Fannie Hurst

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Fannie Hurst in 1932. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten.
Fannie Hurst
Born October 19, 1885
Hamilton, Ohio
Died February 23, 1968
New York City, NY
Occupation novelist
Nationality Jewish American
Notable works Lummox, Back Street, Imitation of Life, A President is Born
Spouse Jacques S. Danielson

Fannie Hurst (October 19, 1885, – February 23, 1968)[1] was an American novelist. Hurst was also active in the "single tax" (Georgist) and women's suffrage movements.[2]

Although her novels are not popular today, she had considerable success with Stardust (1919), Lummox (1923), A President is Born (1927), Back Street (1931), and Imitation of Life (1933).

Hurst is now best known for film adaptations of her works, particularly the 1934 film Imitation of Life and its 1959 remake, starring Lana Turner and John Gavin. The 1946 Joan Crawford film drama, Humoresque, also is based on a story by Hurst.


Fannie Hurst with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962.

Hurst was born in Hamilton, Ohio, to Rose Koppel (Hurst) and Samuel Hurst, and was the only surviving child of this wealthy family. She spent the first twenty years of her life in St. Louis, Missouri, where she attended Washington University in St. Louis and graduated in 1909. After graduating from Washington University, Hurst moved to New York City in 1911 to pursue her writing. Working as a waitress in Child's and as a salesgirl, acting bit parts on Broadway, attending night court sessions and wandering through the slums, the young author became “passionately anxious to awake in others a general sensitiveness to small people,” an awareness of “causes, including the lost and the threatened.” [3] Her stories appeared mostly in the Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan and eventually earned her as much as $5,000 each. She wrote her first novel, Star-Dust, in 1921.[4] In 1915 she married Jacques S. Danielson of New York, a pianist, but the marriage was not announced until five years later.

Starting in 1920, Hurst wrote a succession of novels, plays, screenplays, short stories, and articles.[5] She reached the height of her immense popularity during this time.[4] Hurst's publications include seventeen novels, eight short-story collections, an autobiography and several dozen uncollected stories and articles. Early in her career, critics considered Hurst a serious artist, admiring her sensitive portrayals of immigrant life and urban working girls.[4] A quartet of Hurst stories appeared as silent movies between 1920 and 1923. Star-Dust premièred on the silent screen the same year it was published. Her best-known novel, Imitation of Life (1933), has two sound film versions.[4]

In 1921, Hurst was among the first to join the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for women to preserve their maiden names. She was active in the Urban League, and was appointed to the National Advisory Committee to the Works Progress Administration in 1940. She was a member of the feminist intellectual group Heterodoxy in Greenwich Village, and a delegate to the World Health Organization in 1952.

When Hurst and Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson were having a long affair,[6][7][8] they often met in New York City's Greenwich Village at Romany Marie's café when Stefansson was in town; he was a regular there for many years and a good friend of the proprietor.

Hurst hosted a talk show out of New York called Showcase beginning in 1958.[9] Showcase was notable for presenting several of the earliest well-rounded discussions of homosexuality and was one of the few on which homosexual men spoke for themselves rather than being debated by a panel of "experts".[10] Hurst was praised by early homophile group the Mattachine Society which invited Hurst to deliver the keynote address at the Society's 1958 convention.[11]

F. Scott Fitzgerald presciently described her as one of several authors "not producing among 'em one story or novel that will last 10 years."[12]

Hurst died in 1968, at the age of 82, in New York City.[1] The first full biography of Hurst, by Brooke Kroeger, was published in 1999.

Major themes[edit]

That women are frequently the victims of preconceived attitudes or of social and economic discrimination is a major theme in many of her works. In Lummox (1923), for example, her own favorite and probably the best of her novels, the heroine, an inarticulate domestic servant who has great warmth and capacity for life, barely survives the systematic injustice of a callous society. That she does survive must be attributed to plot manipulation rather than natural events. In Back Street (1931) the heroine's capacity for life is frustrated by her lover's adherence to social prescriptions, and in Imitation of Life (1933) the villain is again a social code that will not allow an individual to realize her own potential. In each of these novels, however, women's own passivity, a trait Hurst deplored, conspires in their victimization.[3]

Unfortunately Hurst's fictions are not always capable of communicating the high seriousness of her intent. Frequently her characters slip into stereotypes. The Cad, the Alcoholic, the Egotist, the Self-Absorbed Rich Lady, the Golden-Hearted Whore, the Brave Wife, the Pure-Minded Virgin, and the Honest Burgher stalk through even her best works. When Hurst is most successful, as in Lummox, Back Street, and Imitation of Life, as well as A President is Born (1928) and isolated short stories, these characters assume a minor role and their effect is mitigated by the author's power to perceive and communicate real human anxiety and frustration. In her less successful work, when these characters assume a central role, as in Hallelujah (1944), or when the apparently good evoke less sympathy than the apparently evil, as in Any Woman (1950), more sentiment than illumination, more confusion than insight, is generated.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

"Hope for the best, expect the worst.
You could be Tolstoy or Fannie Hurst."
"You're so kippers, you're so caviar and I'm so liverwurst.
You're so Shakespeare, so Bernard Shaw and I'm so Fannie Hurst."


Story collections[edit]

  • Just Around the Corner (1914)
  • Every Soul Hath Its Song (1916)
  • Gaslight Sonatas (1918)
  • Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It (1919)[13]
  • The Vertical City (1922)
  • Song of Life (Knopf, 1927)
  • Procession (1929)
  • We are Ten (1937)


  • Star-Dust: The Story of an American Girl (1921)
  • Lummox (1923)
  • Mannequin (Knopf, 1926)
  • Appassionata (Knopf 1926)
  • A President is Born (1928)
  • Five and Ten (1929)
  • Back Street (1931)
  • Imitation of Life (1933)
  • Anitra's Dance (1934)
  • Great Laughter (1936)
  • Lonely Parade (1942)
  • Hallelujah (1944)
  • The Hands of Veronica (1947)
  • Anywoman (1950)
  • The Man with One Head (1951)
  • Family! (1960)
  • God Must Be Sad (1961)
  • Fool, Be Still (1964)


  • Anatomy of Me: A Wonderer in Search of Herself (1958)


  • Lummox (1930), movie based on 1923 novel; also dialogue
  • Symphony of Six Million (1932), movie based on story "Night Bell"
  • No Food with My Meals (1935)
  • White Christmas (1942)
  • Humoresque (1946), movie based on her story


  1. ^ a b West, Kathryn (2004). "Fannie Hurst". In Wintz, Cary D. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. 1: A-J. Finkelman, Paul. New York and Abingdon: Routledge. pp. 596–597. ISBN 1-57958-389-X. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  2. ^ O'Brian, Edward (1918). The best American short stories of 1917 and the yearbook of the American short story. BOSTON SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY PUBLISHERS. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c Frederick, A.(1980). HURST, Fannie, oct. 18, 1889-feb. 23, 1968.. In Notable American women: The modern period. Retrieved from
  4. ^ a b c d Hurst, Fannie 1885 - 1968. (1999). In The Cambridge guide to women's writing in English. Retrieved from
  5. ^ Hurst, Fannie, (1889 --1968). (2005). In The crystal reference encyclopedia. Retrieved from
  6. ^ Fannie Hurst. Anatomy of Me: A Wonderer in Search of Herself (p. 219). New York: Doubleday, 1958. ISBN 0-405-12843-6.
  7. ^ Gísli Pálsson. Travelling Passions: The Hidden Life Of Vilhjalmur Stefansson (pp. 187, 195). Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2005. ISBN 1-58465-510-0.
  8. ^ Robert Shulman. Romany Marie: The Queen of Greenwich Village (p. 144). Louisville: Butler Books, 2006. ISBN 1-884532-74-8.
  9. ^ "Yakety-Yak". TIME magazine. 1959-04-06. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  10. ^ Tropiano, pp. 4–5
  11. ^ Capsuto, Steven. "Kudos! AGLA's and GLAAD's Gay and Lesbian Media Awards". Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  12. ^ "This Side of Paradise". 1920. 
  13. ^ Hurst, Fannie (1920) [1919]. Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It. New York City: Harper & Brothers. 


  • Tropiano, Stephen (2002). The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. ISBN 1-55783-557-8. 

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