Bainbridge’s own movie star

Published 11:17 am Monday, April 4, 2011

Recently Bainbridge was the site of a movie.

Its streets were immortalized.

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Its people stars.

However, do you realize that Bainbridge was once the home of a famous movie star?

A person who has two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one for films and one for television?

A gal who was nominated for an Oscar and appeared in more than 30 movies?

That she was a star on Broadway appearing in many stage plays?

This Southern beauty is Miriam Hopkins.

Hopkins was born in Savannah, Ga., on Oct. 18, 1902. Her parents were divorced when she was a small child. It was then that she and her mother moved to Bainbridge to live with her great-grandfather in a home that is on the corner of Scott and Shotwell streets that now houses Forsyth Insurance.

His name was James Edward Dickinson, the fourth mayor of Bainbridge and also a founder of St. John’s Episcopal Church. It was here that Hopkins sang in the children’s choir and discovered that she loved singing.

When Hopkins was in her teens, her family moved to New York City to live with her mother’s twin brother, a wealthy businessman who then supported the family. With this move she was able to go to private schools that featured a curriculum in music and dance like Vermont’s Goddard Seminary.

After graduation, she then attended Syracuse University where she majored in drama. All of these experiences helped her choose her life’s work, which was her first love, singing and dancing.

After graduating from Syracuse, she danced with the Leoboska Dance Troupe. Hopkins’ first dancing part was on Broadway as a chorus girl in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue.

From there she danced in several musicals until she broke her ankle. This closed the door on her dancing career. However, Hopkins did not want her dream as a star on the stage to end. She then took up acting. She tried out for several parts and became known for her performances in vaudeville.

After becoming well known, Hopkins put all of her talent into acting in plays, mostly parts as a Southern belle.

Moving to Hollywood

Hopkins wanted to try and expand her acting career. In 1928, she journeyed to Hollywood. Here, she auditioned for her very first part in a movie. She was successful in getting a supporting roll in the film Home Girl.

Critics described her acting style as, “Crisp and energetic with an unusual ability to connect with the emotions necessary in her part.”

Her career took off, culminating with her starring in 36 full-length films over four decades. She reached her highest pinnacle in the mid 1930s starring in some of the most popular films of this era.

In the 1932 film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, she costarred with the popular Frederic March. This was a very demanding part, and Hopkins turned this roll into a most memorable one.

Her next accomplishment was starring in the a series of films based on very popular novels and plays of this era. An example is the popular film, Design for Living (1933), based on the play by Noel Coward. Another film, The Story of Temple Drake (1933), was an adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel “Sanctuary.” In this film she played the lead part.

1935 saw her starring in her crowning achievement, the film, Becky Sharp. It was an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, “Vanity Fair.” This was the very first full-length color film made. It earned Hopkins an Oscar nomination for best actress.

Next followed the films, These Three (1936), in which she costarred with Merle Oberon and the Old Maid (1939), where she costarred with Joel McCrea. She worked well with McCrea and ended up starring in five films with him.

Hollywood is very hard on marriages and the same was true for Hopkins. Her first husband was actor Brandon Peters, whom she married in 1926 and divorced in 1931.

She then married author and aviator Austin Parker in 1931. This too ended in divorce in 1932. However, while married to Parker, she adopted a son, Michael. She described him as the best thing that happened to her. She was very proud of grandson, Tom, who became a naval officer and also gave her a grandchild.

Hopkins’ next career challenge seemed to have started her on a downward spiral. She wanted the role as Scarlet O’Hara in the famous film, Gone With The Wind, ever so much and she seemed to be the natural choice. Being a native Georgian and a true Southern belle, her actions and accent were real. However, much to her bitter disappointment, Vivian Leigh was appointed the roll. This loss soured her disposition. It also seemed to generate a streak of bad judgment when it came to choosing which parts to go after. An example was when she was sought after to play the part of Ellie Andrews in the movie, It Happened One Night. Miriam rejected the role and it went to Claudette Colbert. This performance resulted in an Academy Award for Colbert.

Around this time, Hopkins’ personal life began to fall apart. She had well-publicized fights with her arch-enemy Bette Davis. This is not surprising since Davis was having an affair with Hopkins’ Russian-born, film director husband, Anatole Litvak. His affair with Davis ended their marriage in 1939.

A very awkward situation developed when Davis and Hopkins co-starred in two films together, The Old Maid and Old Acquaintance. During the filming of Old Acquaintance, Davis admitted to enjoying a scene in which she gets to shake Hopkins “very hard.”

As you can imagine the press was all over this feud with photos being taken showing both stars in a boxing ring with gloved hands ready to strike.

After Old Acquaintance, she did not try for film parts for about six years and her career faded quickly. Then in 1949, Hopkins staged a come back and got a leading part in the movie, The Heiress.

At this time she entered into her last marriage in 1945. Her husband was war correspondent Raymond D. Brock. Once again, it ended in divorce in 1951.

Hopkins died of a heart attack in New York City on Oct. 9, 1972, and was buried in Bainbridge’s Oak City Cemetery on Webster Street.

Dale and Joyce Kramer are members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla , and are members of BoatUS. They can be reached at kramers229aol@com.