A friend recently asked me to weigh in on the upcoming Fox series “Feud,” about the fiery rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on the set of the 1962 movie “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
Weigh-in is a good word because the series’ subplot is the prizefight between two heavyweights bobbing and weaving in the ring of Hollywood. And the prize Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons were competing for? Celebrity gossip.
I wouldn’t call it an even match though. Louella was Mr. Hearst’s girl, and had in her corner all the wallop of William Randolph’s 600 worldwide newspapers.
Hedda was considered the slight underdog, even though she brought to the fight the L.A. Times and its national syndicate.
Both these long established “makers or breakers” were 50 or so years my senior when I met them both.
Hedda sat on a throne-like tufted chair in the lounge of the lady’s room of the Coconut Grove. I tentatively tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Miss Hopper, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Rona Barrett and we both write for the same magazine.”
Hedda turned around and retorted, “That’s your problem.”
My introduction to Miss Parsons during an evening at the Coconut Grove was an urgent one.
“Rona, Louella has to go to the ladies’ room and she needs some help — would you take her?”
How could I refuse?
As we started walking to the ladies’ room, Queen Louella decided to ever so leisurely stop at each table to anoint her fawning celebrity audience.
All I could think was: Louella Parsons is going to have an accident and it’s going to be my fault! She didn’t, thank goodness.
Later on, I was on the verge of stepping into the ring with my then-rival Joyce Haber, Hollywood columnist for the L.A. Times. At the time, she with her “guess who, don’t sue” approach had a bigger reputation than I. Hollywood was fearful that if they didn’t show up to one of her many glamorous galas, Joyce would have something terrible to say about them.
In print, Joyce fired a few salacious salvos in my direction but I never retaliated.
Why? It was negative and mean-spirited. My advice to myself was: Just keep quiet, Rona, and it will all go away. And it did.
There was another reason I didn’t want to get mired in the malicious mucky muck. As a child, I had already had enough of kids calling me names because I couldn’t physically do the same things they did.
But here’s the hunch I had that Joyce, and Hedda and Louella didn’t.
That while reporting about Hollywood was never going to go away, readers and fans would soon be going away from newspapers in droves to get the latest — to a place called television.
And I was going to be there waiting for them. I bet my career on it.
Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.
— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.