Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Robert Gottlieb , Derek Humphry and Uma Thurman
Robert Gottlieb

Robert Gottlieb

On this date in 1931, Robert Adams Gottlieb, writer and editor at Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, was born in New York City to Charles and Martha Gottlieb. Growing up, he "was your basic, garden-variety, ambitious, upwardly mobile, hard-working Jewish boy from Brooklyn," Gottlieb later wrote. His parents were "confirmed atheists" and religion played no part in his upbringing.

He enrolled at Columbia University as an English major, read voraciously (favorites: Henry James and Proust) and co-edited the school's literary magazine. He graduated in 1952, the year he married Muriel Higgins when she was pregnant with their son and then studied abroad at Cambridge University before joining Simon & Schuster as an editorial assistant in 1955. Two years later he started editing the unknown Joseph Heller's manuscript that became the blockbuster titled Catch-22. (He thinks Heller's Something Happened [1974] is his finest novel, "indeed, one of the finest novels of his time.")

Gottlieb's talent and nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic landed him the top editor position at S&S, where he stayed until moving to Alfred A. Knopf in 1968 as editor-in-chief. In 1969, four years after his divorce, he married Maria Tucci, an actress whose father, novelist Niccolò Tucci, was one of his writers. They have two children. In 1987 he succeeded William Shawn as editor of The New Yorker, where Gottlieb was succeeded in 1992 by Tina Brown. He then returned to Knopf as editor-ex officio.

Gottlieb has also edited novels by John Cheever, Doris Lessing, Chaim Potok, Charles Portis, Salman Rushdie, John Gardner, Len Deighton, John le Carré, Ray Bradbury, Elia Kazan, Michael Crichton and Toni Morrison and nonfiction books by Bill Clinton, Janet Malcolm, Katharine Graham, Nora Ephron, Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Tuchman, Jessica Mitford, Robert Caro, Antonia Fraser, Lauren Bacall, Liv Ullman, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruno Bettelheim and many others.

He has been the dance critic for The New York Observer since 1999 and is the author of biographies of George Balanchine, Sarah Bernhardt and the family of Charles Dickens (who had 10 children). For many years he was associated with the New York City Ballet and has published books by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Margot Fonteyn. His autobiography Avid Reader: A Life was published in 2016.

"I've simply always lacked even the slightest religious impulse — when people talk about their faith, I can't connect with what they're talking about. This isn't a decision I came to, or a deep belief or principle; I'm just religion-deaf, the way tone-deaf people hear sounds but not music. I suppose my religion is reading."

—Robert Gottlieb, "Avid Reader: A Life" (2016)

Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Michael Lionstar/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Derek Humphry

Derek Humphry

On this date in 1930, journalist, author and activist Derek Humphry was born in Bath, England. Growing up in a broken home during World War II, Humphry received a substandard childhood education. He attended close to a dozen different schools before leaving the school system at the age of 15 to pursue a career in journalism. He worked for the Yorkshire Post as an editorial manager prior to being drafted for the British Army at age 18.

Not long after his service, he resumed his career in journalism and became a reporter on the Manchester Evening News, the largest evening UK newspaper. During his journalism career, Humphry specialized in issues of race relations, immigration, prison conditions, police brutality and corruption. This led to the production of Because They’re Black (1971), a book that argued for racial harmony in Britain and won him the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize.

In 1978 he accepted a position as a special feature writer for the Los Angeles Times and moved to the U.S. The same year he published Jean’s Way, based on the death of his first wife from breast cancer. Humphry firmly believes in the right to die and has spent many decades advocating the legal practice of euthanasia. He has written a number of books on euthanasia, including Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying (1991), which marked the emergence of the Death with Dignity movement in the United States, Freedom to Die: People, Politics & The Right-To-Die Movement (1998) and Good Life, Good Death: The Memoir of a Right to Die Pioneer (2017).

He co-founded the Hemlock Society in 1980. It later split into two separate organizations — Compassion and Choices and Final Exit Network. Compassion and Choices focuses on legislative change while Final Exit Network focuses on the need for compassionate support for those suffering from incurable diseases. In a 1995 interview, Humphry was asked if he was a religious person and replied that he is an atheist.

“The euthanasia movement’s clash with religion is the heart of the struggle. People lose sight of that. But in a small way, it’s altering 2,000 years of Christianity.”

—Humphry, “The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity Presents Dignity and Dying: A Christian Appraisal” (1996)

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Uma Thurman

Uma Thurman

On this date in 1970, Uma Karuna Thurman was born in Boston. Her father was a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies who lived as an ordained Buddhist monk for three years. Later in life, after dabbling in Buddhism,  she described herself as agnostic. Her mother was a high-fashion model born in Mexico City. Thurman moved to New York City at age 17 to join the Ford Modeling Agency and posed for Glamour and British Vogue.

She made the transition to acting with her film debut in the teen thriller "Kiss Daddy Goodnight" (1987) and was cast in three 1988 films: "Johnny Be Good," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and most notably, "Dangerous Liaisons." She had later roles in "Pulp Fiction" (1994), "The Truth about Cats and Dogs" (1996), "Les Misérables" (1998), "The Golden Bowl" (2000), "Kill Bill (Vols. 1 and 2)" in 2003-04 and "Motherhood" (2009). 

For her performance in the HBO film "Hysterical Blindness" (2002), Thurman won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Film. Thurman has starred in the miniseries "The Slap" (2015) and the series "Imposters" (2017–18). She made her Broadway debut in 2017 in "The Parisian Woman."

She married English actor Gary Oldman in 1990, divorced two years and married American actor Ethan Hawke in 1998. They had a daughter, Maya, and a son, Levon, before divorcing in 2005. In 2012 she had a daughter, Rosalind, with French financier Arpad Busson.

Thurman at the Calvin Klein Collection fashion show in 2012; Jiyang Chen photo.

"When asked if I consider myself Buddhist, the answer is, not really. But it's more my religion than any other because I was brought up with it in an intellectual and spiritual environment. I don't practice or preach it, however."

—Thurman interview, Reader's Digest (July 2006)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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