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Louella Parsons (August 6, 1881 – December 9, 1972) was an American gossip columnist who had her own radio show which featured interviews with Hollywood celebrities.

Early life

She was born Louella Rose Oettinger in Freeport, Illinoismarker, the daughter of Joshua Oettinger and Helen Stein both of whom were Jewish. She had two brothers, Edwin and Fred, and a sister, Rae. In 1890, her widowed mother married John H. Edwards. They lived in Dixon, Illinoismarker, later hometown of Ronald Reagan. While still in high school, Parsons obtained her first newspaper job when she became drama editor for the Dixon Morning Star.

She and her first husband, John Parsons, moved to Burlington, Iowamarker. She was a lonely and unhappy Iowa housewife who hated small-town life. Her only child, Harriet, who grew up to become a film producer, was born there. While in Burlington, Parsons saw her first motion picture, The Great Train Robbery (1903).

When her marriage broke up, Parsons moved to Chicagomarker where she began writing movie scripts for Essanay Studiosmarker, once the home of Charlie Chaplin. Her small daughter, Harriet, was billed as "Baby Parsons" in several movies, which included The Magic Wand (1912), written by Louella Parsons. She also wrote a book titled How to Write for the Movies.


In 1914, Parsons began writing the first gossip column in the United Statesmarker for the Chicago Record Herald. William Randolph Hearst bought that newspaper in 1918 and Parsons was out of a job, as Hearst had not yet discovered that movies and movie personalities were news. Parsons then moved to New Yorkmarker and started working for the New York Morning Telegraph writing a similar movie column, which attracted the attention of Hearst. In 1922, after some shrewd bargaining on both sides, she signed a contract and joined the Hearst newspaper the New York American.

In 1925, Parsons contracted tuberculosis and was told she had six months to live. She moved to Arizonamarker for the change in climate, then to Los Angelesmarker, where she decided to stay. With the disease in remission, she went back to work, becoming a syndicated Hollywoodmarker columnist for Hearst. As she and the publishing mogul had developed an ironclad relationship, her Los Angeles Examiner column came to appear in over six hundred newspapers the world over, with a readership of more than twenty-million, and Parsons gradually became one of the most powerful voices in the movie business with her daily allotment of gossip. According to Hearst's mistress and protegé Marion Davies in her posthumously published memoirs The Times We Had, Parsons had encouraged readers to "give this girl a chance" while the majority of critics disparaged Davies; it was on this basis that Hearst hired Parsons.

Beginning in 1928, she hosted a weekly radio program featuring movie star interviews that was sponsored by SunKist. A similar program in 1931 was sponsored by Charis Foundation Garment. In 1934, she signed a contract with the Campbell's Soup Company and began hosting a program titled Hollywood Hotel, which showcased stars in scenes from their upcoming movies.

Parsons was especially known for her uncanny ability to scoop her competitors with the juiciest stories and for knowing all the secrets of everyone in screendom. She was associated with various Hearst enterprises for the rest of her career. Parsons established herself as the social and moral arbiter of Hollywood. Her judgments were considered the final word in most cases, and her disfavor was feared more than that of movie critics. Her column was followed religiously and thus afforded her a unique type and degree of power. Her formidable power remained unchallenged until 1937, when Hedda Hopper, a struggling character actress since the days of silent movies, whom Parsons had been kind to and mentioned occasionally in her column, and who had returned the favor by giving Parsons information on others, was hired to be a gossip columnist by one of Hearst's rival newspapers. Parsons and Hopper then became arch-rivals and had a notorious feud.

Parsons also appeared in numerous cameo spots in movies, including Hollywood Hotel (1937), Without Reservations (1946) and Starlift (1951). She was caricatured in Frank Tashlin's 1937 cartoon The Woods are Full of Cuckoos as "Louella Possums".

In 1944, she wrote her memoirs, The Gay Illiterate, published by Doubleday, Doran and Company, which became a bestseller. That was followed by another volume in 1961, Tell It To Louella, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Personal life

Parsons was married three times; first to real estate developer John Dement Parsons whom she married in 1905 and divorced in 1914. She married second husband John McCaffrey, Jr. in 1915. The couple later divorced and Parsons wed surgeon Henry W. Martin (whom she called "Docky) in 1926. They remained married until Martin's death in 1964.

Later years and death

By the 1960s, Parson's influence had waned. She officially stopped writing her column in December 1965, which was taken over by her assistant, Dorothy Manners, who was said to have been writing it for more than a year.

After her retirement, Parsons lived in a nursing home where she died of arteriosclerosis on December 9, 1972 at the age of ninety-one . A later convert to Roman Catholicism, her funeral mass was attended by several stars of the movie industry. She is interred in Holy Cross Cemeterymarker Culver City, Californiamarker.

Louella Parsons has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker in Hollywoodmarker; one for motion pictures at 6418 Hollywood Boulevard and one for radio at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard.

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