James Avery Hopwood (May 28, 1882 - July 1, 1928), was an American playwright, called the most successful playwright of the Jazz Age, having four plays running simultaneously on Broadway in 1920.
Hopwood started out as a journalist for a Cleveland newspaper as its New York correspondent, but within a year had a play, Clothes (1906), produced on Broadway. He became known as "The Playboy Playwright" and specialized in comedies and farces, some of them with material considered risqué at the time. One play, The Demi-Virgin in 1921, prompted a court case because of its suggestive subject matter, including a risque game of cards, "Stripping Cupid", where a bevy of showgirls teased the audience in their lingerie. The case was dismissed.
His many plays included Nobody's Widow (1910), starring Blanche Bates; Fair and Warmer (1915), starring Madge Kennedy (filmed in 1919); The Gold Diggers (1919), starring Ina Claire (filmed in 1923 as The Gold Diggers, in 1928 as Gold Diggers of Broadway and also as Gold Diggers of 1933); Ladies' Night, 1920, starring Charlie Ruggles (filmed in 1928); the famous mystery play The Bat (with Mary Roberts Rinehart), 1920 (filmed in 1926, 1930 and 1959); Getting Gertie's Garter (with Wilson Collison), 1921, starring Hazel Dawn (filmed in 1927 and 1945); The Demi-Virgin, 1921, also starring Dawn; The Alarm Clock, 1923; The Best People (with David Gray), 1924 (filmed in 1925 and as Fast and Loose in 1930), the song-farce Naughty Cinderella, 1925, starring Irene Bordoni and The Garden of Eden in 1927 (filmed in as 1928).
A clever, adroit, masterful craftsman who wrote to the tastes of his public, Hopwood was inexhaustible in his work ethic. Although the press reported that he was engaged to vaudeville dancer and choreographer Rose Rolanda in 1924, Hopwood's close friend Carl Van Vechten confirmed in later years that it was all a publicity stunt. Rolanda would later marry caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.
Sadly, personal troubles related to his homosexuality and his inability to break from the formula writing that made him a success led to his early death at age 46. While swimming at Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera, July 1, 1928, he suffered a heart attack and died. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio, next to his mother, Jule.
The terms of Hopwood's will left a substantial portion of his estate to his alma mater, the University of Michigan for the establishment of the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood Creative Writing Awards. The bequest stipulated: "It is especially desired that students competing for prizes shall be allowed the widest possible latitude, and that the new, the unusual, and the radical shall be especially encouraged." Famous Hopwood award winners include Robert Hayden, Marge Piercy, Arthur Miller, Betty Smith, Lawrence Kasdan, John Ciardi, Mary Gaitskill, Nancy Willard, Frank O’Hara, and Steve Hamilton.
Throughout his life, Hopwood worked on a novel that he hoped would "expose" the strictures the commercial theater machine imposed on playwrights, but the manuscript was never published. This manuscript, which Jack Sharrar recovered in 1982 during his research for Avery Hopwood, His Life and Plays, was published July, 2011.
"The Great Bordello"
Edited, with an Afterword, by Sharrar, Avery Hopwood's The Great Bordello, a Story of the Theatre, is a roman à clef that tells the story of Edwin Endsleigh—Hopwood’s fictional counterpart—who graduates from the University of Michigan and heads for Broadway to earn his fortune and the security to pursue his one true dream of writing the great American novel. Shaping Edwin’s ambitious journey in the world of the theater is his love of three women: the beautiful, strong-minded Julia Scarlet, whom he first meets in Ann Arbor; the emotionally fragile and haunting Jessamy Lee, and the very private and mysterious leading lady Adelina Kane, idol of the American stage. In the company of Edwin and his loves are a dramatic array of thinly veiled representations of theatrical personages of the time, amongst them Daniel Mendoza, an exacting and powerful impresario, who controls the lives of his leading ladies; the goatish, démodé manager, Matthew Lewis, who promotes Julia Scarlet as “the American Sarah Bernhardt”; the worldly-wise veteran of the stage, Ottilie Potter, who has gotten where she is because, “Men had what I wanted, and I had what they wanted”; and the huge, manlike Helen Sampson, chief among theatrical agents. Above all, The Great Bordello provides a deeper understanding of the human desire to accomplish something of enduring value amidst commercial success and ruthless realities of life.
- Avery Hopwood: His Life and Plays, by Jack F. Sharrar (McFarland,1989; University of Michigan Press, 1998)
- Broadway, by Brooks Atkinson. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974.
- Fair and Warmer, adapted by Jack Sharrar from Avery Hopwood's comedy. NY: Playscripts, Inc.
- The Great Bordello, a Story of the Theatre, by Avery Hopwood. Edited, with an Afterword by Jack F. Sharrar. NY: Mondial, 2011.
- Matinee Tomorrow, by Ward Morehouse. NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1948.
- Posing a Threat: Flappers, Chorus Girls, and Other Brazen Performers of the American 1920s, by Angela Latham. Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.
- The Splendid Drunken Twenties: Carl Van Vechten Selections from the Daybooks, 1922-1930. Edited by Bruce Kellner. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
- "Covarrubias" by Adriana Williams, Austin University of Texas Press, 1994.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Avery Hopwood.|
- Works by Avery Hopwood at Project Gutenberg
- The Lives and Times of Avery Hopwood
- Internet Broadway Database - Complete list of Hopwood plays
- Avery Hopwood at the Internet Movie Database