Karina Longworth’s “Gossip Girls”

The Daily — May 11, 2021
Alfred Hitchcock and Hedda Hopper in the 1940s

Yesterday’s announcement from NBC that the network will not broadcast the Golden Globes next year capped an intensifying series of body blows to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group of around eighty-six international journalists that presents the annual awards. “To the studios, networks, and celebrities that court its favor and exploit its awards as a marketing tool, the group is at once fawned over, derided, and grudgingly tolerated,” wrote Stacy Perman and Josh Rottenberg in the Los Angeles Times story that got this snowball rolling back in late February. Since then, studios led by Netflix and Amazon have cut ties with the HFPA, Scarlett Johansson has levied accusations of sexism, Mark Ruffalo has called out the group’s “culture of secrecy and exclusion,” and Tom Cruise has returned his three Globes.

The core issue is the HFPA’s lack of diversity, but for years, it’s also been an open secret that members trade votes and favorable coverage for access to stars and studio perks. In the new season of her justifiably lauded podcast, You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth sets out to trace the lineage of this mutually beneficial system of greased wheels. “Gossip Girls” will track the lives of Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, widely read rival columnists who wielded tremendous power in the salad days of the industry and were, in the words of Perman and Rottenberg, “fawned over, derided, and grudgingly tolerated.”

Both Parsons and Hopper were born in the 1880s, and they became, as Longworth writes in the introduction to the season, “self-made women, single moms from middle America who shattered the glass ceiling; they were also small-minded, self-obsessed bigots who used their power to persecute outsiders, police sexuality, and ensure that the rich, powerful people who made movies lived in fear. Through stories of these women, their rivalry with one another and their incestuous relationships with the institutions and powerful men that controlled media, the movies, and even federal law enforcement, we’ll track the evolution of gossip over the course of a century.”

The first episode maps the territory, offering a need-to-know, bare-bones history of Los Angeles and a guide to a national media landscape dominated in the early twentieth century by dueling newspaper empires run by William Randolph Hearst and Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis. Longworth tells the story behind Parsons’s unabashed championing of D. W. Griffith and The Birth of a Nation (1915), and the second episode focuses on how she cemented her relationship with Hearst, a relationship that will eventually play a crucial role in the fate of Citizen Kane (1941) and, by extension, the subsequent career of Orson Welles. Next week, the spotlight shifts to Hopper, a driving force behind the Hollywood blacklist and the smear campaign against Charlie Chaplin in the early 1950s. There is going to be a lot to talk about.

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