In April 1951, in what FBI Director J Edgar Hoover called “the trial of the century”, Ethel Rosenberg and her husband Julius were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage and sentenced to death by electrocution. Ethel was 35 years old and the mother of two little boys, aged eight and four. To this day, she is the only American woman ever executed for a crime other than murder. At the time, 70 per cent of the American public supported this double death sentence, but the case also sparked international outcry, not to mention increasingly frantic legal appeals. Read More
Read Rebecca Abrams’s review in the Weekend FT Life and Arts (21-22 August 2021)
Read Rachel Cooke’s review of Ethel Rosenberg in The Observer (27 June 2021)
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by electrocution for their part in a conspiracy to provide to the Soviet Union top secret information on the development of nuclear weapons. Their co-conspirators received long prison sentences, but the Rosenbergs became the first American civilians to be sentenced to death in peacetime. Read More
“IT WAS A QUEER, SULTRY SUMMER, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs … ” So goes the opening sentence of Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel The Bell Jar, referring to the Jewish American couple, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and sent to the electric chair exactly 68 years ago today. Their execution casts a morbid shadow over Plath’s book, just as it did over the United States, and it is seen by many as the nadir of America’s engagement with the cold war. The Rosenbergs are still the only Americans ever put to death in peacetime for espionage, and Ethel is the only American woman killed by the US government for a crime other than murder.
Read the full feature here
The Smile of TriumphSaturday’s historic Grand National win by Rachel Blackmore on Minella Times, making her the first female jockey to win the race since it began in 1839, was thrilling in so many ways.
‘Now girls can dream’ Blackmore said afterwards in one of many press conferences.
But in fact Enid Bagnold, the novelist, had already had that dream, a dream which she wrote about in her 1935 classic novel National Velvet. Nine years later in wartime Hollywood, with palm trees appearing on the imagined Aintree racecourse, MGM turned the book into a hugely successful film, a box office hit that set the then unknown child actress Elizabeth Taylor firmly on the path to stardom. Taylor was a horse mad English child who happened to be living in America at the time. She was little more than ten when she first auditioned for the role and told me, 40 years later, when I was writing the biography of Bagnold, why getting the part had meant so much to her.
I have interviewed Elizabeth Taylor twice and in November 2020, mid lockdown, I was asked by the BBC (with full Covid restrictions in force) about my memories of meeting the iconic actress.
Both my interviews were many years ago, ten years apart, but five minutes with Elizabeth Taylor is something never to be forgotten. I had fifty minutes twice. My reflections will appear, with impeccable BBC timing, this Saturday https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000vc82
Rachel Blackmore’s win is a triumph but it is worth also remembering that sometimes Life imitates Art and Enid Bagnold had imagined just this scenario almost ninety years ago, when no female jockeys were allowed. Another triumph, but of the imagination.
After five years work the moment you read the press release is when you know it’s real … you still don’t have an actual book in your hands, the excitement of which for me has never lessened from that first book, with my name on the spine, many years ago. But the piece of paper announcing to the world what a great book is on its way is almost more important. This is the document that will decide its fate. An advance guard, leading from the front, the harbinger of bestsellerdom, the spearhead that will go ahead of you trumpeting to potential readers what they are about to discover. Read More