“You’re kind of young to know who Hedda was, aren’t you?” the groundskeeper asked as he curiously stared at me. This was my third attempt to locate the grave of Hedda Hopper on the grounds of Rose Hill Cemetery near Altoona and this was the first time I had encountered anyone able to help with locating her resting place.
Before I could answer the question he continued, “What do you know about Hedda?”
“Not a whole lot,” I answered honestly. “I know she was from Altoona and her column “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” was the forerunner of the gossip papers.”
“Hollidaysburg,” he corrected. “She was born in Hollidaysburg. You know we used to have a lot of visitors stopping at her grave, but fewer and fewer come to visit her nowadays. Most people don’t even remember her, or even know who she was.” He paused for a moment before suddenly blurting out, “Follow me.” I followed in my vehicle as he drove the lawn mower through the grounds of cemetery towards a place near the entrance. Parking along the drive, we walked over to the small, simple stone that marked the resting place of Hedda Hopper.
Hedda Hopper was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, daughter of David and Margaret Furry. When she was three David moved his family to nearby Altoona. Note: Hedda was born on May 5, 1885, but she often stated that she was born on June 2, 1890. The exact reason is murky, but most sources believe it was so people thought she was younger than she actually was.
While still in her teens Elda ran away from home for New York City, where she performed as a chorus girl and minor roles in amateur productions before making her first appearance on Broadway in 1909. It was during her time performing in New York City she married (William) DeWolf Hopper, Sr. and their marriage lasted from 1913-1922 and produced one child, William. While married to Hopper, Elda took the name Hedda. The name was given to her after she visited a numerologist who proclaimed Elda should adopt the name of Hedda, which she did.
Hedda arrived in Hollywood in 1915 and the following year she appeared in her first movie, Battle of Heart. Over the next twenty-three years she would appear in more than 120 movies. She often portrayed the distinguished society woman. By the mid-1930s, her movie career was coming to an end.
In 1937, Hedda would be offered the chance of a lifetime when the Esquire Feature Syndicate approached her to produce a gossip column. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Hedda’s gossip column found no boundaries as she exposed the darkest secrets of Hollywood. It was during her stint as a gossip columnist that she developed a feud with Louella Parsons. Parsons was also a Hollywood gossip columnist, who started the whole “celebrity gossip” market. Although the two began as friends, their rivalry was created as studios fed them each exclusive stories, until they each felt she had to have a better scoop than the other.
Hedda’s column attacked all of Hollywood and she held nothing back. She had power and anything coming from her could destroy a person’s career. Hedda deemed herself a loyal American and anybody whom she saw as not having those standards was immediately targeted by her. She wrote about rumors of those who may or may not be cheating on their spouses. Hedda would often accuse stars of homosexuality; at the time this would have destroyed their careers and any chance of them landing or keeping a leading role. In her later years she would be a part of the “Red Scare” witch hunt accusing a number of Hollywood players of being Communists.
While her words destroyed many careers, she also helped many of them. Positive reviews from Hedda would create new careers for young actors. If she liked someone, then she would plug them and their careers would be pushed by studios.
At the age of 80, Hedda Hopper died from pneumonia. Her body was returned to Altoona and buried in the family plot in Rose Hill Cemetery. While she hadn’t made it big in the movies, the world has never been the same thanks to her career in “journalism” that we see every time we go to the store today.
We stood in silence for a minute or two before the groundskeeper announced that he had to get back to work. I finished paying my respects, snapped a couple pictures and left her to rest with her family.
Note: I cannot verify this, but while I was talking to the groundskeeper he shared with me a story he had been told years before. He claimed that the former groundskeeper told him that Hedda was only partially buried here. The story goes that the family had her cremated and had some of her ashes buried here and some were scattered atop nearby Brush Mountain. Again, I can’t prove this to be true, but it still makes an interesting story.