Malice in Wonderland (1985)

When Elizabeth Taylor married for the first time, she ensured that two aisle seats were reserved for gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.  Years later, these two ‘queens of Hollywood’ turned on Taylor when she married Eddie Fisher. If Taylor was seeking revenge by appearing in this biopic, she would surely have been disappointed.

 

Opening at a luncheon which onlookers expect to produce fireworks, Parsons proffers perhaps the worst segue in biopic history when she asks Hopper “don’t you remember how it all started?”. We then flashback to 1928 with Parsons arriving in Hollywood at the peak of her powers while Hopper is struggling to make ends meet as an actress. When Parsons’ poor review of an MGM movie conflicts with an understanding the studio has with her employer, Louis B. Mayer sets up a rival to take her down. It’s not too long before he realises “I didn’t get rid of one monster, I created two.”

 

It’s one of many clever lines in a film that, like the curate’s egg, is good in parts. Jane Alexander gives an empathetic performance as Hedda Hopper. By contrast, Elizabeth Taylor’s listless performance as Louella Parsons strengthens our support for her nemesis, no matter how undeserving that may be. Which surely would not have been Taylor’s intention. 

 

Though the production values of this biopic are high, its treatment of Parsons and Hopper seems timid. For all their faults, this is one characteristic that that neither gossip was ever accused of.

cast, elizabeth taylor, louella parsons, jane alexander, hedda hopper
Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

as Louella Parsons

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Jane Alexander
Jane Alexander

as Hedda Hopper

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Gary Wayne
Gary Wayne

as Clark Gable

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Denise Crosby
Denise Crosby

as Carole Lombard

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The scene in which Joseph Cotton kicks Hedda Hopper in the rear is an amalgam of two actual incidents. It was Spencer Tracy who kicked her (for publishing a story about him and Katherine Hepburn), while Joseph Cotton pulled a chair out from under her while pretending to help her sit down. 

 

The actress portrayed by Nancy Travis is a fictional character.

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Biopic features no scene recreations. It does include a scene from an unnamed production, yet the only movie featuring Clark Gable and Hedda Hopper after Parsons’ arrival in Hollywood was The Easiest Way.  No such scene appears in this film and, unlike the biopic, Gable was sans moustache.

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