Hopwood started out as a journalist for a Cleveland newspaper as its New York correspondent, but within a year had a play, "Clothes," produced on Broadway. He became known as "The Playboy Playwright" and specialized in comedies and farces, some of them with material considered risqué at the time. One play, The Demi-Virgin in 1921, prompted a court case because of its suggestive subject matter and a near-nude actress.
His many plays included Nobody's Widow (1910), starring Blanche Bates; Fair and Warmer (1915), starring Madge Kennedy (filmed in 1919); The Gold Diggers (1919), starring Ina Claire (filmed in 1923 as The Gold Diggers, in 1928 as Gold Diggers of Broadway and also as Gold Diggers of 1933); Ladies Night in a Turkish Bath (with Charlton Andrews), 1920, starring Charlie Ruggles (filmed in 1928); the famous mystery play The Bat (with Mary Roberts Rinehart), 1920 (filmed in 1926 and 1959); Getting Gertie's Garter (with Wilson Collison), 1921, starring Hazel Dawn (filmed in 1927 and 1945); The Demi-Virgin, 1921, also starring Hazel Dawn; The Alarm Clock, 1923; The Best People (with David Gray), 1924 (filmed in 1925 and as Fast and Loose in 1930), and the song-farce Naughty Cinderella, 1925, starring Irene Bordoni. A clever, adroit, masterful craftsman who wrote to the tastes of his public, Hopwood was inexhaustible in his work ethic.
Sadly, personal troubles related to his homosexuality and his inability to break from the formula writing that made him a success led to his early death in 1928 at age 46 when he suffered a heart attack while swimming at Juan-les-Pins, France. Throughout his life, Hopwood worked on a novel that he hoped would "expose" the strictures the commercial theater machine imposed on playwrights, but the manuscript was never published.
The terms of Hopwood's will left a substantial portion of his estate to his alma mater, the University of Michigan for the establishment of the Avery Hopwood and Jule [his mother] Hopwood Creative Writing Awards. The bequest stipulated: "It is especially desired that students competing for prizes shall be allowed the widest possible latitude, and that the new, the unusual, and the radical shall be especially encouraged." Famous Hopwood award winners include Robert Hayden, Marge Piercy, Arthur Miller, Betty Smith, Lawrence Kasdan, John Ciardi, Mary Gaitskill, Nancy Willard, and Frank O’Hara.