November 1, 2019
“I was 61 and three-quarters,” says Marianne Farrin, MDiv '07. That is the age when, in 2000, she rode a bicycle across the country—3,250 miles over 48 days—an act of nearly spiritual liberation. Seven years later, she earned a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Achieving these feats gives a glimpse of her courageous, vibrant, and resilient spirit that equipped her to live such an extraordinary life, as told in her recently published memoir, From Berlin to Hollywood and Beyond (Christian Faith Publishing).
It was August 1942, after spending the summer in Denmark, when four-year-old Farrin returned to her home in Berlin with her younger sister and their Danish mother, there to be reunited with her beloved father, a journalist and author, who had stayed behind at the family apartment. With Hitler in power for nearly a decade, and with Berlin under siege from nightly bombing raids by the allied forces, daily life in the German capital had grown precarious. Yet upon their return to Berlin, Farrin recalls, her mother issued a warning that reflected the dangers lurking not from enemy aircraft but from their very countrymen—so many of whom, it seemed, by their inaction if not by their words or deeds, had pledged allegiance to the Nazi Party.
“You must be very careful,” her mother told her. “Don’t speak to any strangers! Careless words are dangerous. They’ll get our family in trouble. Don’t say anything to anyone at any time.”
Overcoming fear, like what Farrin and her family lived through in war-bedraggled Germany in the early 1940s, is the prevailing theme of her life.
Farrin describes the harrowing night of March 22, 1943, when a bomb struck her family’s apartment building during a nighttime raid, her father’s conscription into the German Army, and his subsequent death, apparently in a Russian prison camp.
Asked what she wants readers to take away from her book, Farrin does not hesitate. “Faith,” she says. “Faith is an answer.”
Two years after their return to Berlin, on August 5, 1944, Farrin enrolled in school near her new home in Odense, in central Denmark. On the same day, her father sat down to write his oldest child a letter, an endearing dispatch from a doting father.
“I would have loved to go with you on such an important occasion,” wrote Helmut Magers. “I urge you to speak up in school from the very beginning. There will be opportunities at first for play, but as time goes on, there will be less play and more study. Do not daydream when there is learning to be done, for even though you might not absorb all the lessons at first, they will still have to be learned.”
Ten years in the writing, From Berlin to Hollywood and Beyond is a story of grit and heartache, of resilience and triumph. Farrin describes her mother, Dagny, leading her and her sister and baby brother on their escape in 1944 to Denmark—where Farrin is confirmed in the Lutheran church—and then, 10 years later, on their emigration to California—to Hollywood, of all places—where Farrin blossoms. Indeed, it’s her tenacity that serves as the book’s narrative glue. She attends Stanford University on a full scholarship, marries a Princeton man, a corporate marketing executive with whom she traverses the globe while raising their children.
“My children were born all along the way – Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, London, Geneva, and Paris,” says Farrin. “My youngest son, of five children, grew up in London.”
“Pappi’s last letter, written on the occasion of my first day of school in Menz, August 1944, ‘Marianne, I urge you to speak up in school from the very beginning.’”
She adds, “My favorite places to live were Kuala Lumpur, London and Paris. It was an old world then. The population has doubled.” She didn’t put major roots down in each place, only living at each location one or two years. Her husband was on assignment working for Colgate and Richardson-Vicks.
Through it all she battles a decades-long depression that, she notes, “had quietly undermined my capacity to experience life meaningfully.” Therapy and Scripture shepherd her through the long morass. Through it all, Farrin attributes her family’s unity and protection to God.
Later, Farrin resumes her education, earning a master’s degree in social work from Fordham in 1995, when she is 57, and starting her career as a psychotherapist. Five years after graduating from the Seminary, in 2007, she translates her father’s book on FDR from German to English. “Roosevelt sent a letter to my father,” remembers Farrin.
For Farrin, the start of her long journey is her June 1956 graduation from Hollywood High School—“the proudest day of my life,” she writes. On that day, as if by some divine miracle, Farrin delivers a valedictory speech to 700 classmates from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl.
Recalling that day, Farrin invokes the letter she’d received from her father 12 years earlier. “Little did the audience know that Pappi’s last letter, written on the occasion of my first day of school in Menz, August 1944, Marianne, I urge you from the beginning to speak up in school, was being fulfilled in the Hollywood Bowl before a crowd of thousands,” Farrin writes. “It was only in America that a daughter of a Danish immigrant widow and German father who had died in a Russian prison camp could find her dream realized in two short years. I continued to speak, and the words echoed across the Hollywood Hills.”