Stream Leading Ladies XI: Miriam Hopkins, Patricia Neal

Miriam Hopkins

Woman Chases Man 1937 Directed by John G. Blystone. A light comedy. Once a millionaire, BJ Nolan (Charles Winninger) has invested in endless inventions that don’t work, tapping out his fortune. He has an idea for affordable housing (Nolan Heights) but conservative, independently wealthy son, Kenneth (Joel McCrea), won’t back him because of past issues. Starving architect Virginia Travis (Miriam Hopkins) wants very much to design the Heights. When she faints in BJ’s office, he takes her home to a mansion about to be repossessed. Kenneth is on his way home from abroad. Virginia decides they have to trick him into funding the project.

She doesn’t count on falling for seemingly straight-laced Kenneth who, with a little help from alcohol, responds in kind, turning away from a scheming gold-digger who accompanies him back from Europe. McCrae is wonderful- obtuse, naïve, besotted. Rent on Amazon Prime.

The Old Maid 1939 Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Zoe Atkins, itself adapted from the Edith Wharton novel The Old Maid: the Fifties.  Directed by Edmund Goulding. A dated, yet engrossing tear jerker. Set during the Civil War, the film centers on Charlotte Lovell (Bette Davis) and her cousin Delia (Miriam Hopkins). On the day of Delia’s wedding to Jim Ralston (James Stephenson), her former fiancé Clem Spender (George Brent) returns from the war. Charlotte “comforts” Clem, who subsequently dies in battle leaving her with a daughter she names Tina. The single mother opens an orphanage as cover. Tina doesn’t know she’s her mother.

By the time Delia is the mother of two children, Charlotte is engaged to marry Joe Ralston, her cousin’s brother-in-law. On her wedding day, however, her secret comes out and Delia prevents the marriage. When Jim is killed, the women move in together. Jealousies abound. Tina grows no wiser. Compromises are made.

A volatile film set. Both actresses had worked in George Cukor’s stock company when Hopkins was the star. Hopkins resented Davis winning the Academy Award for Jezebel, a part she’d played on Broadway. She was also convinced Davis was having an affair with her then husband, the director. The actresses did anything they could to undermine one another. 

Hopkins kept altering her makeup in order to look younger than Davis in the segments in which both were supposed to be aged. Both actresses pleaded illness failing to appear on set at various times and the production fell behind schedule. Rent on Amazon Prime.

Old Acquaintance 1943 Based on the play by John Van Druten. Directed by Vincent Sherman. Successful new author Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis) and childhood friend, housewife Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins) meet again as adults when Kit is on a book tour. They’re opposite personalities. Kit is upbeat and sensitive while Millie is theatrically self-involved. She’s pregnant, but pays little attention to husband Preston (John Loder) who can’t understand how the women could’ve been close. Millie has written a romance Kit promises to give to her publisher.

Time passes. Millie has a daughter she neglects while becoming a hugely successful author, also manipulative and condescending. Preston finally resolves to leave the marriage. At an opening of a play by Kit, he declares his love for her. Despite her feelings, Kit remains loyal to Millie. Vicissitudes of success, failure and overlapping relationships take the women through years. Solid filmmaking of an era.

Bette Davis wanted Norma Shearer to come out of retirement as her co-star. She declined. When Hopkins was asked, she had to put behind her having working with Davis on The Old Maid while Davis was allegedly having an affair with Hopkins’ husband, Anatole Litvak. The film was remade in 1981 as Rich and Famous with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. Rent on Amazon Prime.

These Three 1936 can be found in Stream Leading Ladies (When There Were Leading Ladies) IV

Patricia Neal

Bright Leaf 1950 Based on the novel by Foster Fitz-Simmons, directed by Michael Curtiz. A solid, old fashioned drama with a satisfying dark ending. Major Singleton (Donald Crisp) drove Brant Royale (Gary Cooper) and his family out of business and out of town both because they grew the best tobacco and because Brant had the audacity to set his sights on Margaret Singleton (Patricia Neal). Years later, the only Royale left returns seething, to dispose of what’s left of his family’s land and empty factory discovering no one will buy because of the major’s influence. Margaret, whom he accidentally meets, show’s no warmth, but is clearly attracted.

Brant is approached by inventor John Barton (Jeff Corey) who has plans for a cigarette machine. (The major, who deals only in cigars, turned Barton down flat.) If Brant can raise the money…the only sympathetic source he can think of is Sonia Kovac (Lauren Bacall) who’s done well with an inherited boarding house. Sonia’s always been in love with him…and agrees to back the venture even when it’s clear he’s still pursuing Margaret. With an ex-snakeoil salesman (Jack Carson) doing advertising/pr, the company is wildly successful making them all rich. Brant starts to court Margaret in earnest. She toys with him, but promises to wed if he gets “rid of” Sonia.

Brant is snow blind. His character changes radically. Death, marriage, revenge, fire, and bankruptcy follow. Neal plays cruel to the hilt. The title comes from the type of tobacco grown in North Carolina after the Civil War. Loosely based on the rivalry of tobacco tycoons Washington Duke and John Harvey McElwee, the filmmaker’s great-grandfather. Rent on Amazon Prime.

A Face in The Crowd 1957 Based on Bud Shulberg’s short story “Your Arkansas Traveler,” from the collection Some Faces in the Crowd. Directed by Elia Kazan. A terrific film. Frightening. 1950s America. Radio journalist Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) encounters drunken drifter Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith-film debut) in the south. Her discovery sings with a folksy, cracker barrel charm she thinks she can market. Marcia gets him on a local radio station where, despite irreverence, he develops a large, loyal audience. Television follows – local, then national.

As visibility and power extends, the so-called simple man becomes an egomaniacal user. He contemptuously influences sponsors, discards those who have helped, and makes political inroads…until comeuppance – but is it? VERY timely.
                                                                                                                                           The character was inspired by Schulberg’s acquaintance with Will Rogers Jr. “In stage performance, Griffith noted, he would work gradually up to his most intense moments, but needed to conjure that up spontaneously when shooting such scenes for Kazan. In some instances, he asked to have a few discarded chairs available to destroy, in order to work up his rage before filming.” (Hal Boyle The North Carolina Robisonian 1956.) Lee Remick reported spending two weeks in Piggott living with teen twirler Amanda Robinson and her family, working on her twirling and local accent. Rent on Amazon Prime.

The Fountainhead 1949 can be found in Stream Selected Films of Gary Cooper   
The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 can be found in Stream Selected Outer Space Films 1902-1977
Hud 1963 can be found in Stream Selected Films of Paul Newman

About Alix Cohen (964 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.