An Ill Wind from Mississippi

In February 1944 Laura Z. Hobson, a 43-year-old, divorced Jewish mother in Manhattan, read an article in Time magazine about Mississippi Rep. John Rankin, a noisome racist and anti-Semite who served in Congress from 1921-53, calling Walter Winchell a “kike,” Hobson was outraged, even more so to read that nobody in Congress protested. Hobson wrote about the Rankin incident in her first draft of Gentleman’s Agreement, the story of a Gentile reporter who pretends to be Jewish to investigate anti-Semitism. That someone as all-American as the reporter, played by Gregory Peck, succeeded with such a masquerade was a twist on the traditional “passing” story by implying that Jews really are just like Christians. The novel was serialized by Cosmopolitan in 1946 and published by Simon & Schuster in 1947. In 1948 the cinematic version, produced by (gentile) Darryl Zanuck, received the Oscar for best picture.

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