Martha Gellhorn was a trailblazing journalist, filing dispatches over the course of five decades from some of the most dramatic hot spots across the globe. Her career as a war correspondent began in 1937 when she reported on the Spanish Civil War for Colliers magazine. She was a resident of the famed Hotel Florida in Madrid, along with many other foreign correspondents, including Virginia Cowles—and Ernest Hemingway with whom she was having an affair. They married in 1940-and divorced in 1945. Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column, produced at the Mint in 2008, fictionalizes their romance.
Gellhorn could not have been flattered by Hemingway’s portrayal of Dorothy Bridges, the long-legged blond in his play, described as “lazy and spoiled and rather stupid….” In 1946, Gellhorn had her revenge when she and Virginia Cowles decided on a lark to write a comedy about two female war correspondents covering WWII. Their delicious comedy, Love Goes to Press, is a frothy concoction, a romantic comedy set in a press camp in Italy in 1944. The cast of characters includes a tough American newspaperman, recently divorced from one of the heroines: “You can’t tell from the outside that he’s got the character of a cobra. From the outside he’s a beautiful, funny, fascinating man.” The HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman is due to premiere in May 2012.
Love Goes To Press premiered to great success in June 1946 at the Embassy Theatre in London, where Cowles and Gellhorn, though American, were then based. “At times the humor rises to brilliance,” observed The Stage. “The kind of comedy which lavishly mingles public relations, private lives, lines of communication, tough dames, and tender passages,” opined The Observer. The play quickly transferred from the “fringe” to a healthy run in the West End.
Just months before they sat down to write this play, Gellhorn was reporting from Dachau. She was one of the first journalists to enter the camp—an experience that changed her life forever. The play was written as an antidote to “the heart-sickening cost of war... Everyone longed to laugh in the first cold winter of peace… Laughter was lifesaving escape,” Gellhorn wrote in 1995, when introducing the play for publication.
Given its glowing reception in London, success in America seemed assured. Try-outs in Washington and Pittsburgh in December 1946 were greeted positively, but on the Great White Way, everything changed. Love Goes To Press lasted just four days. Its very strengths — particularly its comedy — were the very reasons it was dismissed. New Yorkers were not yet ready to laugh about the war. Recalling the hostility of the New York critics, Gellhorn wrote “Since they had not lived through real war, they found it tasteless, grotesque, practically wicked to make cheap jokes about any aspect of war. That was the end of the play.”
A distinct current of sexism pervaded some of the reviews. Wolcott Gibbs sneered in The New Yorker: “It is quite possible that Miss Gellhorn and Miss Cowles were indeed able to commandeer ambulances and even airplanes to take them behind enemy lines practically at will, I can only say it seemed a little silly to me.” Ironically, Gellhorn and Cowles had done precisely that—driven ambulances, flown in combat missions, and in Gellhorn’s case, stowed away in a hospital ship on D-Day—all in a day’s work.
Love Goes To Press faded from memory until 1995 when Professor Sandra Spanier of Penn State University rescued the play from the ash-heap and arranged for its long overdue publication with Gellhorn’s blessing.
“The Mint does for forgotten drama what the Encores! series does for musicals, on far more modest means” (The New York Times). The Mint was awarded an OBIE for “combining the excitement of discovery with the richness of tradition,” and a special Drama Desk Award for “unearthing, presenting and preserving forgotten plays of merit.” Ben Brantley, in The New York Times Arts & Leisure (August 21st, 2011) hailed the Mint as the “resurrectionist extraordinaire of forgotten plays."