Partner Ryszard Ordynski, William Desmond Taylor

Queer Places:
Parsons School of Design, 66 5th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum Altadena, Los Angeles County, California, USA

George James Hopkins | Through the Shattered Lens Presents The OscarsGeorge James Hopkins (March 23, 1896 – February 11, 1985) was an American set designer, playwright and production designer. Hopkins' unpublished 1981 autobiography, Caught in the Act, was used as a major source for Charles Higham's book on the William Desmond Taylor murder. All of the most prominent decorators were gay – Arthur Krams, Henry Grace, George James Hopkins, Howard Bristol – as was virtually the whole of the MGM research department.

A native of Pasadena, California, he grew up with servants and automobiles and multiple homes. His mother was Una Hopkins, an interior designer in the tradition of Elsie De Wolfe. She wrote for Cosmopolitan and Ladies' Home Journal, extolling her personal, modernist design theory, and was hired by many wealthy Pasadenans to redecorate their homes and gardens. His father had died before he was born, leaving mother and son well-off, with investments in Pasadena real estate. Una used their affluence to encourage her son in his own artistic interests, giving him lessons in design and music.

In 1911, at the age of fifteen, George was sent to the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, later Parsons. He was taken under the protective wing of several prominent men. Charles Frohman, called by Gavin Lambert, "the most powerful showman of his time", was the first of these. For many years, he lived quite openly with a male companion, Charles Dillingham, whome he helped become a producer in his own right. The sixteen-year-old George Hopkins would often find himself the dinner guest of Frohman and Dillingham, and through them met some of Broadway's most famous names before Frohamn drowned aboard the Lusitania in 1915.

He got his start designing scenery on stage in New York after studying design in college. He worked with Charles Frohman and above all with Morris Gest, whose office, Hopkins recalled, had "resembled a Pasha's cozy corner, filled with couches, pillows, Oriental rugs, and the stifling odor of incense." He'd have known: while in New York, he'd had an affair with Gest. Morris Gest was a brilliatn theatrical impresario who brought, among others, Geraldine Farrar to the stage. Another mentor of Hopkins was Melville Ellis, the dashing and influential costume designer for the Shuberts and, according to a rather surprising claim by Hopkins, Lee Shubert's lover. Sexual favors would certainly helo explain Hopkins' estraordinary rise from art student to Broadway designer while still in his teens.

Through Gest, Hopkins got a job with Zigfield, designing racy costumes for the world-famous "Follies." He also designed gowns for the play "An Unchastened Woman". Beaming over her son's success, Una convinced Oliver Morosco, the Los Angeles theatrical magnate, to hire George to design costumes for Morosco's film production. This way, mother and son could be reunited, as Una was decorating Morosco's sets. They were later hired as a pair to work at the Realart Studios, one of Adolph Zukor's companies, releasing under the Paramount banner.

Hopkins started to work at the Fox Studios in early 1917, hired as costume and set designer for megastar Theda Bara. It's likely that the Fox connection came through a new lover, Polish-born writer Ryszard (Richard) Ordynski, who had worked as producer for Max Reinhardt on the Berlin stage and come to the US in 1912. It was Ordynski who led Hopkins onto the set the first day to meet the enigmatic Bara. From that moment on, Hopkins would go back to Bara's hotel almost every night. She'd slip into an elegant dressing gown with a long train and happily entertain Hopkins and Ordynski for hours. After consulting her vibrations, she rechristened George "Neje", which he began using as screen credit. Neje also began writing her scenarios: among them The She-Devil (1918) and A Woman There Was (1919).

By 1919, an article in Picture Play called him "one of the brightest and most influential figures behind the camera." His first set, for Bara's Salome, might not have been as awesome as Griffith's re-creation of Babylon in Intolerance, but it was certainly the most majestic the Fox lot had ever seen.

Hopkins had a professional and intimate relationship with silent film director William Desmond Taylor, whose unsolved murder was one of early Hollywood's biggest scandals. Forty years later, Hopkins would still remember his heart "racing" the day the tall, handsome, aristocratic William Desmond Taylor first strode onto the lot. It was a crush his mother Una encouraged, adoring Taylor for his talent and his knowledge of period design. It wasn't long before director and set designer were lovers.

Taylor was romantically involved with several women, but his most sustained relationship was with George James Hopkins. In his memoris, Hopkins wrote that as time went on, the two men became less secretive. In April 1921, they attended together Mary Garden's opening in Verdi's "Othello" at the Philarmonic. While they did not walk in together, they sat beside each other in the front orchestra, in full view of Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, and many other key industry figures.

Some of Taylor's best work was the result of his personal and professional collaboration with Hopkins. Historians looking for that elusive "gay sensibility" in the work of gay directors can perhaps start here, with The Soul of Youth (1920). Just to make sure they got their details correct, Hopkins wrote that he and Taylor visited an actual make brothel in Los Angeles. They hired several attractive teenage boys to appear in the movie. To further give the picture its appropriate decadence, Hopkins bought up antiques and odd remnants, discovering several "erotic panels" with paintings of sailors cavorting with bare-breasted mermaids. Photographed and enlarged, they made a suitably audacious (and presumably outrageously campy) backdrop for the whorehouse scenes.

In The Furnace the same year, Hopkins designed a scene right out of Dante: a writhing, slinky, sadomasochistic Hell, with bodybuilders preening as they received their eternal torture. The actors were all nude, and only later, with flames addes as special effects, were the forbidden body parts concealed. Although it was Wilfred Buckland who was credited as art director, Hopkins was manager of production, presumably in charge of the details of the scene.

One film that has survived, Nurse Marjorie, starring Mary Miles Minter, shows just how far Hopkins had come as a set designer, and indeed how far the art of cinematic set design had progressed. Hopkins built a replica of the Houses of Parliament that was a wonder to behold. The literal pinnacle of the Taylor-Hopkins partnership came with The Top of the New York, in which George, once again Neje, wrote the screenplay and built fifteen-feet-tall replicas of New York rooftops. It would be Taylor's last film before his death.

Taylor will forever be remembered more for his death than for his life: his murder in 1922 remains one of Hollywood's great unsolved mysteries and the first public-relations nightmare for the studios involving gay issues. On the morning that Taylor's body was found, Charles Eyton instructed Hopkins to remove a basket of documents from the murder scene, and Hopkins obeyed. Hopkins' unpublished 1981 autobiography, Caught in the Act, was used as a major source for Charles Higham's book on the Taylor murder.[1]

The majority of set designers in the 1920s were not gay. George James Hopkins, finding himself increasingly out of step in the studio, got a job decorating theater interiors for the Fox chain.

With the rise of the set decorator in the 1940s, one old veteran returned to the industry: George James Hopkins. Hired by Warner Bros. in 1941, he went on to dress the sets dor many unqualified classics: Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, Irving Rapper's Deception, Life with Father, A Streetcar Named Desire (play by Tennessee Williams), Auntie Mame (novel by Patrick Dennis, for which his understanding of camp worked overtime), George Cukor's A Star Is Born, and three for Hitchcock: Strangers on a Train (novel by Patricia Highsmith, starring Farley Granger), I Confess, and Dial M for Murder.

During his long career, Hopkins was an Academy Award winning motion picture set decorator and interior designer. He won the Oscar four times, for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), "My Fair Lady" (1964), "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966), and "Hello Dolly" (1969). Other films on which he worked include "A Star Is Born" (1954), "Auntie Mame" (1958), and "The Music Man" (1962).

Among his last films were 1776 in 1972 and Day of the Locust in 1975. Then he slipped into obscurity and, despite his incredible career, died pretty much forgotten in 1985.

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