Landmark ’49 Film About Family Passing for White Recalled

Landmark ’49 Film About Family Passing for White Recalled

The Los Angeles Times
1989-07-25

Margaret Lillard
The Associated Press

KEENE, N.H. — For 12 years, Dr. Albert Johnston and his wife had a secret–a secret they kept from friends, neighbors, even their children.

But in 1941, their secret came out–each was part black. The fair-skinned Johnstons had raised four children and built a life in Keene and Gorham, N.H., while passing as white.

The whole world knew their story 8 years later when it was presented, lightly fictionalized, in “Lost Boundaries,” in which Mel Ferrer (“El Greco,” “War and Peace“) made his film debut.

The doctor is now dead, but his family and members of the movie’s cast and crew reunited in Keene last week with a screening and small reception to celebrate a revolutionary film and friendships that withstood a revelation that was, in its time, shocking.

“That was the point of the story, the fact that something positive happened, that there wasn’t any problem as a result of it,” Albert Johnston Jr. recalled.

Albert Johnston, a Chicago native, and his blue-eyed wife, Thyra Baumann, born in New Orleans, had no thought of “passing” after their 1924 marriage when he was a premed student at the University of Chicago. But things changed when he tried to find work as an intern. Hospitals that accepted black interns were full, and others would not accept him because he was part black…

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