This new exhibition at the Freud Museum London explores and celebrates the incredible story of Muriel Gardiner’s life, through family photo albums, unpublished documents and Muriel’s own autobiography, Code Name Mary. She was an unsung heroine, saving the lives of countless individuals from the Austrian fascist, and then the Nazi, regime, though frequently in danger herself.
In the 1920s she travelled to Europe, attended Oxford University, and moved to Vienna where she hoped to be analysed by Sigmund Freud. In Vienna she had a short-lived marriage to a British musician Julian Gardiner, by whom she had a daughter Connie.
‘Arriving in Vienna one May afternoon, when the streets and parks were filled with the scent of lilac, I immediately sat down and wrote a letter to Freud asking whether he would accept me as a patient.’
In Vienna Muriel Gardiner studied medicine, and in the 1930s became increasingly involved in political activities against the repressive Austrian regime which had come to power in 1934. Under the code name ‘Mary’, she smuggled money and procured false passports for her comrades. Her apartment acted as a safe-house for anti-fascist dissidents, while fugitives hid in her cottage deep in the Vienna Woods. She fell in love with, and later married, Joseph Buttinger, leader of the Austrian Revolutionary Socialists.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gardiner returned to the US with her husband and daughter, where they worked tirelessly to bring as many German and Austrian refugees to America as possible.
After the Second World War, Muriel Gardiner continued to be active in many causes. She had a busy psychoanalytical practice, taught at various universities, and published several well-received books. These included The Wolf-Man and Sigmund Freud, about Freud’s most famous patient, Sergei Pankejeff. Muriel had known him in Vienna, taking Russian lessons with him for a while, and supported him after the devastating suicide of his wife, helping him make his way to London in 1938.
Muriel Gardiner was believed to be the anti-Nazi activist ‘Julia’ in Lillian Hellman’s book Pentimento, later filmed as Julia, starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. This encouraged Muriel Gardiner to finally tell her own story in Code Name: Mary, published in 1983, and now reprinted for this exhibition.
Towards the end of her life Muriel Gardiner was instrumental in the establishment of the Freud Museum London. She worked with Anna Freud to make the creation of a museum possible after Anna Freud’s death, financing it through her family foundation. The New-Land Foundation continued to support the Museum for many years. Muriel Gardiner herself died in 1985, aged 84.
This new exhibition at the Freud Museum London will celebrate her extraordinary life. Supporting events will be given added star quality by the involvement of Vanessa Redgrave, who not only won an Oscar for her performance in the 1977 film Julia – widely believed to be based on Muriel Gardiner – but also used Gardiner as a central character in her play Vienna 1934-Munich 1938.
Code Name Mary: The extraordinary life of Muriel Gardiner Press Coverage
Muriel Gardiner and the exhibition were profiled in The Guardian: Undercover heiress: the Chicago meat-packing scion who outfoxed the Gestapo
Carol Seigel, director of the Freud Museum London, talks to BBC London.
The most thrilling person you’ve never heard of in the Evening Standard.
Featured in Ham & High.
“She took tea with Sigmund Freud, had an affair with Stephen Spender, risked her life in the Austrian resistance – and inspired an Oscar-winning film.”Claire Armitstead The Guardian
ON DEMAND – Refugees, Migration and Exile: An evening with Vanessa Redgrave at the Freud Museum London
A newly released film of a Freud Museum event that took place in October 2020, one of three events with Vanessa Redgrave accompanying the exhibition.
See legendary actor Vanessa Redgrave, actors Daisy Bevan and Paul Hilton in person at the Museum, and Lord Alf Dubs speaking on screen, for moving discussion, performance and readings on the theme of refugees, migration and exile.
Events - Code Name Mary
19 September 2021 – An evening with Vanessa Redgrave and Alf Dubs (in-house event)
12 November 2021 – Why have there been no great (Jewish) women artists? A symposium
December 2021 – Who was the Wolf Man?
13 January 2021 – Muriel Gardiner and the Anschluss, with Dr Carmen Birkle
Freud Museum Shop
Visit the Freud Museum Shop to browse the Code Name Mary collection and pick up a copy of Muriel Gardiner’s memoir.