The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons

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University of California Press, 2005 M10 24 - 426 pages
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Hollywood celebrities feared her. William Randolph Hearst adored her. Between 1915 and 1960, Louella Parsons was America's premier movie gossip columnist and in her heyday commanded a following of more than forty million readers. This first full-length biography of Parsons tells the story of her reign over Hollywood during the studio era, her lifelong alliance with her employer, William Randolph Hearst, and her complex and turbulent relationships with such noted stars, directors, and studio executives as Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, Louis B. Mayer, Ronald Reagan, and Frank Sinatra—as well as her rival columnists Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell. Loved by fans for her "just folks," small-town image, Parsons became notorious within the film industry for her involvement in the suppression of the 1941 film Citizen Kane and her use of blackmail in the service of Hearst's political and personal agendas. As she traces Parsons's life and career, Samantha Barbas situates Parsons's experiences in the broader trajectory of Hollywood history, charting the rise of the star system and the complex interactions of publicity, journalism, and movie-making. Engagingly written and thoroughly researched, The First Lady of Hollywood is both an engrossing chronicle of one of the most powerful women in American journalism and film and a penetrating analysis of celebrity culture and Hollywood power politics.

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The first lady of Hollywood: a biography of Louella Parsons

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Set within the framework of evolving American popular culture, this insightful first biography of legendary Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons is also a fascinating look at the world of movies ... Read full review

Selected pages


Early Years
The Column
New York
The Lovely Miss Marion Davies
On the Way to Hollywood
The First Lady of Hollywood
Raising Kane
The Gay Illiterate
War and Peace
The End of an Era

The Best and the Hearst

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Page 28 - HOG Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders: They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again. And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen...
Page 86 - Hearst for bragging about spending so much money on the picture. Addressing my remarks personally to Mr. Hearst, I wrote: "Why don't you give Marion Davies a chance? She is a good actress, a beauty and a comedy starring' bet. Why talk about how much was spent on the lovely costumes and the production cost?
Page 228 - A few obsequious and/or bulbous middle-aged ladies think the picture ought not to be shown, owing to the fact that the picture is rumored to have something to do with a certain publisher, who, for the first time in his life, or maybe the second, shall be nameless. That the nameless publisher might be astute enough to realize that for the first time in his rowdy life he had been made a human being did not worry the loyal ladies. Sycophancy of that kind, like curtseying, is deliberate.
Page 31 - ... and close contact, does not make for a natural existence and throws a so-called glamor over many people. Contrast its possibilities with those of the picture studio. In the latter place work is done in regular office hours — daylight work; no glamor of night, of orchestra, of artificial light. A player is located in one neighborhood and is recognized as a permanent and respectable citizen. Evenings can be spent at home, and the normal healthiness of one's own fireside is an atmosphere conducive...
Page 305 - I'm wondering if the mothers and families of those who've died and the wounded who are still living will be happy to know their money at the box office has supported and may continue to support those who have been so late in the defense of their country?
Page 20 - Yet religion seems to permeate the daily air, not as a stress on discriminating the "saved" from the sinners. . .but as a vital concern with the negations on moral conduct which the churches set up. The religious control of morals operates mainly through gossip and the fear of gossip. People report, suspect, laugh at, and condemn the peccadilloes of others, and walk and behave carefully to avoid being caught in any trifling missteps of their own.
Page 176 - I have never found one single person who, for talent and character, commands the respect of the American people who has not agreed with me that William Randolph Hearst has pandered to depraved tastes and has been an enemy of everything that is noblest and best in our American traditions There is not a cesspool of vice and crime that Hearst has not raked and exploited for money-making purposes.
Page 189 - After you have had a couple of good editorials regarding the indecency of this picture, then DO NOT MENTION MAE WEST IN OUR PAPERS AGAIN WHILE SHE IS ON THE SCREEN AND DO NOT ACCEPT ANY ADVERTISING OF THIS PICTURE.

About the author (2005)

Samantha Barbas has a Ph.D. in American History from the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001).

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