Today many think of her just as a foil to Bette Davis in such “fun” films as 1943’s Old Acquaintance and 1939’s The Old Maid. But Miriam Hopkins was a major star in the 1930s, still popular in the 1940s and then became a leading character actress late in her career.
She developed a reputation of being something of a diva, hard to work with. Hopkins always denied this but a mountain of evidence indicates otherwise.
She and Davis crossed swords in two films, as mentioned. Complicating things was Davis’ affair with director Anatole Litvak, who was at the time Hopkins’ third of four husbands. (Litvak had directed Hopkins in 1937 in a picture ironically titled The Woman I Love.)
In Old Aquaintance, Davis manhandles Hopkins in some especially catty onscreen confrontations. (Bette later confessed that privately she very much enjoyed doing so.)
Whatever the Davis contretemps, Hopkins a strong leading Hollywood actress of the Thirties who could pore it on when required. She began her career as a chorus girl/dancer, then stage actress. Paramount signed her in 1931, and producer Sam Goldwyn took over later on, then RKO and Warner Bros.
Among her 52 film credits over her 40-year career is 1935’s Becky Sharp, which won for Hopkins a best actress Oscar nomination for her interpretation of the title role. She costarred with Fredric March in 1931’s Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and proudly noted her work in William Wyler’s 1949 classic, The Heiress, costarring Olivia DeHavilland and Montgomery Clift. Later, she appeared with Audrey Hepburn in 1961’s The Children’s Hour.
Hopkins was a bright, extremely independent woman who harbored strong political views (she was a liberal). Catching the spirit of the swinging Sixties, Hopkins turned up with a role in 1964’s Fanny Hill, directed by softcore mammarian Russ Meyer. On series television later in her career, she made appearances on The Flying Nun in 1969, three years before she died at age 69.
Hopkins’s work is certainly worthy of fuller consideration, and we’re pleased to note that a biography of the actress, some 10 years in the writing, is due to be published this year by Univ. of Kentucky Press. We look forward to seeing it.