15 August 2017

Hedda Hopper & James Dean

When gossip columnist Hedda Hopper saw James Dean for the first time, she was appalled by his unkempt appearance and his bad manners. Such was her disgust with Dean that she wrote in her column the next day"They've brought out from New York another dirty-shirttail actor. If this is the kind of talent they're importing, they can send it right back so far as I'm concerned." (Quote from Hopper's 1962 autobiography The Whole Truth and Nothing But.)

A while later, Hopper received an invitation to attend the preview of East of Eden (1955). Given her bad first impression of Dean, Hopper refused to go. The day after the preview, however, Clifton Webb (who was quite excited about Dean's performance and whose judgment Hopper respected) told her to go see the film, so Hopper arranged a private screening and was immediately enthralled by Dean. She invited Dean to her house for an interview and he soon had her eating out of the palm of his hand. From then on, Hopper was Dean's biggest fan. When he suddenly died in September 1955 after crashing his car, she lobbied hard for a James Dean memorial ánd a posthumous Academy Award. Despite all her efforts, Hopper achieved neither.

Shown below are Hopper's radio statement about James Dean from 5 October 1955 (five days after his death) and a letter written by Hopper to Jimmy Madden (a fan) on 3 January 1956. Madden had contributed $1 for Dean's memorial, but since there would be no memorial (due to the lack of interest in Hollywood) Hopper saw fit to return Madden's money. Also, Hopper writes that she was working on a special Oscar for Dean but, as mentioned, the Oscar never happened. (Incidentally, it wasn't until much later (in 1977) that Dean did get a memorial; read more here.)

Hedda Hopper visits James Dean in his dressing room during the filming of Giant (1956), which was released after his death.


"I'm still reeling from the sudden death of Jimmy Dean, one of the greatest acting talents I've ever known. He was a tragic figure. So few understood him. He was reaching out for love and understanding, but got so little. His greatest ambition was to play "Hamlet" on Broadway. Said he, "It should be done only by a young man." The thing he loved most was the thing that killed him-- his racing car. He carried with him in his death the St. Christopher medal Pier Angeli gave him while he was making "East of Eden." He was like quicksilver. He had a sure instinct for drama. He was like the parched earth longing for the rain. Only a few days ago a friend of mine met him in a pet hospital. He had brought a kitten for an innoculation, and the loving care he was giving it was beautiful to look upon. It will be a long time before we see his like again. I loved the boy and always will." 

Source: oscars.org

Source: Hake's Americana & Collectibles


Hedda Hopper's Hollywood
702 Guaranty Building
Hollywood 28, California 

January 3, 1956

Dear Jimmy Madden:

I can't tell you how touched I was by your letter, and how much I appreciated your contribution for a memorial for Jimmy Dean.

It's taken me so long to thank you and to return the money because I have investigated thoroughlu [sic] the Hollywood end of figuring out some suitable memorial for Jimmy. I ran up against a blank wall. There's a great deal of interest here among his friends and much more from his fans. But the people who would have to put up the bulk of the money aren't willing to do so.

I'm still working for a special Oscar to be imbedded in a granite block to be put on his grave. But I won't know whether my plan will be carried out until the night of the Academy Awards. 

I feel as you do about Jimmy. Had he lived he'd have been one of our greatest. I feel he's still with us; I know he is in spirit. He would have been so pleased that so many people from all over the nation have wanted to create a memorial in his name.

My blessings upon you.

Hedda Hopper

Mr. Jimmy Madden
2500 University Ave.
Bronx, 68, N.Y.

Enclosure $1

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