Laura Z -- A Life: Years of Fulfillment, by Laura Z. Hobson. Prologue by Norman Cousins. Afterword by Christopher Z. Hobson. Photos. Index. New York: Donald L. Fine. 320 pp. $18.95 The Z was for Zametkin, the Russian Jewish name she proudly enjoyed all her life. The Anglo-Saxon Hobson was acquired when she married Thayer Hobson.
Norman Cousins, in his introduction, characterizes his old friend Laura Z. Hobson as a grande dame, not invidiously, he says, but because she simply was a woman who knew how to take command, who left no doubt about what she was about, and what she was about to say.
This second volume of her autobiography (the first is simply called ``Laura Z'') starts out with her worries over just how much to tell, but she declares that what she does put down will be authentic. The old adage has it that all artists write their own autobiography; long before Hobson wrote her own story, her best writing bore this out, her own true emotions supporting the fiction. She was a painstaking, plain-spoken writer. She would never have received an award from Henry James, but her enormously successful novel about anti-Semitism, ``Gentleman's Agreement,'' certainly springs from deep conviction; the Oscar-winning film made from her novel was a highlight of her life.
Starting out as a copywriter in advertising and promotion took her to the Time & Life world of Henry R. Luce; she was a friend of his famous wife, Clare Booth Luce, moving in the celebrity world of New York and Hollywood.
Talking about her two sons, one natural and one adopted, she comes through as a loving, concerned, and demanding parent. The homosexuality of one son was to result in a novel (which he did not like) dealing with the subject from the parent's viewpoint. This novel, ``Consenting Adult,'' was also made into a film.
When she suffered writer's block, she would return to the workaday world to support her family. Back at Time magazine, she became concerned about the editorial policies of the magazine, writing a long in-house critique that may or may not have endeared her to Mr. Luce. She talked about ``conscience'' and ``excellence.'' Always active in liberal causes, early on she had been clear-eyed about the claims of communism when many a near-sighted intellectual overlooked Stalin's rampages.
Later in her life, the advent of ``All in the Family'' on television again sparked her distress over ethnic polarization. What had involved her with anti-Semitism now seemed to be found in another direction. Always sensitive to language, she was shocked and horrified over Archie Bunker and did a long piece for the New York Times explaining why. The language that was used, she felt, was dishonest and certainly divisive. She distinguished between laughter and cruel laughter.