Avery Hopwood

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Avery Hopwood
Black and white portrait photo of a white man wearing a hat and coat
Hopwood in 1922
Born(1882-05-28)May 28, 1882
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
DiedJuly 1, 1928(1928-07-01) (aged 46)
Juan-les-Pins, Antibes, France
EducationUniversity of Michigan

James Avery Hopwood (May 28, 1882 – July 1, 1928) was an American playwright of the Jazz Age. He had four plays running simultaneously on Broadway in 1920.

Early life[edit]

Hopwood was born to James and Jule Pendergast Hopwood on May 28, 1882, in Cleveland, Ohio.[1] He graduated from Cleveland's West High School in 1900.[2] In 1901, he began attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. However, his family experienced financial difficulties, so for his second year he transferred to Adelbert College. He returned to the University of Michigan in the fall of 1903, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1905.[3]


Hopwood started out as a journalist for the Cleveland Leader as its New York correspondent, but within a year had his first play, Clothes (1906), produced on Broadway, with the aid of playwright Channing Pollock. Hopwood eventually became known as "The Playboy Playwright"[4] 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 in New York and Tallulah Bankhead in London; (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 as The Bat, in 1930 as The Bat Whispers, and in 1959 as The Bat); 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 with Clara Bow); the song-farce Naughty Cinderella, 1925, starring Irene Bordoni and The Garden of Eden in 1927, with Tallulah Bankhead in London and Miriam Hopkins in New York; (filmed in 1928 as The Garden of Eden).

Hopwood was asked to write the third act of Mary Roberts Rinehart's mystery play The Bat.[5] He then collaborated with Rinehart on reworking the entire play at her home in Sewickley and sometimes in New York.[5] The Bat scored 897 performances at the Morosco theater, NYC.

The early sound film The Bat Whispers played an influence on Bob Kane's Batman because the inspiration for Batman's costume came from the "mysterious Bat" character portrayed in the movie from 1930.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Avery Hopwood with dancer Rosa Rolanda, 1924

In 1906, Hopwood was introduced to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten. The two became close friends and were sometimes sexual partners.[7] In the 1920s Hopwood had a tumultuous and abusive romantic relationship with fellow Cleveland-born playwright John Floyd.[8] Although Hopwood announced to the press in 1924 that he was engaged to vaudeville dancer and choreographer Rosa Rolanda, Van Vechten confirmed in later years that it was a publicity stunt. Rolanda would later marry caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.

On the evening of July 1, 1928, at Juan-les-Pins on the French Riviera, Hopwood suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming. He was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Cleveland.[9] His mother, Jule Hopwood, inherited a large trust from him, but he had not made arrangements for the disposition of other items, including literary rights. While she was working through the legal issues with his estate, Jule Hopwood fell ill and died on March 1, 1929. She was buried next to her son.[10]


Hopwood's plays were very successful commercially, but they did not have the lasting literary significance he hoped to achieve.[11]

Hopwood Award[edit]

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, Edmund White, Nancy Willard, Frank O'Hara, and Steve Hamilton.

The Great Bordello[edit]

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. Jack Sharrar recovered the manuscript for this novel in 1982 during his research for Avery Hopwood, His Life and Plays. The novel was published in July 2011 by Mondial Books (New York) as The Great Bordello, a Story of the Theatre.


WPA poster for Hopwood's 1922 play Why Men Leave Home
WPA poster for Hopwood's 1923 play The Alarm Clock



  1. ^ Sharrar 1998, pp. 8–9
  2. ^ Sharrar 1998, p. 1
  3. ^ Sharrar 1998, pp. 12–17
  4. ^ Jim Beaver Biography for Avery Hopwood at Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ a b Cohn, Jan (1980). Improbable Fiction: The Life of Mary Roberts Rinehart. University of Pittsburgh press. p. 138.
  6. ^ Kane, Bob. Batman and Me. Forestville, CA: Eclipse Books. p. 38.
  7. ^ White 2014, pp. 71–73
  8. ^ Sharrar 2005, p. 201
  9. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 22102). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition
  10. ^ Vigil, Vicki Blum (2007). Cemeteries of Northeast Ohio: Stones, Symbols & Stories. Cleveland, OH: Gray & Company. ISBN 978-1-59851-025-6
  11. ^ Bader 1959, p. 68

Works cited[edit]

  • Bader, Arno L. (December 5, 1959). "Avery Hopwood, dramatist". Quarterly Review: A Journal of University Perspectives. 66 (10): 60–68.
  • Sharrar, Jack F. (1998) [1989]. Avery Hopwood: His Life and Plays. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10963-4. OCLC 924828273.
  • Sharrar, Jack F. (2005). "Hopwood, Avery". In Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kim & Schanke, Robert A. (eds.). The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. pp. 199–203. ISBN 0-472-09858-6. OCLC 56481825.
  • White, Edward (2014). The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-70881-8. OCLC 846545238.

Further reading[edit]

  • Broadway, by Brooks Atkinson. NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1974.
  • 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.

External links[edit]