Hedwig Baum Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The career of Vicki Baum (bowm) as a novelist, playwright, and scenarist shows a craftsmanship and constancy deserving of much more critical attention than she has been given. Born Hedwig Baum in Vienna in 1888, she wrote in German until 1937, a year before she became an American citizen.

Baum came to the United States in 1931 to oversee the dramatization of Grand Hotel, her most successful work, and stayed. She found employment in Hollywood as a scenarist and was quite successful at promoting the book and the film. She enjoyed meeting the public and was both flattered and surprised at the reception she received from the American public. Her account of meeting a fan at a book signing who informed her that her son was also a writer is delightfully typical of Baum’s awareness of life’s complexity (the fan’s son proved to be Ernest Hemingway).

Grand Hotel, her best-known work, is one of the earliest modern adaptations of the framing technique used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales. A variation on her device (placing a group of diverse individuals in a post-World War I German hotel) has since been used quite successfully in many other novels, and the framing tale became a feature in numerous Hollywood “disaster” films. Any sentimentality in her novel is overshadowed by Baum’s ability to involve a number of interesting characters from a variety of social and economic backgrounds in a fast-moving plot, and the author and her work merit additional critical study.