It shocks me that I had never heard of Martha Gellhorn until news of HBO’s Film “Hemingway & Gellhorn” (premiering on May 28th) reached Picador. The story of her life reads like a novel: passionate romances, foreign travels, trailblazing journalism. If you, like me, were woefully unaware of the awesome that is Martha Gellhorn, I present to you:
10 Things You Probably Didn’t (but Should) Know About Martha Gellhorn
1. She attended Bryn Mawr College (two years behind Katharine Hepburn) but left in 1927 (before graduating) to pursue her career in journalism.
2. Determined to become a foreign correspondent, she moved to France in 1930, where she worked at the United Press bureau of Paris for two years.
3. After returning to the United States, her coverage of the Great Depression for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration attracted the attentions of Eleanor Roosevelt. The two women became lifelong friends and correspondents.
4. Her first great love was Bertrand de Jouvenel, a married French journalist whom Gellhorn met when she was 22 after first arriving in Paris. Letters from this period are included in Caroline Moorehead’s Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, which Salon called some of the book’s most poignant “not just for their tales of impossible love (de Jouvenel’s wife would not divorce him) but also for the prescience with which Gellhorn already viewed her role in a world hostile to ambitious, self-reliant wome.”
5. Gellhorn first met Ernest Hemingway (who was still married to his second wife) in Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida in 1936 while on a family vacation.
6. She famously covered nearly every war and political conflict in the 60 years of her career including the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II, and the Vietnam War, to name a few.
7. Because the US Army refused to allow female correspondents on the front lines during World War II, she escaped her chaperones by working with escorts from D-Day until the end of the war, avoiding deportation by seducing the squadron’s commander, James Gavin. (This affair was one of several infidelities in her marriage to Hemingway.)
8. Her son, Sandy, was adopted in 1949 from an Italian orphanage.
9. Open about her ambivalence toward sex, she wrote of herself in 1972, “I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.”
10. She committed suicide in 1998 via drug overdose after a long battle with cancer. She was 89 years old.
For more amazing stories about this fascinating woman, Moorehead’s biography of Gellhorn is also available from Picador.