Laura Z. Hobson, Author of Gentleman’s Agreement

Laura Z. Hobson

Laura Z. Hobson (June 19, 1900 – February 28, 1986) was an American fiction writer best known for Gentleman’s Agreement and the subsequent 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. Her father was the first editor of the Jewish Daily Forward; her mother did social work.

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.


University, marriage, and starting a career

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 co-authored 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, Laura 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.


An intentional single mother

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.

As a single mother, she supported herself and her sons with her writing. Her sons didn’t learn the strange truth — that Christopher was actually her biological son — until they were adults.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Z. Hobson
. . . . . . . . . . .

Nine novels in Laura Z. Hobson’s body of work

In addition to nine novels, Laura also wrote two children’s books and hundreds of short stories, features, and news articles. According to her, the storylines in her novels were based on her own experiences.

First Papers reflected on her childhood as the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Like her own father, the fictional patriarch of the Ivarin family is the editor of a Jewish daily newspaper.

The Tenth Month is the story of an unwed mother, mirroring some of Laura’s story as a real-life single mother by choice.

The story of a mother who comes to terms with her son’s homosexuality was based upon her experiences with her son Christopher. It was published as the novel Consenting Adult.

Though Laura Z. Hobson was respected as an author of her time, not all critics were fans. Of one of her later novels, Over and Above (1979), Kirkus Review wrote: “With the messages ringing through loud, clear, and tinny — Remember Your Roots, Forgive and Forget, etc. — this is a characteristic Hobson morality soap, even talkier than most.”

Though clearly,  some of her novels were stronger than others, it’s still a loss for this author to have been largely forgotten. She wasn’t a particularly literary kind of wordsmith, but her writing was clear-eyed and direct, especially her readable fiction reflecting midcentury New Yorkers.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Laura Z. Hobson

Quotes by Laura Z. Hobson on Writing and Humanity
. . . . . . . . . . .

Gentleman’s Agreement and beyond

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 skills as a keen observer of social mores.

As a Jewish woman who traveled in professional circles in midcentury New York City, Hobson was sensitive to both the subtle and open bias against Jews. This manifested as restrictions in housing, jobs, schools, and hotels. Antisemitism was common and even political discourse.

Laura told her publisher, ”I’ve got an idea for a book that the magazines will never look at, the movies won’t touch and the public won’t buy — but I have to do it.” Her publisher disagreed with her, and to the relief of all, she was wrong about the book’s prospects.

Gentleman’s Agreement tells the story of Phillip Green, a journalist who poses as a Jew. In this capacity, he experiences antisemitism as an investigative reporter while preparing a story for a magazine. When the book was published in February 1947, it hit the bestseller lists and stayed there for many months. It was translated into more than a dozen languages.

The film version of the book was also a huge success, much to the surprise of the author. Starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy Maguire, the movie of the same title won numerous awards, including the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1947. It received scores of other film awards, including one from the New York Film Critics as Best Film for that year.

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.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Gentleman's Agreement 1947 movie poster

The film version of Gentleman’s Agreement

More about Laura Z. Hobson

On this site

Major Works


  • Laura Z.: The Complete Life by Laura Z. Hobson

More information

Articles, News, etc.

Film adaptation

2 Responses to “Laura Z. Hobson, Author of Gentleman’s Agreement”

  1. Hi! I enjoyed reading this article after watching Gentleman’s Agreement. What a fabulous story. I am glad to have learned about Ms. Hobson.

    I noticed a couple of typos.

    I think this needs to be two sentences: “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.”

    In the sentence that first mentions Consenting Adults, a space is needed before the name of the novel.

    In the second paragraph after the heading “Gentleman’s Agreement and beyond,” it says: “she was sensitive to both the subtle and open bias in against Jews.” The word “in” needs to be removed.

    Two paragraphs after that, it says: “When the book was published in appeared in February 1947…” The first “in” is a typo.

    Then the first sentence in the next paragraph is missing a word: “The film version of the book was also huge success.” An A is missing before “huge.”

    I hope this is helpful. It is an excellent article.

    Thank you,

    Alexi Holford

    • Alexi, thank you so much for your eagle eye! Normally, we put posts through Grammarly to catch these kinds of silly typos that slip though; obviously this one didn’t get that extra step. I fixed the typos per your suggestions, then ran it through Grammarly, which had a handful of other subtle fixes.

      I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know about these edits. I also enjoyed learning about Laura, who has pretty much faded from public and literary consciousness. I enjoyed Gentleman’s Agreement, and found the film to be quite true to the book. Consenting Adult was a good read, and I hope to delve into some of her others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *