Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gardiner, Muriel "The Real Heroine" (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Muriel Morris Gardiner Buttinger: Who was the real “Julia?” That is the question. When the 1977 movie “Julia,” came out about a young heiress involved in the Austrian underground, in which American author Lillian Hellman claimed the story as her own, you were a woman determined to set the record straight and rightfully did so saying, “The film distorted history.” Muriel realized that the similarities between her wartime exploits and the Julia film version were remarkably similar. The release of the movie prompted Muriel to record her own story, “Code Name ‘Mary’: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground, which depicts her heroic role in war torn Europe in the 1930’s.
According to the documentary “The Real Julia,” Muriel related her wartime experiences in the Austrian Socialist party in Vienna to her lawyer, Wolf Schwawbacher and the speculation is that through Schwawbacher, who also was also Hellman’s lawyer, he was probably the source for Hellman’s story. Muriel also talked about the time she convinced a friend to smuggle a supply of American passports in her high-fashion fur hat, just as it happened in the movie, “Julia.” The similarities were remarkable and resulted in the controversy that challenged Hellman’s authenticity, as she was known in literary circles to invent heroic details about herself in her autobiographies. In the documentary Muriel set the record straight and declared that she had never met Lillian Hellman nor had Hellman ever smuggled anything to Muriel in her days with the underground. Muriel Gardiner declared that she was “The Real Julia.”
The daughter of Edward Morris (the meat-packing magnate and president of the Morris & Company) and Helen Swift (a member of the family which owned Swift & Company) Muriel Morris was born on November 23, 1901 into a Chicago family of great social position. Although it gave her enormous wealth, privilege and opportunities Muriel was uncomfortable with her wealth and gave away money to the needy and gifts to friends. As a young heiress she became aware of the plight of the poor and developed a lifelong commitment to social and political reform which planted the seeds of philanthropy.
The seeds for social justice were forged when Muriel became a student at the University of Vienna Medical School in Vienna, Austria where she became an staunch activist. She later married Joseph Buttinger, leader of the Austrian Revolutionary Socialist movement. By 1934 Muriel became involved in anti-fascist activities and used her significant trust fund, and enormous courage to help Jews and others in danger by the Nazis, who would soon run Austria. Amidst great poverty and despair Muriel provided her home as a safe-house, smuggled false passports and provided money to help hundreds of Jews and political dissidents escape from Europe.
When she graduated from medical school in 1938, she was forced out of Vienna by the Gestapo guards after writing that she was Jewish on her exit forms and a similar scene appears in the movie. However, during her sojourn in Europe she also forged a strong relationship with Anna Freud, daughter of the father of psychology, Sigmund Freud. When she returned to the United States Muriel continued in her role as benefactor and was active in aiding concentration camp refugees. She completed her medical internship and began work at the Trenton State hospital. She switched to psychoanalysis and worked for years as a therapist and adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Muriel Morris Buttinger Gardiner’s exploits in the Austrian Socialist movement, the expulsion from medical school in Vienna, her enormous trust fund which aided Jews and dissidents, the transportation of passports, the subject of the fashionable fur hat—all this was Muriel’s own story and the basis for the movie, “Julia.”

No comments:

Post a Comment