Sisterhood Blog

Throwback Thursday: Vicki Baum Wrote a Novel Per Year

By Chana Pollack

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Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Born to a comfortable though dysfunctional Jewish family in Vienna, Vicki Baum (pictured here with her sons Wolfgang and Peter in 1932), survived a difficult childhood to pen the Oscar-winning Hollywood film “Grand Hotel.” Baum left a successful music career as a harpist to write, first for a Berlin based magazine. She published one novel per year, starting in 1920 through 1964, when her posthumous memoir “It Was All Quite Different” was released.

One of Baum’s most famous quotations is “pity is the deadliest feeling that can be offered to a woman,” and her books featured modern self-reliant female characters not unlike herself. Exemplifying the concept of the “new woman” of the Weimar era, in the early 1920s Baum studied boxing in the distinguished Studio for Boxing and Physical Culture in Berlin. She was in good company — one of the three female patrons there was Marlene Dietrich.

When she desired an intimate glimpse of hotel life for the novel “People in a Hotel” that was to become the film “Grand Hotel,” she worked as a parlor maid in a Berlin hotel, and then wrote the novel in three months. When it was first produced as a play in Berlin in 1929, she performed the lead role herself. It reached Broadway in 1931 and was hailed as New York’s first successful play in three decades. Quoted as saying, “To be a Jew is a destiny,” Baum left her successful writing career in Berlin for the United States in 1932.


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