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Mary Jayne Gold, a heroine ignored by history and revived by television

Lately, a good part of the fiction produced by the platform has been dedicated to alleviating collective amnesia. The Serie Transatlantic It is one of those productions, which, even based on real events and wrapped in the mantle of fiction, rescues from the cave of oblivion, events and characters from a not so distant past.

In Transatlantic the figure of the rich heiress Mary Jayne Gold is vindicated, who as part of the team of the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC), settled in Marseille from 1940 to 1942 and commanded by the journalist Varian Fry (played by Cory Michael Smith), it contributed to Jewish artists, writers, scientists and intellectuals who were opposed to the Third Reich, being able to escape from the jaws of the German National Socialist army that paralyzed date had already invaded France.

Marseille represented the last exit door to a possible freedom towards the United States, and more names were added to the list that Fry had brought from New York, where the committee was created, every day.

For the development of this series, the creators Anna Winger and Daniel Hendler (the duo behind the successful Unorthodox) relied mainly on the book The Flight Portfolio (by Julie Orringer, 2019).

Book cover in French

And although the authors took a couple of creative liberties, to make the drama more substantial, the seven-episode miniseries reveals to us Mary Jayne Gold, a young American woman from a wealthy class. Unintentionally, Mary Jayne would become one of the many heroines of World War II ignored by history.


To put ourselves in context, the summer of 1940 was just dawning when the German army invaded France. What the incredulous French had called for months the ‘drôle de guerre’ (the joke war), despite the fact that the Third Reich had been systematically occupying the territories of neighboring countries, from one moment to the next was presented to them as what it was. , that is, a real war with everything that a war conflict entails. With the Nazi flags displayed in Paris, terror would definitively be established.

“In 1939 I was a young white Anglo-Saxon Protestant girl living in Paris on the elegant Avenue Foch,” recounts Mary Jayne Gold in Crossroads Marseilles, 1940 (published in 1980), “I spent my days between Paris, London and sophisticated tourist resorts, feeling at home in Cannes, Biarritz, Mallorca and St. Moritz (…) I flew on my own plane, attended many parties and grand galas appropriately dressed in haute couture Parisian (…) When war was declared, much of this came to an end.”

The millionaire heiress Coming from Chicago, he ended up in Marseille like thousands of French and foreign refugees; She, exuding privilege and glamour, had fled Paris, and although her initial intention was to leave Europe from that town in the south of France, two events twisted her destiny: she became romantically involved with a former legionnaire (a romance destined for drought and which is addressed in the series), but without a doubt the most important thing was meeting Varian Fry through Miriam Davenport (who does not appear in the fiction despite having been the secretary of the ERC).

“Our paths crossed in the great port of Marseille,” says Mary Jayne about Fry in those memoirs where she collects the experiences of the months that would change her life, precisely the time recounted in Transatlantic. Mary Jayne would become a key player in the ERC, contributing both money, dedication and will to help refugees in the midst of the horror of war.

“1940-1941 turned out to be a great year for a good girl from Evanston, Illinois,” Gold would write in the foreword to Crossroads Marseilles, 1940although as she would say years later, as an old woman, “I wasn’t there to witness the worst, just the beginning.”

A woman-at-arms take

Transatlantic begins with Mary Jayne Gold (played by Gillian Jacobs), already being part of the Emergency Rescue Committee. Walking with his dog Dagobert (his dog and name are real), he arrives at the terrace of a café in the center of Marseille to meet the American consul (Corey Stoll) in that city; He extends a message from Gold’s father with a return ticket to Chicago.

The message says that it is not possible that the millionaire Gold’s only daughter is fooling around in France with those most wanted by the Nazis, that returning home will be the best thing, that she get married and have children like all women do. But as seen in that first episode, Mary Jayne is a fierce woman, contrary to the life model imposed by society and the social class to which she belongs.

“I’m trying to save their lives“, says the character of Mary Jayne, “they are the most brilliant minds in Europe, and America should feel lucky to receive them.” It’s not an exaggeration.

In 1940, numerous refugees were seen on the streets of Marseille. Among them were also those who had managed to escape from the internment camps in France, whose living conditions were subhuman, so whoever escaped from them tried not to return.

At first they were camps intended for Spaniards fleeing the Civil War, but they became overcrowded with anti-fascists, a group that included everything from communists to Jews, as well as many of these brilliant minds referred to in Mary Jayne of the fiction.

The Vichy government, bowed to the German invasion, would soon dedicate itself to pursuing fugitives, including those in Marseille waiting for an opportunity to flee Europe. Until the end of 1941, the United States did not declare war on Germany, so issuing visas and receiving refugees constituted a true odyssey.

In an idyllic mansion a few kilometers from Marseille, the ERC found the perfect hiding place. The Villa Air-Bel housed Max Ernst, André Breton, Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, among others, while they waited for a visa or a passport, or the right time to leave the country. In Transatlantic The long months are recreated in that refuge that at the same time was like a limbo, evading terror, anxiety and hopelessness.

The famous patron Peggy Guggenheim, who stopped by the Villa Air-Bel, witnessed the work of the ERC team. “With them was a very pretty American girl, Mary Jayne Gold,” Guggenheim writes in his memoirs. Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict (1946), “who contributed large sums of money for her noble work, in which she also pitched in.”

The ERC’s activities were not without great risks; everyone involved, including Mary Jayne, risked their lives. Either by legal or illegal means, by sea or crossing the Pyrenees with Lisa Fittko – another heroine of the Nazi resistance (played in Transatlantic by Deleila Piaskoas) -, the Emergency Rescue Committee In just over a year, around two thousand people managed to reach safety. Without the human and financial support of Mary Jayne Gold, this would not have been possible.

In 1941 Mary Jayne left France, but returned when the war ended. She died in St. Tropez in 1997 at age 88; she never married or had children. Being an old woman she would confess to the filmmaker Pierre Sauvage that he only cared about one stage of her life, the year she spent in Marseille.

Only if that confession is known, the phrase of the fictionalized Mary Jayne in the last chapter of Transatlantic, takes on another dimension: “I have never felt so alive”, he says to Varian Fry at the moment of farewell, referring to those dark and dangerous months lived in Marseille. A time in which, without intending to, she ended up becoming a true heroine.

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