At approximately seven o'clock in the evening on May 7, 1950, Gordon Malherbe Hillman filled an empty bottle with water, capped it, and walked into his mother's room in the pair's fifth-floor suite at Boston's luxurious Copley Plaza Hotel. He then edged up behind the semi-invalid woman and bludgeoned her to death. Hotel staff had planned to evict the two the following day after several weeks of unpaid rent. Mounting debts had finally broken the fifty-year-old Hillman, a now-struggling author of mixed success, but it had not always been that way, as Thomas Aiello shows in his study of the life and work of this forgotten midcentury figure.As a youth, Hillman attended the prestigious Noble and Greenough School near Boston. Pursuing a career as a writer, he published several dozen pieces of short fiction and a critically acclaimed novel, Fortune's Cup (1941). Hollywood studios purchased the rights to two of his stories and made them into films, The Great Man Votes (1939) and Here I Am a Stranger (1940). But Hillman remained, for the most part, a middling magazine writer like the majority of fiction authors working during the Depression. Although most did not resort to acts of manic violence, Hillman's tenuous position in literary circles, along with his gradual descent into financial ruin, proved a far more common tale than the stories of literary success often pored over by critics and historians of this period. In The Trouble in Room 519: Money, Matricide, and Marginal Fiction in the Early Twentieth Century, Aiello weaves a compelling true crime narrative into his exploration of the economics of magazine fiction and the strains placed on authors by the publishing industry prior to World War II. Examining Hillman's writing as exemplary of Depression-era popular fiction, Aiello includes eight stories written by Hillman and originally published in prominent midcentury American magazines, including Collier's, Liberty, and McCall's, to provide additional context and insight into this trying time and tragic life.
About the Author
Thomas Aiello, a professor of history and African American studies at Valdosta State University, is the author of more than a dozen books, including Jim Crow's Last Stand: Nonunanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana.