Sometimes You Have to Lie

The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy


By Leslie Brody

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In this inspiring biography, discover the true story of Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh — and learn about the woman behind one of literature's most beloved heroines.
Harriet the Spy, first published in 1964, has mesmerized generations of readers and launched a million diarists. Its beloved antiheroine, Harriet, is erratic, unsentimental, and endearing — very much like the woman who created her, Louise Fitzhugh.
Born in 1928, Fitzhugh was raised in segregated Memphis, but she soon escaped her cloistered world and headed for New York, where her expanded milieu stretched from the lesbian bars of Greenwich Village to the art world of postwar Europe, and her circle of friends included members of the avant-garde like Maurice Sendak and Lorraine Hansberry. Fitzhugh's novels, written in an era of political defiance, are full of resistance: to authority, to conformity, and even — radically, for a children's author — to make-believe.
As a children's author and a lesbian, Fitzhugh was often pressured to disguise her true nature. Sometimes You Have to Lie tells the story of her hidden life and of the creation of her masterpiece, which remains long after her death as a testament to the complicated relationship between truth, secrecy, and individualism.



I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.

—Harriet the Spy


In the summer of 1948, Louise Fitzhugh was nineteen years old and just about five feet tall. She’d cut her hair short and still fit into the bib overalls she’d worn as a tomboy in grade school. She was a smart, funny, and sometimes reckless girl, who had lately become particularly quarrelsome. Louise was bored in Memphis, sick to death of bigots and phonies, fed up with the way her more forward-looking ideals were routinely dismissed, and done with pretending to heed her father. In September, she would escape to Bard College in New York State to study poetry and painting.

For part of that summer, Louise worked for the local newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, answering the phone and filing articles in the newspaper morgue, where all the issues of years past were indexed. For as long as she could remember, Louise had wanted to know more about her divorced parents’ early life and marriage, a secret subject that was hushed up at home. On her own in the newspaper morgue, she privately investigated.

Among the archives, Louise found announcements of generations of her family’s births, graduations, and marriages along with records of their travels, land purchases, garden club leadership, Methodist affiliation, and history as benefactors of hospitals and colleges. Finally, among the many boosterish articles recording her family’s tireless dedication to social uplift, she found a thick folder of clippings, photographs, and articles dedicated to her mismatched parents’ scandalous breakup in 1927—as lurid as the rest was dull.

Halfway through that hot afternoon, Louise slammed out of the newspaper offices and went straight to see her close friend Joan Williams. They’d known each other since childhood, but Joan had never seen her friend so angry and upset. Louise wouldn’t sit down, Joan later said. “She just kept repeating, ‘I was a baby and they threw me on the couch.’”1



In 1916, when Louise Fitzhugh’s father, Millsaps Fitzhugh, was thirteen years old, his mother inherited her parent’s immense fortune—the twenty-first-century equivalent of $17 million. Millsaps enjoyed a privileged youth in Memphis, Tennessee—or, as his divorce lawyer would later say, he was “brought up in a gentle home under cheerful home influences.” His parents were Captain Guston Taylor Fitzhugh, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, and Josephine Buie Millsaps Fitzhugh, who had graduated from the Belhaven College for Young Ladies with a degree in piano and voice. In 1897, a local society columnist had declared her one of the “rare rosebuds” of the Jackson, Mississippi, debutante season.1

Josephine and the Captain (as he was called) raised Millsaps, their eldest son, to be the very model of a southern gentleman.2 Millsaps, full of zip and animal spirits, was well read (with a preference for the Russian masters, favoring Tolstoy in particular), well turned out (in bespoke suits, monogrammed handkerchiefs, and handmade Italian shoes), and well educated (at Emory University in Atlanta, and then at Emory’s law school). He belonged to the best clubs and fraternities, was an avid tennis player and an expert rider, and was appreciated for his quick wit, amusing conversation, and social savvy. Through Millsaps’s self-possession there also ran a seam of menace, an impulse to violence that was never seriously confronted, criticized, or curbed. As a child he had a temper, which those who had reason to fear it hoped he’d outgrow. In young manhood, the less savory bits of his character seemed to add a rakish charm. He was considered far more charming than “bad.” He was ferociously ambitious and had high political aspirations. Millsaps told his friends he would be president one day.

Louise Fitzhugh’s mother, Mary Louise Perkins, was born December 18, 1904. She was a gentle, intelligent girl who at the age of six—with an unshakable sense of destiny—declared her ambition to become a dancer when she grew up, and later a dance teacher. Not every child’s wish can come true, but Mary Louise was passionate and dedicated and became a hometown prodigy. Wearing ballet slippers and gauzy angel’s wings, she began her career as star of her Clarksdale, Mississippi, middle school’s May Festival.

By the age of fifteen, Mary Louise had branched out from ballet to more popular dance forms, including tap, which, although it had its own tradition among her Black neighbors, she learned mainly from the movies. Mary Louise would have seen tango demonstrators dance at local pageants, and as a devoted moviegoer, she copied Vernon and Irene Castle’s “Castle Walk” from films like The Whirl of Life. Perhaps even more influential were the Ruth St. Denis dancers in the movie Intolerance by D. W. Griffith, men and women who—among its cast of thousands—expressed themselves with sensual abandon on the steps of a back-lot Babylonian temple.

When she was eighteen, Marie Louise’s parents, Walter Baird and Josie Naylor Perkins, purchased the Sunflower Lumber Company, where they had met and worked side by side for ten years. Aspiring to equip their children with the education and social skills equal to their rising status, they sent Mary Louise to Washington, DC, to study dramatic arts and interpretive dance at the Marjorie Webster School of Expression and Physical Education, a well-regarded teacher-training college for women. After two years, Mary Louise continued her education at Goucher College in Baltimore, but left in March 1924, when her beloved father died unexpectedly of nephritis. After his death, the Perkinses struggled to save the family lumber business and pay off debts. Mary Louise, no longer able to justify an expensive Goucher education, packed up her tap shoes and ballet slippers and went home to Clarksdale to find a job.

In 1925, the state of Mississippi was in the throes of a changing culture and shifting population. A post-Reconstruction caste system of Supreme Court–approved “separate but equal” facilities and rules had divided white and Black. African American residents were departing in record numbers, escaping the iniquitous Jim Crow laws that insulted and demeaned them. Harsh state laws demanded segregation of all public schools, railroads, streetcars, hotels, libraries, and museums; even zoos and playgrounds were segregated. Marriage between people of different races was outlawed, with severe penalties for transgressors.3 Eventually, over a million Black southerners would join the Great Migration to the North’s urban centers, looking for better work and education for themselves and their children.

In Clarksdale, as elsewhere, Jazz Age generational battles were simmering. The future was announcing itself in new, lurid billboards and in the jumble of telephone wires that crisscrossed farmers’ fields. A welter of new voices and images conspired to irritate religious and civic leaders. Young people were driving their roadsters at maddening speeds, dancing the Charleston to the Black-inspired jazz music spilling from home radios, drinking illicit cocktails, and reading in new movie magazines about the lewd, rich, and famous. Ladies exposing their kneecaps, sarcastic pilots hanging upside down from airplanes, and Charles Darwin’s nineteenth-century evolutionary theory seemed to some of the more conservative citizens to be all of a piece, commensurate with atheism, anarchism, and the sexual temptations that lured youngsters away from family farms.

In 1925, the summer before Louise Fitzhugh’s parents met, and around four hundred miles from Millsaps Fitzhugh’s Memphis home, the small Tennessee town of Dayton became internationally famous when a high school teacher, John Thomas Scopes, confessed to flouting the Butler Act, which made it illegal to teach evolution in a public school. The trial, otherwise known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, became a showpiece of the Roaring Twenties culture wars when William Jennings Bryan, a popular champion of fundamentalism, argued for the prosecution against civil libertarian Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, science, and enlightenment. Scores of reporters and tourists flooded the town until every hotel room was full; every restaurant, café, and drugstore with edible food was jam-packed, and gift shops sold out of souvenir merchandise.

H. L. Mencken, who covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun, asked where the other Tennessee intellectuals who could come to the aid of Scopes and his legal team were. He decried their failure to challenge the “obscene buffoonery” on display and mocked Tennessee mercilessly as a circus of holy-rollers.4

Millsaps Fitzhugh, who had just returned to Memphis with his newly minted law degree from Emory, was outraged by the premise of the trial—and by the bad publicity Tennessee received from it. He and his circle of college friends advocated progress and championed female suffrage, industry, and free enterprise. Most of them considered the Monkey trial a hill-country aberration. When it was over, they saw the departure of the reporters and politicians and all the associated razzmatazz as their chance to get to the real business of building a new South.

Back in Clarksdale, Mary Louise Perkins was busy applying her own entrepreneurial expertise. Fulfilling her prodigious childhood ambition, she was building a dance studio in her mother’s house. She taught classes and choreographed dances for local festivals and musical events. In February, a local columnist reported, “The Eliza Clark School’s Better Books for Children program will feature Little Miss Evelyn Rosenberg, a talented member of Miss Louise Perkins’ junior dancing class.” Her dancers were also invited to perform at the town’s amateur Musical Circus, and at the Exhibition and Industrial Pageant of 1926.5

By the following summer, Mary Louise had saved enough from teaching to take time off for a once-in-a-lifetime package tour of Europe with a group of her friends from Clarksdale and Goucher. The other girls may have had wild romantic fantasies about meeting young men on board their ship or in Venice, beneath a full moon, but not Mary Louise. While not opposed on principle to romance, she was a practical girl with other ambitions. She’d left Clarksdale with her mother’s blessing and never forgot her obligation to help support her mother and younger siblings. She thought about auditioning for a place in the corps of a Parisian ballet company, or in the chorus of a Broadway play. She packed her steamer trunk with her chiffon party dress, her strappy heels, several hats in summer cotton, at least one beaded hairband, her compact and cigarette case, some swim attire, and, in their boxes, wrapped in tissue paper, her gleaming tap shoes and satin ballet slippers.

Their ocean liner, the Cunard RMS Carmania, sailed from New York on its way to Plymouth, England, on June 11, 1926. Afterward, the young ladies planned to go by ferry and train through some of the most glamorous places in Europe: Paris, Marseille, Nice, Monte Carlo, Venice, Genoa, Rome, and Naples. On board, the Clarksdalians met another party of young southerners—including the recent Emory law school graduate Millsaps Fitzhugh. He was twenty-three, Mary Louise twenty-two. They were instantly attracted to one another. Mary Louise had met rich boys before, in Washington and Baltimore. But Millsaps was of a different order. He had no qualms about spending lavishly. Such self-assurance was impressive. She found him sexy and charismatic.

They spent their time dancing to the ship’s orchestra, drinking champagne, gin rickeys, and sidecar cocktails in the ship’s bar and walking on the ship’s deck at all hours. Neither had been abroad before, and both were too young to have had many legal drinks before Prohibition was declared. The very idea of ordering whichever cocktail they desired, whenever they wanted it, made them lightheaded. The atmosphere on the ship was superheated with romance, like something from the movies. On starry nights with ocean breezes, they Charlestoned and rumbaed. It was seductive, intoxicating, combustible. Millsaps was a courteous and dedicated beau, whose friends let her know two important details: he had a sweetheart back home in Memphis, and he was the son of a millionaire. By the time they arrived in England, Millsaps didn’t want to say goodbye. He changed his own itinerary to tag along on the young ladies’ package tour. Louise, flattered, was encouraging but still cautious.

After about a month of touring France and Monte Carlo together, the young couple found themselves in Venice on the Lido under a full moon. Millsaps would be leaving for Tennessee in the morning. They shared a bottle of dark red wine, which was more available then the champagne they preferred, but they’d grown used to guzzling it after months of practice. The gondoliers yodeled in the distance as Millsaps told Mary Louise he loved her. She found his rakish charm alluring, but she didn’t lose her head; too much was at stake. They’d only known each other for a short time, and a holiday was not real life. She thought that once he returned home, back to his wealthy friends and family, he’d change his mind; as she later testified in court, she also didn’t want to be hurt. If he was going to make promises, she told him, “be very sure that you love me.”

“Mary Louise,” he said, “If I ever write to you or put it on paper that I love you, you may consider that a proposal.”

“You certainly are being a lawyer now,” she replied, thinking, and later testifying, that it was “a very peculiar statement.”

And so they parted, Millsaps to Memphis, and Mary Louise with her persevering group to Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, England, and Scotland. She made her own return crossing via Montreal, drawing it out through New England to New York. Then, just before boarding the boat for a trip through Lake George and Lake Champlain, she received a cablegram from Millsaps that read, simply, “I LOVE YOU.”

They had known each other for less than three months. As her shipboard friends scattered to their families and schools, Mary Louise booked a New York hotel room and enrolled at the Alviene School of Dance (whose alumni included Fred and Adele Astaire). Not even a serious proposal from the son of a millionaire was going to stop her from pursuing her cherished dream of becoming a dancer in New York City.

In the fall of 1926, Broadway was the center of the hoofer’s universe. Musicals such as Lady Be Good, Rhapsody in Blue, and The Ziegfeld Follies had an insatiable appetite for fresh chorines. If, like Mary Louise, a young woman was beautiful and agile, and could learn her routines quickly, she might, given time, persistence, and luck, find something. The downside was that it meant low wages, unpredictable and sudden show closings, absurd working conditions, and scarce sleep. Cheap bootleg liquor flowed, the lodging was dodgy, and the men in power often predatory. It took moxie and a little bit of a hard-boiled shell to tough it out, but the rewards must have seemed worthwhile to the gypsy moths flitting from show to show in that Golden Age of Broadway. They were given the chance to dance onstage every night to wonderful music with lots of friends in the same boat. After all, why couldn’t it be Mary Louise Perkins who went out there a chorus girl and came back a star?

Suffice to say, no such dream came true. Mary Louise wasn’t offered any reliable work from Broadway producers, and by that time, all the money she’d saved was gone. Millsaps had written her several ardent letters, which she later said “thrilled me a great deal.” But she was still hesitant. “I didn’t think he was serious. I did not know that he was that interested in me,” she would later testify.

Millsaps was besotted. After returning to Memphis on August 13, 1926, to join his father’s law practice, he announced to his parents and friends that Mary Louise Perkins was his ideal match, a cultivated and intelligent girl, not the least pretentious but natural and graceful in her manners and taste. She wore beautiful clothes and loved books as he did. His mother and father had never heard of the girl but were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was no grand match, but their son said she was a lovely, sweet girl, and anyone could see he was deeply in love. Meanwhile, Mary Louise, out of time and money, was drawn in. She might not have been head over heels in love, but Millsaps was passionate and romantic, and his persistence either turned her head or wore her down.

Millsaps’s friends were not as cautious or responsible in their appraisal. Memphis society also had a word for girls like Mary Louise Perkins, “who came visiting in Memphis from Mississippi or Arkansas [and] did not bother to abide by the usual rules of civilized warfare. They were marauders.”6

When Mary Louise said she was going to marry the son of a millionaire, her mother replied that she was prepared to overlook his shortcomings and love him for the sake of her darling daughter. Through her work in the lumberyards, Josie Perkins had met many rogues, but her only experience with millionaires was reading about Daddy Warbucks, Little Orphan Annie’s guardian in the funny papers, and seeing some old men in the movies with top hats who twirled canes. This fellow Mary Louise had met on her European tour sounded like he was a soft young lawyer from a snooty family, but she prayed he would be worthy. Josie hadn’t expected Mary Louise to ever give up her deep-rooted ambition to be a dancer, even for a rich husband, but she supposed that her daughter knew her own mind.

Mary Louise barely knew her future husband when she agreed to marry him, and she soon discovered that with his intensity and high spirits came their opposite: depression and insecurity. Millsaps was possessive; he sulked if he didn’t get his way; and he couldn’t help showing off. During Prohibition, when liquor of any sort was illegal, Mary Louise said, he “spent worlds of money on whiskey.” He had many friends who appreciated his generosity and hospitality, but Mary Louise’s friends were divided over her fiancé’s character. Some were attracted to Millsaps’s commanding presence and keen intellect, while others thought him a snob with a short fuse. When he drank he could be aggressive, and on Christmas Eve in 1926, at a Revelers Ball reception in Memphis, the couple had a public argument. Millsaps’s excessive drinking embarrassed Mary Louise. Perhaps she thought she could change him or that he’d eventually settle down. Millsaps was strong willed, but Mary Louise was no pushover, and optimistic besides.

The newspaper announcement of their engagement came on January 31, 1927. In the hectic buildup to their April wedding, there were luncheons, bridge parties, evening dances—sometimes with full orchestras—and roadhouse excursions, with abundant bootleg whiskey and a lot of drunk stumbling and fumbling. Millsaps erupted on several occasions leading up to the happy event. At one luncheon held in honor of the couple, he flew into a rage because some flowers he had ordered had not yet been delivered. Another time, he threatened loudly to sue the Memphis Commercial Appeal because it had reported, underwhelmingly, that their wedding would be “one of” the most important social events of the coming week. On a visit to Memphis, Mary Louise’s friend Georgia Peacock was dismayed when Millsaps barked at his fiancée because she was a few minutes late to lunch. Another friend, John T. Jones, later testified that he didn’t think Millsaps “was as kind to Louise as a fiancé should have been.”

But despite such fits of pique, on April 28, 1927, Mary Louise Perkins and Webster Millsaps Fitzhugh were married at seven o’clock in the evening. The church was decorated to a fare-thee-well, with chandeliers at each pew and the altar banked with lilies and violets. There was a choir, an organist, and a soloist who sang “O Promise Me.” The society columnist at the Memphis paper swooned over the bride’s gown, calling it “an exquisite old-fashioned model, designed with a tight bodice and long full hoop skirt… of crêpe minor satin, richly embroidered in crystals. On either side of the skirt a huge silver flower basket of ribbons was embroidered, with white satin roses and foliage…. [The] skirt was finished with filmy lace, studded with rhinestones…. The bridal veil of tulle was fastened with real orange blossoms sent to the bride by friends from California and Florida.”7

In addition to seven bridesmaids (all, according to the newspaper, “popular and attractive young girls”), a maid and matron of honor, and a phalanx of groomsmen, the large wedding party included ring bearers, train bearers, and a flower girl. Millsaps’s younger brother, Little Gus (still called this nickname despite being twenty-two), was his best man, and Mary Louise’s brother gave her away. The ring ceremony was read by the Reverend Walter E. Dakin, the maternal grandfather of then sixteen-year-old Tennessee Williams. On the Fitzhugh side of the aisle, Josephine Millsaps Fitzhugh was in a pink satin gown trimmed with rhinestones; on the bride’s side, Josie Perkins wore a white chiffon gown, also with rhinestones. She may have been partly distracted by thoughts of the lavish reception to be held at her home on Yazoo Avenue in Clarksdale. They’d hired an orchestra to play on the lawn and hung baskets of lilies of the valley from the chandeliers.

There may have been some Cassandras in the pews who could have objected, but nobody did. Mary Louise would have been determined—in that fog of orange blossom and tulle—having likely steeled herself with a gulp of corn liquor. She couldn’t know that in less than a year, her groom would file for divorce, and she would endure a two-state, multiyear, lowdown, no-holds-barred trial to defame and degrade her and her family, and that this would be followed by her hospitalization for a complete mental breakdown. Worst of all, her infant daughter, Louise, would be taken from her.

As no one spoke, on they processed, the bride and groom making their way down the aisle as the organist performed the inspirational fanfare to Felix Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night Dream.8 Almost any other music would have been more honest—perhaps something like that year’s hit song by Bessie Smith, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” But the Perkins-Fitzhugh nuptials was not an occasion to which African American blues singers were invited, or where reason prevailed.



The Captain and Josephine Fitzhugh’s wedding gift to the newlyweds was a large down payment on a renovated, fully furnished home at 1660 Central Avenue, next door to their own. It was, from the Fitzhughs’ point of view, an extravagant, expensive gift offered out of love. To Mary Louise, it looked like her in-laws wanted to keep their eyes on her. As an additional nuptial gift, Millsaps’s parents gave the couple a check for $5,000, to be used for household expenses or to pay off the remaining mortgage on their house.

Millsaps and his parents recognized that Mary Louise was used to a physical life. They imagined that membership in their country club, where she might swim and play golf, would compensate. Instead, Mary Louise wanted to practice dance in her own studio, and asked for a car so she could visit Clarksdale, a ninety-minute drive away. It irritated Millsaps that she wanted a sleek new Packard speedster instead of a less expensive model, but he acquiesced. Mary Louise felt she could persuade Millsaps to indulge her if she convinced him she was acting under his influence—but it only worked so long as she played the charade of enjoying his company. Not long after their wedding, she confided to her mother that she’d made a terrible mistake. She didn’t respect her new husband. He was a thin-skinned blowhard with a “sense of self-importance and false pride.”1

Millsaps was possessive of his beautiful wife, whom he wanted both to keep to himself and to show off. She wasn’t the clingy type, and according to one observer spent “as much time with the other men in their set as with Millsaps.” Occasionally, he would prod her to dance for him in public, a party trick of which she soon tired. On one such occasion, Mary Louise’s friend Anona Jenkins observed that Millsaps, again having had too much to drink, insisted that his wife dance for the company. Mary Louise did not wish to do so. She said she felt unwell, and they quarreled. He said that by defying him, she’d publicly humiliated him. Mary Louise said he’d embarrassed her again. At home afterward, their quarrel grew more intense. He accused her of deception and adultery, then cursed her, as she would later tell the court in their divorce trial: “Damn you to hell!” he yelled.

Millsaps responded to Mary Louise’s increasing lethargy with energetic pedantry. He said that since she didn’t know how to budget or run a household, he would get in experts to teach her—like his mother. When she did try her hand at interior decoration or cookery, he criticized the results. Mary Louise felt offended that he only gave her an $80 monthly allowance, out of which she had to buy all her clothes and food for their meals. It irked her that Millsaps complained of her extravagance while spending freely on his own expensive clothing and liquor cabinet. During Prohibition, Millsaps had collected a lavish cellar full of bootleg liquor. He proudly served only the best Scottish whiskey instead of the inexpensive corn liquor made locally.

Millsaps certainly thought he knew best. When the couple went shopping together, he ridiculed many of her choices as common. He believed he could influence and shape her taste, which, according to a college friend, “was not to be trusted until it had been trained by his aesthetic guidance.” Mary Louise found these arrangements mortifying. When she said so, he sharpened his offensive. She was from ignorant folk, uncouth and provincial, whereas his big ambitions could take them places. One night he told her, “If you play your cards right, stick with me, you’ll land in the White House. That’s right, the White House. If, however, you think of leaving me, you’ll be left high and dry. All of your fair-weather friends will reject you, because you won’t have a dime of your own. I won’t give you one dime. You won’t get very far in a divorce. Because I have the courts sewed up.”


  • “Expansive and revealing… Leslie Brody assembles the clues to the personal history that shaped Fitzhugh’s conscience and creative convictions. Brody, a biographer and playwright who adapted “Harriet the Spy” for the stage in 1988, has pored through correspondence, memoirs and court documents, and conducted dozens of interviews to reveal the trail that Fitzhugh left unmarked.”—New York Times
  • “Highly enjoyable… Ms. Brody’s engaging biography reminds us how fragile and serendipitous artistic beginnings can be, yet how mighty and enduring their endings.”—Wall Street Journal
  • “A study that reveals the quiet subversiveness of Harriet the Spy and adds sharp political potency to the book’s seemingly innocent play with questions of secrecy and surveillance.” —The New Republic
  • “Brody’s project is to rescue Fitzhugh from the morass of kid lit and memorialize her as an unsung queer, feminist exemplar.”—New Yorker
  • “In this sad, evocative biography, it is Fitzhugh’s friends who share her truths, so the story can remain true to her.”—Washington Post
  • “A portrait of a complicated, messy, brilliant artist — who would have thrilled Harriet herself.”—New York Post
  • “In ‘Sometimes You Have to Lie’, an engrossing and carefully researched biography of Louise Fitzhugh, Leslie Brody vibrantly tells the story of the complicated and ultimately triumphant life of the author of “Harriet the Spy.” She presents a full portrait of Fitzhugh, previously a shadowy figure at best, and places her firmly in the top rank of children’s book creators."—Boston Globe
  • “[Louise Fitzhugh] remains a mystery to this day, but Leslie Brody’s new book works to pull back the curtain on Fitzhugh’s sensational life.”—Bustle
  • “Leslie Brody paints a portrait of Fitzhugh that’s almost as indelible as Harriet herself…deeply endearing introduction to the woman who gave the American canon one of its icons.”—Vox
  • “In this lively, compassionate biography of Louise Fitzhugh, author of the children’s instant-classic ‘Harriet the Spy’ series from the 1960s, Leslie Brody sheds light on the remarkable woman behind the books.”—Christian Science Monitor
  • “It turns out many of the roots of Harriet’s privileged existence can be found in the life of her creator, Louise Fitzhugh. Leslie Brody’s new biography, Sometimes You Have To Lie (a piece of Ole Golly dialogue), delves deep into the writer’s fascinating past.”—The A.V. Club
  • “’Sometimes You Have to Lie’ is the fascinating story of the long-hidden truth about the life of the queer author of an iconic children’s book. Harriet wouldn’t be able to put it down.”—Washington Blade
  • “Brody’s book peeks behind the curtain at Fitzhugh’s hidden life, her writing, and her struggle to express her individuality during a time of turbulent social and cultural change.”—BookTrib
  • "I've never been more intensely curious about a writer's life, nor more thwarted in finding anything out about that life, than I have been in the case of Louise Fitzhugh. At some point I deduced that the very lack of information likely answered my most burning question—was she a lesbian? But that was little preparation for the true story. What a lesbian! And what a life! Leslie Brody serves up an almost unbearably gratifying tale in her much-anticipated biography, Sometimes You Have To Lie. Southern Gothic childhood. Escape to Greenwich Village and Europe. Famous friends. String of lovers. Cross-dressing. Publishing gossip. Even a lost manuscript. I was especially pleased to learn so much about the painting career of this groundbreaking writer who considered herself just as much a visual artist. I only wish Brody's book, and Fitzhugh's life, had been much, much longer."— Alison Bechdel,author of Fun Home
  • "Harriet the Spy was a tough, smart, vulnerable, funny, unsentimental, and deeply observant little kid who was a born writer, much like her creator, the wonderful Louise Fitzhugh. She was a heroine unlike any children's book heroine who preceded her. If you loved Harriet, if you still think about her from time to time, you will love this book."— RozChast, author of Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
  • "It has taken a really good spy, in Leslie Brody, to come up with the story we've been waiting to get our hands on for all our reading lifetimes. Sometimes You Have to Lie does the greatest honor to Louise Fitzhugh and her brilliant avatar, Harriet the Spy: It tells the truth."—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Egg & Spoon
  • "With clear-eyed compassion, Leslie Brody pulls back the curtain to reveal the complex, delicate, fierce woman whose imagination created our beloved Harriet the Spy, and so much more. I was fascinated and moved by Louise Fitzhugh's struggles to be and do and have all she desired, and I feel richer for the experience of getting to know her."—Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z:A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
  • "What a role model Harriet the Spy was for a kid: whip-smart, curious, and bold. It turns out her creator, Louise Fitzhugh, was just as daring. Sometimes You Have to Lie is a rollicking and insightful biography about a modern literary heroine."—Anne Zimmerman, author of An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher
  • "When you read Sometimes You Have to Lie, you become like Harriet, spying on Louise Fitzhugh. This wonderfully written biography lets readers walk in Louise's footsteps, as if taking notes on countless details of her complicated, rich life."— Jack Gantos, author of the Rotten Ralph series

On Sale
Dec 1, 2020
Page Count
352 pages
Seal Press

Leslie Brody

About the Author

Leslie Brody is a biographer, playwright, and professor of creative writing. She adapted Harriet the Spy for the stage in 1988 and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award and a PEN America award for creative nonfiction. She has been an on-staff book columnist for Elle magazine. She lives in Redlands, California.

Learn more about this author