“Hedda! A Musical Conversation”

Treatment

 

Hedda! A Musical Conversation is a gloriously fun and insightful one-woman musical on the iconic, hat-crazed Hollywood gossip and political columnist, Hedda Hopper. (That was a mouthful.) There are thirteen clever, engaging songs in a variety of styles and rhythms that are period sensitive. Her sexual plumage (her HATS…eighty of them) live on stage with her as do numerous colorful hatboxes dressing the area. After all, this is a show on Hedda Hopper!

Cast:

Jillann Gabrielle as Hedda Hopper
On stage piano player

Setting:

Hedda Hopper’s living room, Beverly Hills, CA
Many a morning between 1944-1958

Synopsis:

Hedda Hopper tells her story from her Quaker upbringing, to her run as an MGM bit player, to her meteoric rise as the hat-crazed Hollywood gossip columnist. Through a series of phone conversations, songs, and chats with the audience we are made privy to: her legendary feuds with Hollywood’s elite; the use of her column to promote her own political and moral agenda; her smear campaigns against Charlie Chaplin and other Hollywood Communist sympathizers; right up to the Liz/Eddie/Debbie debacle…which leads to her 11th hour number expressing a moment of self doubt and regret. But ultimately the old Hedda returns and raises her voice in triumph.

Story:

The musical opens with Hedda (in her robe and slippers) nestled in her arm chair recovering from a terrible hangover from the party the night before. While drinking a Bloody Mary, smoking, and munching on aspirin she regales the audience with a who’s who of Hollywood…the stars who were at her party last night. But she knows why the audience came today…to hear the latest on Tinseltown’s stars, their successes and scandals…from Ava to Zeppo! She takes off her robe to reveal her fabulous party dress, dons a signature hat and then tells us just who she is as she belts out the opening jazz rhythm song, “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood.” 

Minus her houseboy, Michi, (she gave him the day off after the clean up from the party) Hedda receives a series of phone calls.

The first is from her sister, Dora, regarding the care taking of her mother. A good-hearted Hedda is paying for her mother’s care back in Pennsylvania. Her older sister, Dora (who behaved as a sadist during Hedda’s childhood) is now Hedda’s employee and is in charge of overseeing Hedda’s beloved mother. Hedda, at the age of fourteen, helped out her mother and her family when her father left his butcher shop (and his family) for the Klondike to find his fortune. She honed her acting skills by doing whatever it took to collect the bills owed the butcher shop so her family could eat until her father came home.

Michi calls in and confirms that he did, indeed, get a very tipsy Joan Crawford home safely after the party and to remind Hedda to take the phone off the hook…if she wants any peace. But Hedda leaves it on the hook because she wants to hear everyone gush about the success of the party.

Louis B. Mayer (who was NOT invited to the party) then gives Hedda a jingle…and we learn that Hedda and Mayer have been doing business as producer and actress almost since the beginning of motion pictures. Mayer worked her to death as a bit part player during the silents and early talkies…so much so, she was give the nickname of “Queen of the Quickies.” But he really called to tell her that he will have her fired if she exposes that Cary Grant and Randolph Scott are an item. This is not the first time he would have fired her. He ended her contract at MGM when she was 52 because she wouldn’t satisfy him on his “casting couch.” Hedda throws in the towel to hold on to her job.

In “Friendly Enemy Rag” she sashays her way through her  professional philosophy…love your enemies!

She then regales the audience with her experiences of her good friend William Randolph Hearst and his legendary castle Hearst was the rascal who dubbed her “Queen of the Quickies”

…a hilarious Gilbert and Sullivan-esque tale of her early film career.

hedda girls

Hedda muses on the early days of Hollywood and its lack of morals…including the superstar Charlie Chaplin.

She puts a call into Louella Parson and settles an old score by wising her up to using their rivaly to create headlines for themselves.

Then her good friend Ethel Barrymore calls to gush about the party…and to make sure that the bomb she dropped last night about Claudette Colbert and Marlene Dietrich won’t make it into her column. Hedda explains to Ethel that she could fill countless columns with items like that…but they won’t let her print them.

In the tongue in check strip number, “Off the Record,” 

Hedda recounts to the audience all the female stars she could NOT put in her column.

She then confesses that Ethel was her inspiration for becoming an actress.

“The Ethel Barrymore Gavotte”

HooverJ. Edgar Hoover calls and enlists Hedda in his smear campaign against Charlie Chaplin who is in th emiddle of his second paternity suit which Hedda is engineering.

Joan Crawford calls and wines to Hedda about her new contract at Warner Brothers…which Joan and Betteputs her in the proximity of her old rival, Bette Davis. Hedda recalls all the bad blood between them and advises Joan to “use” the feud the way she herself uses hers with Louella.

 The doorbell rings and Hedda takes delivery of her new, custom-made hat she designed herself. In her homage to “Hats”

she sings about her affection for this popular clothing accessory…which has helped to make her a star!

 

 

Her former husband, DeWolf (Wolfie) Hopper, never really appreciated her hats. She takes us back to her life at age 25 when she left home to become an actress and was then turned down by Florenz Ziegfeld…which made her realize she was not a chorus girl…but an actress! She met her Broadway star producer/actor husband while auditioning for the Quaker Girl (type casting…as she was raised a Quaker). She tells us about her marriage to Wolfie and how she got her name in the hilarious turn-of- the century style “Wolfie and Hedda.”

 

Hedda brags about her son Bill, who costars on Perry Mason. Her “adopted” daughter, Elizabeth Taylor, calls and Hedda unsuccessfully tries to persuade her NOT to marry Michael Wilding…her second husband.

Her failure to stop Liz from marrying again causes Hedda to make a drink her original reciple…”Malice in Hollywood No. 1″

Fellow gossip columnist Florabel Muir calls and congratulates Hedda on finally making the paternity suit stick agains Chaplin…but Hedda won’t rest until she gets him out of the U.S.

She then wrangles with her new editor over her “dangling participles.”

She explains how her volatile relationship with the infamous Louis B. Mayer caused her to go from an out-of-work actress to a gossip columnist in the L.A. Times. And then in “Don’t Drink the Punch” 

she tangos while she explains how she exploited her affinity for exposing the peccadillos of celebrities and parlayed her popularity as a gossip columnist into super-stardom.

 

Her editor calls and reminds her that she is still a mouthpiece for the studios and must be a team player and help promote the new motion picture formats of Cinemascope and Surround Sound. Hedda argues that all the technology in the world cannot make up for the lack of a good director, good actors, and good script…but she plays it his way…to keep her job.

Then from her heart of hearts Hedda sings about her love for the motion pictures of the early days of Hollywood, “When Movies Were Movies.”


J Edgar Hoover calls again and asks for help in making more of a case against Charlie Chaplin in her column, which she is delighted to do. She is known for always telling the truth! “She’ll get that despicable human being if it’s the last thing she does.”

She muses on the concept of truth for a moment then goes at it again with her editor. He hammers her with the possibility of a libel suit if she doesn’t omit a comment from her column…which is the truth! She then warbles“I Was Simply Telling the Truth” about the pitfalls of doing so.

Her editor calls, yet again, telling her she cannot comment on politics. Hedda is livid and sticks to her guns as she throws her 32 million readers in his face!

th copy 4Her sister Dora calls…her mother has died in her sleep. Hedda collapses and sings “How Lucky We Were” about her love for her mother.


 

Time passes and Marlene Dietrich calls to console Hedda after her mother’s funeral.

Hedda places her one call of the entire show to Richard Nixon alerting him of Chaplin’s impending trip to England to publicize his new film, Limelight. She then makes her well-founded case against Chaplin directly to the audience.

mcCarthy

Senator Joseph McCarthy rings Hedda to congratulate her on her efforts through her column in helping to expel John Garfield from Hollywood during the recent House Hearings. He’s now relegated to Broadway with his Commie pals. Hedda gushes over the Senator’s crusade to purge Hollywood and our country of Communist poison.

Then she takes a conservative stand in the soap box song

“I’m Political”
 If we don’t get politics right we’re all toast!

Louella parsons (her arch rival/partner in crime) calls with the news of John Garfield’s death…implicating Hedda in it. This rattles Hedda a bit into singing a reprise of “We’re in America”

Which is interrupted with a call from U.S. Attorney General James McGranery who tells her Chaplin has been barred from returning to the U.S….which was in a large part her doing! Hedda flies high and time passes.

 It is now 1958 and Hedda gets a call from a friend telling her that the Liz/Eddie/Debbie scandal has broken a few hours early. Hedda is suddenly having uncharacteristic self doubts about her job and her relationship with Liz Taylor. She reminisces about Liz’s life in “Elizabeth” 

and is interrupted by a phone call from an outraged Liz calling Hedda an antique!

This really sets Hedda on her ear and fills her with self doubt…but she sings her way out of it and she rallies as the old Hedda returns with a reprise of “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood- Finale”

 

Untitled 3

 

 

 

zhedda painting from estate

 

 

 

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