Hella for Congress

Wrapping up their Loretta Young month, TCM showed The Farmer’s Daughter last night. I dimly remember the TV series of the same name, but had never seen the 1947 film. Ben Mankiewicz noted that Ingrid Bergman turned down the part because she didn’t think playing a Swedish-American girl would be much of a challenge. In a big surprise, Loretta Young won Best Actress (haha).

As written, Katie Holstrom was a very hard-working, capable and charming young woman, who seemed bound to succeed. Her budding romance with the Congressman was handled well by Young and Joseph Cotten, but her sudden elevation to congressional candidate (Katie for Congress!) beggared belief, and the straightforward story started to resemble a gender-reversed Mr Smith Goes to Washington, assuming that if only an average, honest person took office, government would actually work as intended. Events got out of hand even before her opponent turned out to be a Klansman – but that’s Hollywood.

I liked the basic plot, so I wondered if there was a theatrical version without all the malarkey. There is, … the film is an adaptation of a Finnish play, Juurakon Hulda, which was also a 1928 film:

Poor but ambitious country girl Hulda arrives in the country’s capital and gets a job as a maid for a bachelor Member of Parliament, Judge Soratie. She works hard, never loses her common sense, and starts taking evening classes. Keeping her studies secret from her employer for years, she eventually graduates from the university and becomes candidate in the parliamentary election, stressing women’s and working people’s rights. Romance with Judge Soratie finally ensues.

The play shows up in the anthology, Modern Drama by Women 1880s-1930s, the hardcover of which is $140 new on Amazon, but a lot more reasonable in used paperbacks. According to The History of Nordic Women’s Literature, Hella Wuolijoki is even more interesting than her character:

Helle Wuolijoki was born into an Estonian farming community as Ella Murrik, moved to Finland in 1904, and was the first Estonian woman to do a master’s degree. She was married from 1908 to 1929 and had a daughter. When she took up business and became the proprietor of a forest, sawmill, and estate, she hosted political salons and accommodated Bertolt Brecht at her home for a period of time. Due to her Soviet contacts, she was initially sentenced to death, the sentence later being commuted to life in 1943-1944; however, she was released when a new government came to power. From 1945 to 1949, she was head of Radio Finland.

Her debut work was in Estonian, the play Talu lapsed, 1912, which was banned as a nationalist work in Estonia and Finland after its premiere. In 1932 she started writing in Finnish, but her manuscripts were rejected for political reasons. She first became successful when she wrote the drama Kvinnorna på Niskavuori under the pseudonym Juhani Tervapää in 1936, the first in a series of five that was translated into fourteen languages. A characteristic feature of her dramas is witty dialogue and a strikingly female perspective. She also collaborated with Bertolt Brecht, whose play Mr Puntila is based on an original work by Hella Wuolijoki.

Other sites note that her husband, Sulo Vuolijoki, was a close friend of VI Lenin. She changed the V to W later in life. Hella hosted a salon where she discussed her humanist and Marxist views, but never joined the Communist Party. During the Winter War (1939-1940) she used her connections to broker for peace with the Soviet Union, but those same connections led to her later imprisonment. She eventually served in Parliament and led the Finnish People’s Democratic League. Because of the Niskavuori stories, she is very highly regarded in Finland. There’s a biopic, Hella W:

In the beginning of the 1920s she had already made millions, wrote several politically hazardous plays and was under careful observation of, among others, British Intelligence, the Soviet Union and the Finnish secret service.

Soon, as the events of the Second World War started to unfold, Hella W finds herself in a situation in which she seems to have no right choices. She faces the same task as the Finnish agent put on her tail: finding out who she really is, and what hides behind the multi-faceted mask of Hella W, the celebrated writer, millionaire, rejected politician – and a mother.


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2 responses to “Hella for Congress”

  1. cmaukonen says :

    Interesting Donal. Thanks.


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