Born 4 July 1920, Chicago, Illinois
Daughter of Hatley F. and Brillianna Hintermeister Mars; married Benedict Freedman, 1941; children: Johanna, Michael, Deborah
Nancy Freedman has written numerous books, each distinct from the others. Besides writing five plays and several novels with her husband, Benedict, including the worldwide bestseller Mrs. Mike (1947), Freedman has also written a number of novels on her own. Her most famous books include Joshua, Son of None (1973), a story about the cloning of John F. Kennedy, and Prima Donna (1981), a story of the trials and tribulations of an opera star.
Freedman's childhood until the age of ten was a lonely one. Although a recipient of dancing lessons at the age of seven, she was a sickly child who was forbidden to go to school. A succession of tutors was enlisted to teach her a variety of elementary school subjects, but the insistent child usually persuaded them only to read fiction to her. The lonely child would also invent stories based on children whose tombstones she discovered during visits to a graveyard with her grandmother.
While still a teenager, Freedman landed acting jobs, working in summer stock in Maine during the years 1937 and 1938. She also was granted the opportunity to act in famous plays such as Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello under the guidance of the great Austrian theatrical director, Max Reinhardt. Freedman credits him for teaching her subtlety that she could apply to her style of writing.
After attending the Chicago Art Institute, Los Angeles City College, and the University of Southern California, where she usually would not complete courses, Freedman met and married Benedict Freedman on 29 June 1941. He was the son of David Freedman, a successful Broadway playwright. Benedict, although a professor of mathematics in his chosen career, followed in his father's footsteps, writing for radio as well as writing novels, plays, textbooks, and scholarly works.
Freedman began to join her husband in his writing ventures in the early 1940's. An early success was Mrs. Mike. Set in northwest Canada, it is the story of Katherine Mary Flannigan, an invalid married to a Mountie. A bestseller, the novel was translated into 27 languages and made into a motion picture in 1949. Subsequent hardcover editions continued to sell well into the 1990s, and it could be found on reading lists for high school students 50 years after its publication.
Freedman continued writing novels with her husband until well into the 1960s, when she decided to write about her family history in the novel Cyclone of Silence (1969). An accident led to her being in the hospital with a broken back. As she lay in bed with a body cast, she remembered John F. Kennedy had once broken his back and had recovered. Encouraged, once out of bed she attended classes in genetics at the California Institute of Technology to research a novel about cloning that eventually became Joshua, Son of None. Achieving a novel on the forefront of current events both politically and scientifically, Freedman's novel concerns the cloning of the assassinated president. Exploring the ethics of creating a being identical to another, Freedman presented the dilemma of a clone who needs to search for his identity once he learns of his true origins.
With a daughter who, as an opera singer, wrote voluminous letters to her mother about life backstage, Freedman felt that she had the makings of a novel that detailed the sacrifices in relationships a woman must make in order to succeed in her career, and hence Prima Donna was born. Around the same time, she felt compelled to write a novel depicting the life of Sappho, the Lesbian poet of 6th century B.C. Greece. For five years Freedman researched for her new novel, studying archaeological evidence and reading history books as well as literature of the period. When the book was completed, Freedman, who had never experienced rejection of her work before, had to face the fact that no publisher would take it. She placed the manuscript in the Benedict and Nancy Freedman collection at the Mugar Memorial Library of Boston University in hopes it might be published someday. In 1998 Sappho: The Tenth Muse was published. Critics have noted that Sappho's lesbianism is downplayed while her rebellious nature is emphasized. The book, they claim, is mostly faithful to its era, but parts of the narrative read like modern feminist theory.
Back to the Sea (with Benedict Freedman, 1942). This and No More (with Benedict Freedman, 1950). The Spark and the Exodus (with Benedict Freedman, 1954). Lootville (with Benedict Freedman, 1957). Tresa (with Benedict Freedman, 1958). The Apprentice Bastard (with Benedict Freedman, 1966). The Immortals (1977). Crescendo (1980). The Seventh Stone (1992).
Booklist (Nov. 1973). Booksellers (Oct. 1973). CSM (Feb. 1947). Commonweal (March 1947). KR (15 May 1998). LAT (Feb. 1981). NYHTBR (March 1947). NYT (1947). TLS (Aug. 1947). WP (Feb. 1981).