Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Christmas Album: The Party Scene

On the Eleventh Day of our tour of Holiday's past we stumble upon a convivial gathering of the bright, the guilty and the talented at a Los Angeles party in December, 1949. Leaning as far back as he possibly can while staying upright is jolly, tensely elfin Danny Kaye, who appears to be absorbed in a deeply philosophical conversation with none other than Louella Parsons, the Hearst newspaper chain's doyenne of all manner of Hollywood gossip. By this time, Louella had been at the game for 35 years when, after writing scripts for Essanay Studios, she branched out, writing one of the first movie-oriented columns in a daily newspaper, the Chicago Record-Herald in 1914. Eventually, she moved on to the bigger pond of William Randolph Hearst's New York American. In between plumping for Hearst's girlfriend, Marion Davies in her columns, she spent considerable time in California. After an allegedly serious bout of tuberculosis, Parsons moved to the drier West Coast and found a miracle cure there--fame, power and innuendo. As the movie industry grew there, so did her clout. Parsons was eventually carried in 400 newspapers read by 20 million apparently movie-mad subscribers.

The subjects discussed in her newspaper articles, radio show and appropriately named 1944 autobiography, "The Gay Illiterate" often tried to appease the woman, who was known to have spies throughout Hollywood. In one instance Louella published the information that Joan Crawford was filing divorce papers against Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. before Mr. Fairbanks had been told. At other times, Parsons would take a swipe at an individual who had displeased her, for an "aberrant" life-style, a smart mouth or in many cases, for being an especially independent-minded woman in the movies. A few of those who displeased her included Katharine Hepburn who was labeled as "too snobbish" and Myrna Loy, about whom Parsons wrote "she is one of the best-looking girls on the screen, and maybe one of these days her acting will match her looks. Here's hoping!" One of those whose career may actually have been hurt by Louella's public dislike was Ann Harding. In 1931, Parsons wrote that "off the train in Pasadena, Ann Harding shooed away the press like so many flies. Stars who take this attitude often live long enough to step off trains without any waiting newspaper delegation."


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