Friday, April 7, 2017

Along the Way: Hedda Hopper

Grave of Hedda Hopper
Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona
"You're kind of young to know who Hedda was…aren’t you?” the groundskeeper asked as he curiously stared at me.  Before I could answer the question he continued, "What do you know about Hedda?"

"Not a whole lot,” I answered honestly. “I know she was from Altoona and her columns were the forerunner of the gossip papers."

"Hollidaysburg,” he corrected. “She was born in Hollidaysburg. You know we used to have a lot of visitors stopping at her grave, but fewer and fewer come to visit her nowadays." He paused for a moment before suddenly blurting out, “Follow me.” I followed in my vehicle as he drove the lawn mower through the grounds of cemetery towards a place near the entrance. Parking along the drive, we walked over to the small, simple stone that marked the resting place of Hedda Hopper.

Hedda Hopper was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, daughter of David and Margaret Furry. When she was three he moved his family to nearby Altoona.

While still in her teens Elda ran away from home for New York City, where she performed in a number of choruses on Broadway. Within a few years, she turned her focus on acting and was soon touring the United States performing in a number of plays. By 1915 she had left the touring performances behind and headed to Hollywood to act in the movies.

It was during her time touring that she married DeWolf Hopper, Sr. (their marriage lasted from 1913-1922), the owner of the touring company she performed for. Due to the fact he kept calling her by the names of his previous wives (this was his fifth marriage), Elda approached a psychic who proclaimed Elda should adopt the name of Hedda, which she did.

Hedda’s first movie was Battle of Hearts and over the next twenty-three years she would appear in more than 120 movies. She often was portrayed as the distinguished society woman. By the mid-1930s, her movie career was coming to an end.

In 1937, Hedda would be offered the chance of a lifetime: she would produce a gossip column. Known as “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood," her gossip column found no boundaries as she exposed the darkest secrets of Hollywood. It was during her stint as a gossip columnist that she developed a feud with Louella Parsons, also a Hollywood gossip columnist, who started the whole "celebrity gossip" market. Hopper began her stint in the gossip market by feeding Louella information about what was going on in Hollywood. When Hopper was offered the job by a rival newspaper to write her own column, the two began a bitter feud. Both Louella and Hedda had power in the words they wrote and anything they said could help or hinder a person's career.

Hedda's column attacked all of Hollywood as she held nothing back. She would often accuse stars of homosexuality; at the time this would have destroyed their careers and any chance of them landing or keeping a leading role. In later years she would be a part of the "Red Scare" witch hunt accusing a number of Hollywood players of being Communists.

At the age of 80, Hedda Hopper died of pneumonia. Her body was returned to Altoona and buried in the family plot in Rose Hill Cemetery. While she hadn't made it big in the movies, the world has never been the same thanks to her career in "journalism" that we see every time we go to the store today.

We stood in silence for a minute or two before the groundskeeper announced that he had to get back to work. I finished paying my respects, snapped a couple pictures and left her to rest with her family.

Hedda is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona. Finding her grave is a little tricky, but I’ll give the best directions that I can. When entering the cemetery, the road splits. Part of the road goes to the left; but you want to drive straight ahead. Park immediately before the road splits again. Look for the grave stone of William Rudy in the section on the left. Hedda is buried in the row of stones behind William's grave -- it will take a little bit of a search to find it, but it is there.

A note of interest: Hedda was born on May 5, 1885, but she often stated that she was born on June 2, 1890. The exact reason is murky, but most sources believe it was so people thought she was younger than she actually was.

Another interesting note: While I was talking to the groundskeeper he shared with me a story that I can neither prove nor disprove. He claimed that the former groundskeeper told him that Hedda was only partially buried here. The story goes that the family had her cremated and had some of her ashes buried here and some were scattered atop Brush Mountain. Again, I can’t prove this to be true, but it still makes an interesting story.

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