"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fannie Hurst

This 1929 lithographic crayon portrait of Fannie Hurst (1885-1968) by Joseph Margulies hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
“Fannie Hurst's name and striking face are little remembered today, but in the early twentieth century she was one of America's most prominent female celebrities. She owed her fame (as well as her fortune) to novels and short stories that spun heart­rending tales of immigrant life and the struggles of working women. Phenomenally popular, her fiction was dramatized in more than thirty Hollywood films. Hurst's passion for social justice led to friendships with Eleanor Roosevelt and several leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. She campaigned for a married woman's right to retain her maiden name, fought racial discrimination alongside the Urban League, and raised money for refugees of Nazi Germany. A talk show she hosted in the late 1950s broke new ground by featuring forthright discussions of homosexuality, and Hurst was among the first public figures to champion gay rights." -- National Portrait Gallery
Fannie Hurst
Jos. Margulies

This Kandeler photo of Miss Fannie Hurst appeared in  Notable Women of St. Louis in 1914.

The Jewish Women's Archive Encyclopedia remarks on Hurst's place the Harlem Renaissance.
"A prominent member of the Urban League, Hurst was friends with leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Zora Neale Hurston, whom she met in 1925. Hurston, who served as Hurst’s chauffeur, secretary, and confidante while studying anthropology at Barnard, classed Hurst with the “Negrotarians,” a mildly derisive term for whites dedicated to Negro uplift. Though Hurston was sincerely fond of her patron, she could not have liked Hurst’s penchant for dressing her up as an Asian princess and parading her around deluxe resorts. Hurst was well intentioned, and she should be commended for her eagerness to combat injustice through a popular medium. Unfortunately, her work often reinforced ethnic stereotypes."
This photo shows her around 1931 wearing a feather hat.

Ariel Schudson comments on Hurst's Gay friendly  television show "Showcase".
“Her contribution to the moving image media world was not solely made through the adaptation of literary works. Beginning in 1958, Hurst hosted a talk show called Showcase that featured public affairs panels and social issue-based interviews. Showcase was one of the first television forums in which the gay and lesbian community was invited to speak on their own behalf instead of being given the third degree or being treated as though they were a science project. Most previous television appearances of homosexual men or women featured them being studied or questioned as though they existed within a fishbowl or were a group to be “dealt with” by a panel of specialists.

Hurst’s breakthrough show was not as popular as one might have hoped. While Fannie Hurst’s support of the gay and lesbian community was unfailing (and had been so for years), the television stations were not all game for this content. While her fame certainly had some cache, it didn’t outweigh rampant homophobia. Showcase was cancelled several times by more than one station, finally ending for good after a year.  As Steven Capsuto writes, 'Hurst had contentious disagreements with station managers over her insistence on presenting panel discussions about homosexuality, and these broadcasts may have contributed to the cancellations.  When the second station, New York’s Channel 13, axed the show definitively in 1959, Hurst had begun devoting one show a week to the subject of homosexuality.  The final Showcase broadcast focused on same-sex desire among teenagers.’” -- Archive Type: Musings of a passionate Preservationist.
Fannie Hurst's reputation as a popular (as opposed to literary)  writer is exemplified by Mel Brooks' rhyme:
"Hope for the best, expect the worst
You could be Tolstoy or Fannie Hurst."

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