Laura Z. Hobson

Laura Z. Hobson

Laura Z. Hobson (June 19, 1900 – February 28, 1986) was an American Novelist best known for her novel Gentleman’s Agreement, which was made into an award-winning film of the same name.

Born Laura Kean Zametkin in New York City, she and her twin sister Alice grew up on Long Island, their parents were highly educated refugees from czarist Russia. Before she became a full-time novelist with the 1947 publication of Gentleman’s Agreement, she had been a successful writer of advertising and promotional copy on the staff of Luce publications, where she wrote for Time, Life, and Fortune. 

Laura studied at Cornell University, from which she earned a Bachelor’s degree;  women were very much in the minority at this and other Ivy League schools at the time. In 1930, she married publishing executive Thayer Hobson, with whom she coauthored two westerns. Some five years later, her husband left her and the couple divorced.

That year she wrote her first short story, and soon found a steady market for subsequent stories in the popular magazines of the time. Within five years, she felt secure enough to give up her position as promotion director for Time magazine to devote full time to creative writing. Incidentally, she was the first woman Henry Luce had hired to work in a non-secretarial capacity in his publishing empire.

In 1937 Laura adopted a son, who she named Michael Z. Hobson. This was quite unusual for an unmarried woman at that time. In 1941 she gave birth to another son, who she named Christopher Z. Hobson. Not wanting Michael to feel stigmatized as the adopted child of the family, she kept her pregnancy secret, giving birth under an assumed name so she could then adopt Christopher using her own name. Her sons didn’t learn the truth — that is, that  about Christopher was actually her biological son — until they were adults. As a single mother, she supported herself and her sons with her writing.

All told, Laura Z. Hobson produced nine novels, two children’s books, and hundreds of short stories, features, and news articles. According to her, the novels she wrote were based on her own experiences. First Papers reflected on her childhood. The Tenth Month is the story of an unwed mother. The story of a mother’s coming to terms with her son’s homosexuality was based upon Hobson’s experiences with Christopher, and was published as Consenting Adult. 

Her best known novel, Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) is an examination of “polite” antisemitism. It takes place in the New York City area, in the years just following World War II. Though it’s not as autobiographical as some of her other books, it must have drawn upon her keen skills as an observer of social mores. The film version of the book was a huge success, much to the surprise of the author, who felt compelled to write the book in spite of her doubt that any publisher would want to touch it. Starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy Maguire, the film won numerous awards, including the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1947.

The Tenth Month (1979; starring Carol Burnett) and Consenting Adult (1985) were filmed as made-for-TV movies. Laura Z. Hobson continued to write prolifically until her death from cancer (1986) in New York City.


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