Miriam Hopkins (1902-1972)

Miriam Hopkins
Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins was a talented actress who began her highly successful movie career at the beginning of the Sound era and who later became a pioneer in television drama.


She was born Ellen Miriam Hopkins on October 18, 1902 in Savannah, Georgia. She had an older sister, Ruby. Her father was an insurance salesman and the family were comfortably off. Her parents split up when Miriam was very young and she was largely brought up by her maternal grandmother in Bainbridge, in southwestern Georgia.

In 1916 Miriam and her mother moved to Barre, Vermont, where Miriam attended high school at the Goddard Seminary. After two years she moved to Syracuse where her paternal uncle taught at Syracuse University although there is no record of Miriam herself studying there.

The Young Dancer

Miriam's first ambition was to become a classical dancer and she studied under the Russian ballerina Sonya Serova at The Russian School of Ballet in New York. She had a natural grace and athleticism and in August 1921 she was chosen to perform in the ballet prologue to the feature film 'Wedding Bells' at New York’s Strand Theatre. One month later, Miriam was selected to perform in the opening Revue at the new Music Box Theatre in Manhattan. She was then chosen to tour with a ballet company to South America but had to pull out when she broke her ankle early in 1922.

Theatrical Career

The broken ankle helped Miriam gravitate away from ballet and towards the stage and she decided on vaudeville as a stepping stone to a full acting career. After working with vaudeville star, May Tully in 1923, she worked as a dancer on the Pantages circuit of vaudeville houses and in 1925 she appeared on Broadway with a small role in 'Give and Take'. It was the start of a successful and varied period as a stage actress, with many successes and some failures also.

In March 1925 she had her first major success when she replaced Claudette Colbert to star opposite Fredric March in 'Puppets' on Broadway. She was rapidly making a name for herself as a reliable and talented actress and in 1926 she appeared in a lead role in 'An American Tragedy', again on Broadway, which ran for over 200 performances. After several more appearances on broadway Miriam made her London stage debut in 'The Bachelor Father' in 1929. She returned to Broadway an established theatrical star and was signed up by Paramount in 1930 to begin a new career as a screen actress.

Hollywood Actress 1930

Miriam began her new career in 1930, alternating between stage appearances in 'Lysistrata' and film work with Carole Lombard in 'Fast and Loose'. Her early movie successes included the 1931 Ernst Lubitsch musical 'The Smiling Lieutenant' followed the next year by the crisp 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'. She showed a gift for comedy in Lubitsch's classic 'Trouble in Paradise' in 1932 and the following year she played the title role in 'The Story of Temple Drake' which, despite having its violence and sexual content watered down, was still a box-office hit.

After another success with 'Barbary Coast' in 1935, she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the title role of 'Becky Sharp' in 1935. She cemented her position as one of Hollywood's top actresses in 1936 with one of her finest dramatic performances in 'These Three' in, adapted by Lillian Hellman from her own 1934 hit play 'The Children’s Hour'.

In 1933 Miriam was the first actress to play the role of Julie in 'Jezebel'. When in 1938 the film role went to Bette Davis, who won a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance, a studio inspired rivalry between Miriam and Bette Davis began, manifesting itself in 'The Old Maid' in 1939, both in the storyline and the actual shooting. The studio even went so far as to pose the two actresses together in boxing gloves.

Movie Career decline

Miriam's movie career declined during the 1940s. Her 1940 movie 'Lady with Red Hair' was poorly received and after another pairing with Bette Davis in the enjoyable 'Old Acquaintance' in 1943, Miriam returned to Broadway and stage acting for six years. She returned to movie making when called on by William Wyler to play Lavinia Penniman in support of Olivia de Havilland in the classic 'The Heiress' in 1949.

Miriam spent the rest of her career alternating between screen and, increasingly, the stage. She replaced Tallulah Bankhead on Broadway, in The Skin of Our Teeth, in May 1943, shortly after finishing shooting 'Old Acquaintance' at the Warner Bros. studios.

Later Career

As her movie career slowed down, Miriam appeared more and more on television. She appeared in many series starting in 1949 in 'The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre' and continuing in such series as 'The Philip Morris Playhouse', 'Lux Video Theater', 'Play of the Week', 'General Electric Theater' and 'The Outer Limits'. She made her final movie appearance in the horror film, 'Savage Intruder' in 1970.


Miriam married four times, firstly in 1926 to actor, Brandon Peters. They divorced in 1928 and two days later Miriam married her second husband, author and aviator, Austin Parker. They divorced after four years, in 1932 and shortly afterwards Miriam, now single, surprised everyone when she became one of the first people in Hollywood to adopt a child, a son, Michael.

In 1937 Miriam married director Anatole Litvak. The marriage lasted two years before the pair divorced. At some stage Bette Davis had an affair with Litvak, although it is not known if the affair took place during his marriage to Miriam.

Miriam's final marriage was to reporter Raymond Brock. It lasted for five years from 1945 before the couple divorced.

Miriam Hopkins died in New York from a heart attack on October 9, 1972. She is buried in Bainbridge, Georgia.

Miriam Hopkins Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actress ... Becky Sharp (1935)

Miriam Hopkins Filmography

The Home Girl (Short)
Fast and Loose
The Smiling Lieutenant
The Hours Between
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Two Kinds of Women
Dancers in the Dark
World and the Flesh
Trouble in Paradise
The Story of Temple Drake
The Stranger's Return
Design for Living
All of Me
She Loves Me Not
The Richest Girl in the World
Becky Sharp
Barbary Coast
These Three
Men Are Not Gods
The Woman Between
Woman Chases Man
Wise Girl
The Old Maid
Virginia City
Lady with Red Hair
A Gentleman After Dark
Old Acquaintance