This Week in History


Laura Z. Hobson’s “Gentleman’s Agreement” wins the Oscar

“Readers would not believe that a gentile would pose as a Jew,” wrote Richard Simon of Simon & Schuster to Laura Z. Hobson in 1944 when she floated the idea of his publishing her novel Gentleman’s Agreement.

How wrong the distinguished publisher could be. Hobson’s novel was optioned for Hollywood before the book was even published. It became an instant bestseller and  the film adaptation starring Gregory Peck was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture on this day in 1948.

As recounted in an article by Rachel Gordan in the Forward, this was not the first audacious step Hobson had taken. The daughter of Russian Jewish radicals raised as Laura Sametkin in the Jamaica section of Queens, she put herself through Cornell and was the first woman hired by Henry Luce to work at Time Inc. in a non-secretarial role. 

But writing promotional copy for the magazine was not enough for her – she longed to write meaningful fiction, starting with a novel about anti-semitism.  In a long correspondence with Richard Simon, he warned her of the “heartbreak possibilities” that awaited her by an unforgiving public.  Why not give up the book?  She fired back, “Because I can’t see what the hell is the use of enduring the chancy insecurity of being an author unless you write stuff that you yourself find a deep satisfying rightness in.”

Hobson wrote eight more books, including The Tenth Month about single motherhood in 1970 and Consenting Adult in 1975, in which she came to terms with her son’s homosexuality.  She wrote two autobiographies about a life spent seeking to move beyond judgments and prejudices imposed on people by birth or choice of lifestyle. 

As Gregory Peck’s character said in "Gentleman’s Agreement," “Look, I’m the same guy I’ve been all along.  Same face, nose, tweed suit, voice, everything.  Only the word ‘Christian’ is different.  Someday you’ll believe me about people being people instead of words and labels.”

See also: “Laura Z. Hobson,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources: “When ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ Made Oscar History,” The Jewish Daily Forward.

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