One of the Greatest War Correspondents of the 20th Century: Martha Gellhorn

In theme with Memorial Day, USA Today highlighted a new HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn, starring Clive Owen as Hemingway, and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s his third wife. Gellhorn had an amazing life.  As Nicole Kidman says, “Her main thrust as a woman was not as a mother or a wife. It was as… 

…a career woman, a journalist, and a war correspondent.”  Here are a few details of her life:

-She was an American novelist, travel writer and journalist, and one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.

-She reported on “virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career.”

-She and Hemingway met in 1936, and later bonded in “Madrid, where both had traveled for the Spanish Civil War.”  They married in December, 1940, had a 4 year contentious marriage before divorcing in 1945.

-She was fiercely intelligent and independent, and when Hemingway wanted her to stay in Cuba while he writes, she had a “hunger to see and cover the world” — and did. When he tried to block her to travel to cover the D-Day Invasion, “she told him she had had enough.”

-As a journalist, she “had a gift for writing about how the turmoil of war affected ordinary people” and “wrote brilliantly about the effects of war and unhappiness and loneliness and poverty on people who had been attacked.”

-When she was about 40 years old, she adopted a boy from an Italian orphanage. Ok..she was not childfree her whole life, but when she decided she wanted a child, she chose to raise a child who was already here in need of a home.  She did not know it, but what she did was right up the alley of The Offspring Assumption I talk about in The Baby Matrix!

-At age 89, she committed suicide, after a battle with cancer and near total blindness.

According to the movie’s director, Philip Kaufman, Gellhorn was “sort of lost by history,” and he hopes the movie will bring people back to reading Gellhorn and recognizing her bravery… and brilliance.

She is a woman I wish I could have known, as well as a life long friend of hers…of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Read any of Gellhorn’s work? It’s on my reading list for sure.

3 thoughts on “One of the Greatest War Correspondents of the 20th Century: Martha Gellhorn

  1. From Laura–Addendum to this post: I watched the HBO movie last night, and have a theory about why Gellhorn ended up adopting a child later in life. In her war correspondent work she witnessed a lot of children see their parents die, have nowhere to go, have no family, etc. It really got to her. Maybe she was moved to adopt a child to save a child herself after seeing so many be abandoned during war…the movie is worth the watch – interesting characters and lives, and a piece of history definitely worth knowing more about…

  2. Hello,

    I skimmed a biography of Gelhorn and unfortunately recall her mother pressuring her to produce children (especially as she approached age 40) and implying that real life and everything that matters is to be found in motherhood. The fact that she adopted one as a divorced woman at that age seemed to me a way of approximating the LifeScript but also bypassing a lot of normal family life obligations (pregnancy, baby care– the child was older when she adopted him– marital relationship, housekeeping–I think boarding school was involved…). However, it did not fill up her world, or even go all that smoothly, as I recall. Reminds me of another blonde beauty who was a fearless World War II photographer and correspondent, Lee Miller, who also bowed to social expectation and, at the age of 40, produced her one child, but was not all that interested in childcare and was lost in her later years because her life that no longer contained danger or adventure. The writer Colette also waited until 40 to have her one child, and somehow I think in those cases it’s often a case of curiosity more than anything else, and since the door is closing might as well do it.

    1. Thanks for that info about her…very interesting. Imagine the pressure to be a mother in that generation..I find her to have been a brave person in so many ways. The movie and some of what I have read does say seeing the kids lose their families in war really tore her up -imagine how much of that she saw-and that too may have added to “trying on” motherhood later in life…if anyone finds out more about her feelings about adopting later in life please share~

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *