It's Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise quotations intended to be uplifting or educational. Today's edition comes from Louella O. Parsons, a once-famous Hearst newspapers gossip columnist and syndicated radio host. During Hollywood's formative years, Parsons wielded inordinate power over the U.S. film industry. Along with her main competitor and arch-rival Hedda Hopper, these two women boasted a newspaper and radio audience of 75 million -- at a time when newspapers and radio were king, and the United States had half as many people as it does today.
Both women were the product of another era entirely. For one thing, they cheerfully lied about their age (among other biographical details). Parsons claimed to have been born in 1893, for instance, even though the real year was 1881. When pressed on her own birthday, Hopper would quip that she was "one year younger than the age Louella claims to be." That said, Louella Parson was born on this date, Aug. 6, in the Illinois town of Freeport, and raised in Dixon, the hometown of future U.S. president Ronald Reagan.
Although her popular gossip column was a creation of both the powerful studio producers who ruled Hollywood in the early 20th century and publisher William Randolph Hearst, Louella Parsons was a force of nature herself. The same was true of Hedda Hopper. Although the studio moguls propped up Hopper's career as a gossip columnist as a counterweight to Parsons, the result was a fierce competition between the two that eventually made almost anyone and everything in Tinseltown fair game. (I say "almost" because the two rivals, apparently without speaking to each other about it, never ratted out Spencer Tracy's longstanding love affair with Katharine Hepburn).
In any event, at one point the studio heads, apparently trying to control the double-headed Frankenstein monster they had helped create, arranged a détente lunch between the columnists. This was in the spring of 1948 at Romanoff's, the upscale Rodeo Drive restaurant one would patronize if the goal was to be seen publicly.
As Amy Fine Collins wrote in a 1997 Vanity Fair piece about the two women, Romanoff's "customers, who probably wouldn't have blinked if Harry Truman himself had walked in on the elbow of Stalin, stampeded for the telephones to broadcast the news to the outside world." Hedda Hopper later noted that these phone calls "brought in a mob of patrons who stood six deep at the bar to witness our version of the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty."
It was an apt analogy. Two hours later, the famous frenemies walked out of Romanoff's arm in arm. "Peace," Hedda wrote in her 1952 memoir, "it's wonderful! But it didn't last."
The episode reminds me of bouts of bipartisanship that break out in Washington just in time to avert disaster -- or sometimes don't. It was good for business for Parsons and Hopper to kiss and make up, but it was better for business when they feuded. Besides, and this also echoes many of today's partisan vendettas, we should never underestimate the personal dimension of politics. When asked whether Hopper and Parsons liked each other, Louella replied, "So many people say we do not. Who are we to argue against such an enthusiastic majority opinion?"
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.