She was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of David D. and Margaret (née Miller) Furry, members of the German Baptist Brethren. Her siblings included Dora, Sherman, Cameron, Edgar, Frank and Margaret. The family moved to Altoonawhen Elda was three. Her father was a butcher who owned a shop.
She eventually ran away to New York City and began her career in the chorus on the Broadway stage. Hopper was not successful in this venture, even getting the axe by the renowned Shubert Brothers. Florenz Ziegfeld called the aspiring starlet a "clumsy cow" and brushed off her pleas for a slot in the Follies. After a few years, she joined the theater company of matinee idol DeWolf Hopper, whom she called "Wolfie".
In her words, "Dancing came easy to me. And in singing, what my voice lacked in quality it made up for in volume." Thus, she remained in the chorus and they toured the country from one end to the other. While in the Hopper company, she realized that chorus and understudy jobs were not acting. She wanted to act, and she knew she would have to prove herself before she could hope to get anywhere in the theater. Hearing that Edgar Selwyn was casting his play The Country Boy for a road tour, she went to his office and talked him into letting her audition for the lead. She was given the role and the show toured for thirty-five weeks through forty-eight states. She studied singing during the summer and, in the fall, toured with The Quaker Girl in the second lead, the prima donna role. The show closed in Albany.
In 1913, she became the fifth wife of DeWolf Hopper, whose previous wives were named Ella, Ida, Edna and Nella. The similarity in names caused some friction, as he would sometimes call Elda by the name of one of his former wives. Consequently, Elda Hopper paid anumerologist $10 to tell her what name she should use, and the answer was Hedda. She began acting in silent movies in 1915. Hermotion picture debut was in The Battle of Hearts (1916) with William Farnum. She appeared in more than 120 movies over the following twenty-three years, usually portraying society women.
As her movie career waned in the mid-1930s, Hopper looked for other sources of income. In 1937, she was offered the chance of a lifetime and embarked on a career doing something she was quite adept at: gossip. Her gossip column called "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" debuted in the Los Angeles Times on February 14 (St. Valentine's Day), 1938. After years of struggling as an actress, she had finally found her niche. She christened the home she purchased in Beverly Hills "The House That Fear Built". She maintained a notorious if self-serving feud with the longer-established Louella Parsons, who had formerly been friendly, sometimes even passing Hopper information. Hopper and Parsons became arch rivals competing fiercely, and often nastily, for the title "Queen of Hollywood", although those who knew both agreed that Hopper, a failed former actress, was sadistic in her dealings with those who displeased her, far more than rivals Parsons and Sheilah Graham could have ever been.
- Hopper was noted for her hats, considered her trademark, mostly because of her taste for large, flamboyant ones; and her hats were so famous that, in the 1946 movie,Breakfast in Hollywood, Del Porter, backed by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, sang a novelty song, "A Hat for Hedda Hopper" while Hopper was sitting in the audience wearing an extraordinarily large milliner's creation.
- Fictional columnist J.J. Hunsecker, played by Burt Lancaster in the film Sweet Smell of Success, is said to have been inspired at least in part by Hedda Hopper. Hopper courted controversy as well for "naming names" of suspected or alleged Communists during the Hollywood Blacklist.
- Her frequent attacks against Charlie Chaplin in the 1940s for his leftist politics and love life contributed to his departure from America in 1952.
- After publishing a "blind item" on Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's relationship, Tracy confronted her at Ciro's and kicked her in the bottom.
- Similarly, after she had printed a story about an extramarital affair between Joseph Cotten and Deanna Durbin, Cotten ran into Hopper at a social event and pulled out her chair, only to continue pulling it out from under her when she sat down.
- Hopper spread rumors that Michael Wilding and Stewart Granger had a sexual relationship; Wilding later sued Hopper for libel and won.
- Actress ZaSu Pitts compared Hopper unfavorably with "a ferret".
- Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine sent Hopper a live skunk on Valentine's Day, with a note which read "I stink and so do you." Hopper commented that the skunk was beautifully behaved. She christened it Joan and passed it on to James Mason as a present.
Radio and television
Hopper debuted as host of her own radio program, The Hedda Hopper Show, November 6, 1939. Sponsored by Sunkist, she was heard on CBS three times a week for 15 minutes until October 30, 1942. From October 2, 1944 to September 3, 1945, Armour Treet sponsored a once-a-week program. On September 10, 1945, she moved to ABC, still sponsored by Armour, for a weekly program that continued until June 3, 1946. Hopper moved back to CBS October 5, 1946, with a weekly 15-minute program, This Is Hollywood, sponsored by Procter & Gamble. It ran until June 28, 1947.
Expanding to 30 minutes on NBC, she was host of a variety series, The Hedda Hopper Show, broadcast from October 14, 1950 to November 11, 1950 on Saturdays, then from November 19, 1950 to May 20, 1951 on Sundays, This program featured music, talk and dramatized excerpts from movies with well-known guests, such as Broderick Crawforddoing a scene from All the King's Men.
On January 10, 1960, a television special, Hedda Hopper's Hollywood, aired on NBC. Hosted by Hopper, guest interviews included a remarkably eclectic mix of then-current and former stars: Lucille Ball (a longtime friend of Hopper), Francis X. Bushman, Liza Minnelli, John Cassavetes, Robert Cummings, Marion Davies (her last public appearance), Walt Disney, Janet Gaynor, Bob Hope, Hope Lange, Anthony Perkins, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, and Gloria Swanson.
Hopper had several acting roles during the latter part of her career, including brief cameo appearances as herself in the movie Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Patsy (1964), as well as episodes of The Martha Raye Show, I Love Lucy, The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, and The Beverly Hillbillies, starring Buddy Ebsen. Her autobiography,From Under My Hat (Doubleday, 1952) was followed by The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1962), also published by Doubleday.
Hopper remained active as a writer until her death, producing six daily columns and a Sunday column for the Chicago Tribune syndicate, as well as writing countless articles for celebrity magazines such as Photoplay.
On May 8, 1913, she married actor and singer DeWolf Hopper in New Jersey. They had one child, William, who later played Paul Drake in the Perry Mason series. They were divorced in 1922.
Hopper died February 1, 1966, of double pneumonia at the age of 80 in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood. She is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona, Pennsylvania.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Hopper has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6313½ Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.