When 'Gentleman's Agreement' Made Jewish Oscars History

Fascinating Back Story Behind 1948 Academy Award Winner

Converting The Academy: Celeste Holm won the 1948 Academy Award for her role in “Gentleman’s Agreement.”
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Converting The Academy: Celeste Holm won the 1948 Academy Award for her role in “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

By Rachel Gordan

Published February 21, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
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(page 3 of 4)

And what would readers have made of the knowledge that her husband, Francis Thayer Hobson, president of William Morrow, had left Hobson abruptly, after five years of marriage and in the midst of their efforts to conceive a child?

Or that, a few years later, Hobson made a solo trip out to the same Evanston, Ill., adoption agency to which Al Jolson, Bob Hope and Donna Reed turned in order to adopt her first son? Or that she gave birth, in her early 40s, to her second son, choosing not to tell the father, with whom she’d had a dalliance?

What was bolder — but really, very typically Laura Hobson — was her staging, with the help of a few close friends, of a fake adoption so that her older, adopted son might feel none of the pain of being different or lesser.

Was there anything to which Hobson was more sensitive than that pain that came with feeling different? It’s unlikely. It had been stamped onto her earliest memories of being Laura Zametkin of the Jamaica section of Queens, daughter of Russian Jewish radicals Michael Zametkin, an editor at the Forverts and Adella Kean, a columnist at Der Tog. At the time of the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Laura’s parents draped their house in black bunting.

There were ways, however, of moving beyond that history; even the troublesome last name could be surmounted. Contemporary women may feel that by keeping a maiden name, they are holding on to an identity or publicly declaring spousal equality, but Hobson had always done things in her own inimitable way, and assuming the surname of her Greenwich Village live-in boyfriend, Tom Mount, was her choice. “Laura Mount” had a nice ring to it, the young writer decided, and so her first New Yorker story — a subtle treatment of anti-Semitism in polite society — appeared under that byline in 1932.

Later, her husband, provided another suitable option. This time, his wife tucked her Z in the middle. “The Z is for Zametkin, my maiden name,” she wrote in the first lines of her 1983 autobiography, “and I have clung to it through all my years, because it held my identity in tact before that Anglo-Saxon married name of Hobson.”


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