Ellen Miriam Hopkins (October 18, 1902 – October 9, 1972) was an American actress known for her versatility in a wide variety of roles.
Hopkins was born in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in Bainbridge, near the Alabama border. She attended Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont(which later became Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont) and Syracuse University (in New York), but apparently did not graduate.
At age 20, Hopkins became a chorus girl in New York City. In 1930, she signed with Paramount Pictures, and made her official film debut in Fast and Loose. Her first great success was in the 1931 horror drama film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which she portrayed the character Ivy Pearson, a prostitute who becomes entangled with Jekyll and Hyde. Hopkins received rave reviews. However, because of the potential controversy of the film and her character, many of Hopkins's scenes were cut before the official release. This reduced Hopkins' screen time to approximately five minutes.
Nevertheless her career ascended swiftly thereafter and in 1932 she scored her breakthrough in Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise, where she proved her charm and wit as a beautiful and jealous pickpocket. During the pre-code Hollywood of the early 1930s, she appeared in The Smiling Lieutenant, The Story of Temple Drake and Design for Living, all of which were box office successes and critically acclaimed. Her pre-code films were also considered risqué for their time, with The Story of Temple Drake depicting a rape scene and Design for Living featuring a ménage à troiswith Fredric March and Gary Cooper. Hopkins also had great success during the remainder of the decade with the romantic screwball comedy The Richest Girl in the World (1934), the historical drama Becky Sharp (1935), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress,Barbary Coast (1935), These Three (1936) (the first of four films with director William Wyler) and The Old Maid (1939). Hopkins was one of the first actresses approached to play the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night (1934). However, she famously rejected the part.
Hopkins had well-publicized fights with her arch-enemy Bette Davis (Davis was having an affair with Hopkins' husband at the time, Anatole Litvak), when they co-starred in their two films The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance (1943). Davis admitted to enjoying very much a scene in Old Acquaintance in which she shakes Hopkins forcefully during a scene where Hopkins' character makes unfounded allegations against Davis'. There were even press photos taken with both divas in a boxing ring with gloves up and director Vincent Sherman between the two.
After Old Acquaintance, she did not work again in films until The Heiress (1949), where she played the lead character's aunt. In Mitchell Leisen's 1951's screwball comedy The Mating Season, she gave a comic performance as Gene Tierney's character's mother. She also acted in The Children's Hour, which is the theatrical basis of her film These Three (1936). In the remake, she played the aunt to Shirley MacLaine, while MacLaine took Hopkins' original role. Hopkins auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, having one advantage none of the other candidates had: she was a native Georgian. However, the part went to Vivien Leigh.
She was a television pioneer, performing in teleplays in three decades, spanning the late 1940s through the late 1960s, in such programs as The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre (1949), Pulitzer Prize Playhouse (1951), Lux Video Theatre (1951–1955),The Outer Limits (1964) and even an episode of The Flying Nun in 1969.
She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 1701 Vine Street, and one for television at 1708 Vine Street.
Hopkins was married and divorced four times: first to actor Brandon Peters, second to aviator, screenwriter Austin Parker, third to the director Anatole Litvak, and fourth to war correspondent Raymond B. Brock. In 1932, Hopkins adopted a son, Michael T. Hopkins (March 29, 1932 - October 5, 2010).
Hopkins died in New York, New York from a heart attack nine days before her 70th birthday.