Laura Zametkin Hobson
Laura Kean Zametkin
June 19, 1900
|Died||February 28, 1986 (aged 85)|
|Other names||Laura Mount|
|Known for||Gentleman's Agreement |
(m. 1930; div. 1935)
|Children||Michael Z. Hobson |
Christopher Z. Hobson
|Parent(s)||Michael Zametkin |
Laura Kean Zametkin was born on June 19, 1900[note 1] in Manhattan, New York City. Raised in Jamaica, Queens, she was the twin daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants Mikhail (Michael) Zametkin (c. 1861-1935) and Adella Kean Zametkin (c. 1863-1931), both of whom were Socialists. Michael Zametkin was a labor organizer as well as co-founder (and first editor) of The Jewish Daily Forward; Adella Zametkin was a columnist for the Yiddish newspaper Der Tog (The Day).[note 2]
After graduating from Cornell University in 1921, Laura Zametkin held various jobs, including stints as an advertising copywriter and as a reporter for the New York Post. In 1934, she joined the promotional staff of Luce Publications (Time, Life, and Fortune), eventually becoming the first female director of promotion for Time. Hobson was, in fact, the first woman hired at Time in a non-secretarial capacity.
In 1932, Hobson's fiction appeared in print for the first time, when The New Yorker published "The Perfect Man" ("a sketch more than a story") under the by-line "Laura Mount."[note 3] Three years later, she sold her first full-length story, "Hands Down," to Collier's. She signed the story (published as "Play Something Simple") with a new by-line, Laura Z. Hobson. It was the beginning of a prolific career: over the next fifty years, Hobson would publish hundreds of stories and articles.[note 4]
After 1940, Hobson devoted herself to writing. In 1941, she was offered $5,000.00 to write a novel; the offer came from Richard L. Simon of the Simon & Schuster publishing house. Although she had never considered writing a novel, she eventually accepted the offer. The resulting book, The Trespassers, was the story of European refugees who are turned away from the United States during World War II, and was inspired by Hobson's own ultimately successful efforts during the war to obtain visas for a prominent European family. The book was published in 1943; reviews were mixed, but it was a modest best seller.[note 5]
After being serialized in Cosmopolitan,[note 6] Hobson's second novel, Gentleman's Agreement, was published by Simon & Schuster on February 27, 1947. This story of a magazine writer who decides to research antisemitism by posing as a Jew was a worldwide success, translated into thirteen languages. On April 27, 1947, it reached number one on the New York Times best seller list, where it would remain for fourteen weeks. (According to Publishers Weekly, it was the third-best selling novel of 1947 at some two million copies.) The Jewish Book Council named Gentleman's Agreement the best Jewish novel of the year, but Hobson declined the award,[note 7] which she later regretted.
The genesis of the novel was an article Hobson had read in the February 14, 1944 issue of Time magazine, which reported that John E. Rankin, Democratic congressman from Mississippi, while addressing the House of Representatives, had referred to newspaper columnist Walter Winchell as "the little kike." According to Time, Rankin was not condemned by his colleagues, but was enthusiastically applauded at the end of his speech. Hobson was shocked, not only by Rankin's remark, but by the response of the House as well. She began to wonder: "How antisemitic was this country, this America, these United States? Not just among the outright bigots like Congressman Rankin... but [among] other people, people who'd never call anybody a kike, people who said they loathed prejudice?"
The film adaptation of Gentleman's Agreement was released on November 11, 1947. Directed by Elia Kazan for 20th Century Fox, from a screenplay by Moss Hart, the movie starred Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, John Garfield, and a young Dean Stockwell. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won three, including Best Motion Picture of 1947. The movie was also a huge success commercially, grossing $7.8 million, making it the eighth most popular film of 1948.
Hobson's third novel, The Other Father, the story of a father-daughter relationship, was published in 1950, and was followed by The Celebrity, a satire of literary fame, in 1951. Both books were "experiments", and moderate best sellers, but Hobson herself came to see them as something less than "major" works. Despite Hobson's feelings, both novels were cited by The New York Times as one of the "outstanding books" of their respective years.
After beginning her fifth novel, which was to be a fictionalized account of her "radical childhood," Hobson became "blocked." Putting the manuscript aside, she returned to her career in promotion. In 1953, she began writing a daily newspaper column for the International News Service, entitled "Assignment America." During this decade she also began to edit the double-crostic word puzzles for the Saturday Review, and would continue to do so for nearly thirty years. In 1959, she returned to her abandoned novel, which was finally published by Random House in 1964 as First Papers. Considered by many to be her finest novel, First Papers was widely praised.
The Tenth Month, the autobiographical story of a divorced woman of forty who discovers she is pregnant, was published in 1971, and filmed for television in 1979 with Carol Burnett. Hobson's next novel was the well-received Consenting Adult (1975), about parents who learn that their son is homosexual, based on her experience with her own son, Christopher; it was adapted for television in 1985 with Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen. It was followed by the neglected Over and Above (1979), which explored concepts of Jewish identity in the story of three generations of women; and her final novel, Untold Millions (1982), the tale of a young advertising copywriter and the feckless man she loves.
Following publication of Untold Millions, Hobson wrote two acclaimed volumes of autobiography: Laura Z: A Life (1983), which concludes with the publication of Gentleman's Agreement in 1947; and the unfinished Laura Z: A Life, Years of Fulfillment, with an afterword by Christopher Z. Hobson, which appeared posthumously in 1986. In the books, Hobson discussed her books, her writing methods, and her friendships with such luminaries as Norman Cousins, Eric Hodgins, Sinclair Lewis, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce, Dorothy Thompson, and James Thurber.
As of December 2016, six of her nine novels are available in ebook editions from Open Road Media: The Trespassers, Gentleman's Agreement, The Celebrity, First Papers, The Tenth Month, and Consenting Adult. Mrs. Hobson's papers are archived at Columbia University.
In 1937, Hobson adopted an infant son, whom she named Michael. Four years later, finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, she decided to have the baby in secrecy, unwilling to have Michael feel stigmatized as her only adopted child.[note 8] She went into seclusion, gave birth under an assumed name, and then adopted the baby publicly under her own name. This child was named Christopher. Only in their adulthood did Hobson tell her sons the actual circumstances of Christopher's birth.