did not consider my sketching to be an illustration style. That was the reason I quit an illustration major in art school and went with costume design.
Twenty years later I looked for my manuscript and did not find it (but for a cover blurb which I have expanded into an introduction). All right, I had my hands full with Sly, it wasn’t the end of the world.
I’ve developed a style in Photoshop I am comfortable with. Recently I thought–I’ve got an intro, I’ll add to it, make a fun paper doll book out of it. My original story was a straight-forward bio. What do I do with Mulot 2.0?
My premise: Marcelline Mulot is a long-forgotten silent-film star. As a film student, I had met and befriended the Garbo-like recluse. I want to remind the world of an important figure in the history of cinema.
I wondered if Hedda Hopper were active in the industry at a useful time. I conjectured that she wrote extensively about Mulot, tracking her rise and fall, penning articles such as: ‘An Open Letter to My Dear Friend Marcelline Mulot.’ (Such theatrical scolding was not uncommon.)
I looked up Hedda Hopper. Her real name was Elda Furry! She escaped small town life in Pennsylvania, was a chorus girl on Broadway in second-rate shows. (Ziegfeld called her ‘a clumsy cow.’) She joined a theater company run by DeWolf Hopper, a matinee idol of the stage, and toured with it, in the chorus.
In 1913, she became his fifth wife. His previous wives were named Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella. The similarity in names caused upsets. He sometimes called Elda by the name of one of his former wives. Consequently, Elda Hopper paid a numerologist to tell her what name she should use. Her answer was “Hedda”. Thus did Elda Furry become Hedda Hopper.
She longed to be an actress. She landed small roles in various productions. Acting credentials under her belt, she made her way to Hollywood and was cast in silents, establishing a pattern of playing beautifully-dressed society women. In one picture, rejecting her studio-provided gowns, Hopper upstaged the film’s headline starlet by spending all of her $5,000 salary on a wardrobe from the top-tier boutique Lucile.
Her movie career waned in the mid-1930s. She looked for other sources of income. In 1935, she signed to write a weekly gossip column for The Washington Herald. After a dispute over a pay cut, she moved to the Los Angeles Times. The rest is Hollywood history. Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood ran in the Los Angeles Times until her death in 1966.
She’d been no stand-out as a chorus girl and she was no stand-out as an actress, but she could write. She used the extensive contacts she’d forged during her acting days to gather material for her column.
She was a power to reckon with. Bob Hope said: “Their columns (Louella Parsons was her equally powerful rival) were the first thing we looked at every morning to see what was going on.”
I figure she was a friend of Mulot. I figure she wrote articles under a pseudonym before she launched her on-the-record journalism career, penning many a piece on her close friend, testing the waters.
Forty years ago, I had a small collection of movie magazines from that era, from which I extracted quotes and commentary on film colony doings to enrich my subsequently misplaced bio. I sold that cache in the late eighties, sure I would never pick up with my mouse again.
Today I searched for similar sources. The movie-mag jargon had a flavor to it. I want to mimic the gushing style perfectly. I thought I had a monumental task ahead of me. I thought I’d find a handful of items, eventually. Well, I’ve unearthed a massive trove of online archives, magazines scanned page by page, cover to cover, for anyone to access.
In the course of an hour, I gathered thirty-three pages of links to zany reportage in Photoplay, Modern Screen, Motion Picture, Classic, and Picture Play, and to serious pieces on the infant industry and twenties culture in mainstream newspapers and magazines. (For instance: Ode to Feminine Knees, Flapper Magazine, 1922)
I have a decision to make. Hopper was a small woman, dainty. Her face, to me, is mouse-like. (The actress ZaSu Pitts compared her to a ferret.) Do I leave her human, or do I turn her into a rodent?
Elda Furry, c’mon. The name begs to be awarded to a mouse. But there are also reasons to keep her as she was: a small, chic woman whose signature look was enormous, flamboyant hats.
Hopper was a staunch supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. I’ve written Mulot to be a free-thinker. This divergence will be the end of their long friendship.
My other problem: is this sweet fantasy, or am I a disappointed film student (the movies being so hard to break into) having a mental breakdown? Is Mulot my imaginary friend?
Read my introduction at https://medium.com/the-haven/maisie-in-hollywood-fb46edded5b9 to see what I’ve done with the story so far. It could go either way, easily.