|Born||Louella Rose Oettinger|
August 6, 1881
Freeport, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||December 9, 1972 (aged 91)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Gossip columnist, screenwriter|
|Spouse||John Dement Parsons (1905–1914; divorced)|
John McCaffrey Jr. (1915–1929; divorced)
Harry W. Martin (1930–1951; his death)
Louella Parsons (born Louella Rose Oettinger; August 6, 1881 – December 9, 1972) was the first American movie columnist and a screenwriter. She was retained by William Randolph Hearst, possibly because she had praised Hearst's mistress Marion Davies. At her peak, her columns were read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide.
She remained “queen of Hollywood gossip” until the arrival of flamboyant Hedda Hopper, who displayed similar talents, and with whom she feuded viciously for years.
Louella Parsons was born Louella Rose Oettinger in Freeport, Illinois, the daughter of Helen (Stine) and Joshua Oettinger. Her father was of German Jewish descent, as was her maternal grandfather, while her maternal grandmother, Jeanette Wilcox, was of Irish origin. During her childhood, her parents attended an Episcopal church. She had two brothers, Edwin and Fred, and a sister, Rae. In 1890, her widowed mother married John H. Edwards. They lived in Dixon, Illinois, hometown of Ronald Reagan.
Parsons decided to become a writer or a reporter during high school. On June 4, 1901, at her high school graduation, she gave a foretelling speech, entitled "Great Men", after which her principal announced that she would become a great writer.
After high school, Parsons enrolled in a teacher’s course at a local Dixon college. She received a financial contribution from a distant German relative. While still in college, Parsons obtained her first newspaper job as a part-time writer for the Dixon Star. In 1902, she became the first female journalist in Dixon, where she gossiped about Dixon social circles, making a step towards her Hollywood career.
She and her first husband, John Parsons, moved to Burlington, Iowa. Her only child, Harriet (1906–1983), who grew up to become a film producer, was born there. While in Burlington, Parsons saw her first motion picture, The Great Train Robbery (1903).
When her marriage broke up, Parsons moved to Chicago. In 1912, she had her first taste of the movie industry by selling a script for $25 to the Essanay Company, which would soon be employing Charlie Chaplin. Her small daughter, Harriet, was billed as "Baby Parsons" in several movies, which included The Magic Wand (1912), written by Louella Parsons. She also wrote a book titled How to Write for the Movies.
In 1914, Parsons began writing the first gossip column in the United States for the Chicago Record Herald. William Randolph Hearst bought that newspaper in 1918 and Parsons was out of a job, as Hearst had not yet discovered that movies and movie personalities were news. Parsons then moved to New York City and started working for the New York Morning Telegraph writing a similar movie column, which attracted the attention of Hearst. In 1923, after shrewd bargaining on both sides, she signed a contract and joined the Hearst newspaper the New York American.
There was persistent speculation that Parsons was elevated to the Hearst chain's lead gossip columnist because of a scandal she didn't write about. Director Thomas Ince died aboard Hearst's yacht in 1924 under murky circumstances. Initially, Hearst newspapers falsely claimed that Ince had not been aboard the boat at all and had fallen ill at Hearst's home. Charlie Chaplin's secretary reported seeing a bullet hole in Ince's head when his body was carried off the yacht. It has been widely written that Chaplin was conducting an affair with Hearst's mistress, and that an attempt to shoot Chaplin may have caused Ince's death. Also aboard the yacht that night was Parsons, who ignored the story in her columns.
In 1925, Parsons contracted tuberculosis and was told she had six months to live. She moved to Arizona for the dry climate, then to Los Angeles, where she decided to stay. With the disease in remission, she went back to work, becoming a syndicated Hollywood columnist for Hearst. As she and the publishing mogul developed an ironclad relationship, her Los Angeles Examiner column came to appear in over six hundred newspapers the world over, with a readership of more than twenty-million, and Parsons gradually became one of the most powerful voices in the movie business with her daily allotment of gossip. According to Hearst's mistress and protégé Marion Davies, Parsons had encouraged readers to "give this girl a chance" while the majority of critics disparaged Davies; it was on this basis that Hearst hired Parsons.
Beginning in 1928, she hosted a weekly radio program featuring movie star interviews that was sponsored by SunKist. A similar program in 1931 was sponsored by Charis Foundation Garment. In 1934, she signed a contract with the Campbell's Soup Company and began hosting a program titled Hollywood Hotel, which showcased stars in scenes from their upcoming movies.
She was associated with various Hearst enterprises for the rest of her career. Parsons saw herself as the social and moral arbiter of Hollywood. Her judgments were considered the final word in many cases, and many feared her disfavor even more than that of movie critics. Eventually, Parson's daily gossip column appeared in more than 400 newspapers, and read by 20 million people around the world. Her unofficial title ‘Queen of Hollywood’ was challenged in 1938 by newcomer Hedda Hopper, to whom she was initially friendly and helpful. But they became fierce rivals, Hopper being classed as the more vicious and unforgiving of the two.
In 1944, she wrote her memoirs, The Gay Illiterate, published by Doubleday, Doran and Company, which became a bestseller. That was followed by another volume in 1961, Tell It to Louella, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.
After the 1950s, Parsons's influence diminished. She continued her column until December 1965 when it was taken over by her assistant, Dorothy Manners, who had already been writing the column for more than a year.
Parsons was married three times. First, to real estate developer and broker John Dement Parsons, whom she married in 1905. From this union, they had one daughter named Harriet who was born on August 23, 1906, in Burlington City, Des Moines County, Iowa. Harriet would later follow her mother's passion for writing, and would find employment as a writer for a popular California magazine. Parsons divorced John in 1914. A year later, she married second husband John McCaffrey Jr. in 1915. The couple later divorced. Her third marriage was to Los Angeles surgeon Dr. Harry Martin (whom she called "Docky") in 1930; Martin served in the Army Medical Corps during World War I and World War II. They remained married until Martin's death on June 24, 1951.
Later years and death
After her retirement, Parsons lived in a nursing home where she died of arteriosclerosis on December 9, 1972, age 91. A convert to Roman Catholicism, her funeral mass was attended by individuals from the movie industry with whom she had maintained genuine friendships. She was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery Culver City, California.
Portrayals in popular culture
- Parsons was caricatured in Frank Tashlin's cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937) as "Louella Possums".
- She is mentioned in the Noël Coward version of "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" (1955).
- On March 8, 1956, Parsons' life was presented in an episode of the television anthology series Climax!. Teresa Wright portrayed Parsons in the program.
- She was briefly portrayed and referenced in the 1982 biopic Frances.
- Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Parsons in the TV film Malice in Wonderland (1985) opposite Jane Alexander as Hedda Hopper.
- Holland Taylor played Letitia DeVine, a thinly veiled version of Parsons, in AMC's The Lot, a 1999 comedy miniseries about Golden Age Hollywood. A running end-credits gag had Letitia DeVine reporting ironic news items about period stars on her radio show, then insulting them sotto voce when the broadcast was over.
- Brenda Blethyn portrayed Parsons in RKO 281 aka Citizen Welles, a 2000 motion picture about the making of Citizen Kane and the relation between Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies.
- Jennifer Tilly portrayed Parsons in the feature film The Cat's Meow (2001) which was inspired by the mysterious death of film mogul Thomas H. Ince in 1924.
- She appears as a character in Ken Ludwig's play Shakespeare in Hollywood (2004).
- Natalie Pinot portrayed Parsons in the Monologue Louella Persons (2013) written by Secun de la Rosa and directed by Benjamin de la Rosa.
- In the I Love Lucy episode "The Gossip", Lucy refers to Ricky and Fred as Hedda and Lolly, Parsons' nickname.
- In Singin' in the Rain (1952), the character of gossip columnist Dora Bailey, played by Madge Blake is a caricature of Parsons.
- Anger, Kenneth (1975). Hollywood Babylon. New York: Dell. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-440-15325-2.
- Collins, Amy Fine. "The Powerful Rivalry of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons". Vanity Fair. Conde Nast. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
- Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of Calinfornia Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
- Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of California Press. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
- Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons. California: University of California Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-520-24213-0.
- "Louella Parsons - American newspaper writer".
- Fleming, E.J., The Fixers, McFarland & Co., 2005pg. 46-48
- Name *. "The Mysterious Death of Newport Movie Mogul Thomas Ince". New England Historical Society. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
- Davies, Marion (1975). Pfau, Pamela; Marx, Kenneth S. (eds.). The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. ISBN 9780672521126.
- "RadioEchoes.com". RadioEchoes.com. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
- Niven, David (1975). Bring On the Empty Horses. New York: Putnam. p. 69. ISBN 9780399115424.
[Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper] were an unlikely couple, but they had one thing in common—they loathed each other.
- Dr. Martin is dead. Fox Film official. The New York Times. June 25, 1951
- "Louella Parsons". www.nndb.com.
- https://books.google.com/books?id=IHDXmW_Cda8C&dq=Louella+Parsons&source=gbs_navlinks_s pp. 131,199
- Louella Parsons at Find a Grave
- Vernon, Terry (March 8, 1956). "Tele-Vues". Long Beach Independent. California, Long Beach. p. 42. Retrieved April 21, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Louella Persons http://lacasadelaportera.com/progamacion-marzo/louella-persons/ Archived 2013-03-12 at the Wayback Machine
- Wagner, Rob Leicester (2000). Red Ink White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers 1920-1962. Dragonflyer Press. ISBN 0-944933-80-7.
- Works by or about Louella Parsons at Internet Archive
- Louella Parsons on IMDb
- Louella Parsons and Harriet Parsons at the Women Film Pioneers Project
- Interviews conducted by Louella Parsons with silent film Actors, Actresses, and Directors, reprinted in Taylorology
- Louella Parsons at Find a Grave
- Virtual History.com: Louella Parson