Los Angeles film debut of Anzia Yezierska's "Hungry Hearts"
In her short stories and novels, author Anzia Yezierska focused on the challenges faced by young Jewish women trying to navigate between their immigrant families and their desire to become part of America. After a long period of struggling to attain a public voice, Yezierska published Hungry Hearts, a book of short stories, in 1920. Once the book found public attention, it attracted interest from Hollywood. The silent movie Hungry Hearts opened in New York City on Thanksgiving, 1922, and in Los Angeles on December 3.
The Goldwyn Company paid $10,000 for the film rights and brought Yezierska to Los Angeles as a $200 per week screen writer. This was the first financial security Yezierska had ever experienced. Despite the excitement of finally being rewarded for her work as a writer, Yezierska was overwhelmed by her portrayal in the popular press as a “sweatshop Cinderella.” She also felt unable to draw upon authentic immigrant experience while ensconced in Hollywood luxury. She returned to New York after a few months.
The film Hungry Hearts is notable for its attempts to portray the struggle of immigrant life and for its street scenes that were actually filmed on the Lower East Side. Still many reviewers and Yezierska, herself, objected to the sentimentality of the final script and to a tacked-on happy ending (described by the New York Times as “incredible and mushy”).
In Hungry Hearts and her later stories and novels (e.g. Breadgivers, 1925), Yezierska was the first author to present the struggles of immigrant women to a broader American audience. Persea Books began publishing reprints of Yezierska's work in 1975.
To learn more about Anzia Yezierska, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for September 13, 1925, "New York Times" reviews Yezierska's "Bread Givers"; Go & Learn: Primary Documents and Lesson Plans, Immigration and Generations: Anzia Yezierska's Children of Loneliness; Anzia Yezierska's papers in the Virtual Archive.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1922; New York Times, November 27, 1922; Louise Levitas Henriksen, Anzia Yezierska, A Writer’s Life (New Brunswick, NJ, 1988).