I picked this book up by mistake several years ago. I thought it was a bio of Dorothy Parker. It was possibly the best mistake I ever made. Thompson is now a forgotten figure, somehow escaping the accolades heaped upon her peers.Yet she was a fantastic and inovative woman, breaking new career paths and new ideas. Sure, she wasn't the most likeable of people. But with Thompson that's not the point.This book has sent me on a five year quest to gather all of the information I can about her, from her book "I Saw Hitler" to collections of her essays. I've been on a tangential search for every thing relating to her I can get my hands on.And it's all because Kurth wrote a spectacular and engaging biography.
If you ask the average American to name a female reporter, most will be hard-pressed to name anyone besides Dear Abby or Ann Landers. These two "Agony Aunts" were sisters and today their daughters and others write their columns. Few Americans can name a woman journalist.
The history of discrimination against women journalists goes back to colonial America. Then came Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman who wrote under the pen name of Nellie Bly. She showed that a woman journalist could do serious muckraking. Her example inspired Dorothy Thompson who was born July 9,1893 in Lancaster, New York.
Peter Kurth has written an excellent biography of this pioneering woman journalist, tracing her life from her childhood in western New York, her journalism career, and marriages and divorces. After divorcing her first husband Josef Bard, she married author Sinclair Lewis in 1928. She divorced Lewis in 1942.
In 1920, she traveled to Europe and wrote free-lance pieces for several U.S. newspapers including the Christian Science Monitor. In 1924, the Philadelphia Public Ledger appointed her their Berlin bureau chief, which made Thompson the first woman to head a major overseas news bureau.
She is notable as the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany (in 1934), and began a crusade against dictatorship and other forms of fascism. Concerning our current U.S. president, she predicted:
"No people ever recognize their dictator in advance. He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship ... When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American. And nobody will ever say 'Heil' to him, nor will they call him 'Führer' or 'Duce'. But they will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic, sheeplike bleat of 'O.K., Chief! Fix it like you wanna, Chief! Oh Kaaaay!' "
Dorothy Thompson's second husband was Sinclair Lewis. In their lifetimes she was as famous as he was. Their marriage was not a success. They had a son, Michael. Her curiosity and energy lifted DT to the top of the heap of journalists of the pre-WW II and post-WW II era. She was a foreign correspondent and a columnist. She liked the company of men because men did interesting things. She died in Portugal visiting her grandchildren. For many years she had a farmhouse in Vermont and arranged for friends to settle in the area. Rebecca West was an epistolary confidant.
After Thompson wrote I SAW HITLER she was expelled from Berlin. There is an enormous archive of her work at Syracuse University, her alma mater. Her father, a Methodist minister, possessed generosity of spirit. Just out of college, Thompson worked for a women's suffrage organization in New York State. At age twenty-seven she went to Europe. It was 1920. She could send the American newspapers travel articles or stories about the peace in the days following WW I. In London she and her friend Barbara DePorte went to the International News Service offering to cover an upcoming conference on Zionism.
In Paris Dorothy became friends with Rose Wilder Lane. Paul Scott Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News advised her to leave Paris where there were numerous American writers to corner the market in another European city. Dorothy Thompson chose Vienna. She was guileless and frank interviewing leaders. In Hungary she met M. Fodor, the Guardian's special correspondent. She met Czech leaders Benes and Masaryk. In 1921 Dorothy Thompson became a salaried correspondent in Vienna for the Public Ledger. Politics was failing as a remedy in Austria and the surrounding countries.Read more ›
Upon seeing Disney's animated film "Fantasia", Dorothy Thompson wrote in 1940, in the New York Tribune: '....Mr. Stokowsky, in particular, collaborates to the holocaust of the masters he adores in a performance of satanic defilement committed before the largest possible public--the countless millions of the masses that crowd the motion picture theaters. All I could think to say of the "experience" as I staggered out was that it was "Nazi." The word did not arise out of an obsession. Naziism is the abuse of power, the perverted betrayal of the best instincts, the genius of a race turned into black magical destruction, and so is the Fantasia. ....For what conceivable purpose was this crime committed? ....Altogether Mr. Disney's later films, and above all the films in the Fantasia, are a caricature of the Decline of the West. They are cruel, and in the latest work brutal and brutalizing. ...If the man who turned against Napoleon (Beethoven) had lived to see the inside of a Nazi concentration camp his torturers might have driven him mad by the performance of Mr. Stokowsky and Mr. Disney.'