Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman was an American playwright and memoirist. Some of her most famous works include The Children's Hour (1934), The Little Foxes (1939), and Toys in the Attic (1959). Despite having written only a dozen plays, Hellman was a luminary in the American theater, and active in politics as well. She was romantically involved for 30 years with Dashiell Hammett, the famed mystery writer.

Early days

Lillian Florence Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to Max Hellman and Julia Newhouse Hellman, on June 20, 1905. When Lillian was five years old, her family moved to New York City, New York. She spent half of every year in New York with her parents and the other half in Louisiana at a boarding house with her aunts.

Hellman was enrolled in New York University from 1922 to 1924. She then attended Columbia University in New York in 1924, but did not earn a degree. She began her writing career in 1925 by reviewing books for the New York Herald Tribune. Hellman married playwright and press agent, Arthur Kober, in 1925. The union ended with a divorce in 1932. By 1930, she was a script reader for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood, California.

Dashiell Hammett

It was in 1930 that Hellman met Dashiell Hammett; they would remain intimate until his death in 1961. Hammett penned The Maltese Falcon. He was Hellman’s greatest influence. Hammett suggested that she write a stage adaptation of “The Great Drumsheugh Case,” an episode from William Roughead's Bad Companions. Hellman did just that in 1934; her adaptation was entitled The Children’s Hour. It detailed a Scottish boarding school in which a pupil accused two teachers of having a lesbian affair. The play shocked and fascinated Broadway audiences, ran for nearly 700 performances, and spawned two film adaptations, including These Three in 1936, written by Hellman herself, and The Children's Hour (1961). Hellman also wrote the scripts for the films Dark Angel (1935), Dead End (1937), and The North Star (1943).

In 1939, Hellman wrote the play The Little Foxes, which is among her best-known works. The Goldwyn studio purchased the rights for the play, which was adapted into a film in 1941. It boasted an all-star cast that included Bette Davis. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards; however, it did not win a single Oscar.

Hellman purchased a farm in Westchester County, New York, with the earnings from Little Foxes. She moved to Martha’s Vineyard later, but kept an apartment in Manhattan. From 1936 through 1937, Hellman traveled in Europe, where she met Ernest Hemingway and other American writers living in Paris. She also visited Spain, where she witnessed first hand the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. She then traveled in the Soviet Union. It was during this period that her political sympathies had turned to the left.

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HUAC

In 1952, Hellman was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), because of her political views. She was pressured to reveal the names of any associates in the theater that could have possible ties to the Communist Party. Her reply was:

To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.

Hellman's name was added to the Hollywood Blacklist, and she was hit with an unexpected and unexplained tax bill as a result of her defiance. To make matters worse, Dashiell Hammett was sentenced to six months of prison for not revealing any names to the committee. Left alone and with no source of income, Hellman was forced to sell her home, but she managed revive the The Children’s Hour, and use the income to move back to New York.

Hellman continued to write; her output included an English adaptation from the French of Jean Anouilh's The Lark and a musical version of Voltaire's Candide (1956), featuring a score by Leonard Bernstein. That is when she moved permanently to Martha's Vineyard.

It was 1960 before Hellman wrote another original work, based once again on a suggestion by Hammett. Toys in the Attic opened in February 1960. It was her final work for the stage; however, Hellman remained active throughout the remainder of her life. Hammett died of lung cancer on January 10, 1961.

Later life

Hellman went on to teach creative writing classes at University of New York, Yale University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later in her life, she focused on autobiographical works, including An Unfinished Woman in 1969, Pentimento in 1973, and Scoundrel Time in 1976.

Hellman received numerous awards during her lifetime, among them the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Watch on the Rhine and Toys in the Attic, Academy Award nominations for the screenplays The Little Foxes and The North Star. In addition, she received numerous honorary degrees from various universities.

Lillian Hellman died of cardiac arrest on June 30, 1984, at her home in Martha's Vineyard. She wanted to establish two literary funds, and made sure they were in her will. The first was The Lillian Hellman fund, to be used to advance the arts and sciences; and the second, to be used to further radical causes, was named for Dashiell Hammett, her longtime companion and critic.


See also Arthur Miller .

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Lillian Hellman.

Regarding House Un-American Activities Committee
I am ready and willing to testify before the representatives of our Government as to my own opinions and my own actions, regardless of any risks or consequences to myself. But I am advised by counsel that if I answer the committee’s questions about myself, I must also answer questions about other people and that if I refuse to do so, I can be cited for contempt. My counsel tells me that if I answer questions about myself, I will have waived my rights under the fifth amendment and could be forced legally to answer questions about others. This is very difficult for a layman to understand. But there is one principle that I do understand: I am not willing, now or in the future, to bring bad trouble to people who, in my past association with them, were completely innocent of any talk or any action that was disloyal or subversive. I do not like subversion or disloyalty in any form and if I had ever seen any I would have considered it my duty to have reported it to the proper authorities. But to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.
Letter to the Committee, 1952

Quotes regarding Lillian Hellman.

By J. Edgar Hoover
You are reminded that this subject has a national reputation through her writings in which she has opposed Nazism and fascism. Under no circumstances should it be known that this bureau is conducting an investigation of her. It should be handled in a most discreet manner and under no circumstances should it be assigned to the local police or some other agency.
FBI memo, 1942
By Mary McCarthy
Every word she writes is a lie, including "and" and "the."

Off-site search results for "Lillian Hellman"...

Lillian Hellman
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Lillian Hellman Biography
Hellman, Lillian. Scoundrel Time. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976. Rollyson, Carl. Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. User Contributions: Comment about this article or add new information aboutLillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988. User Contributions: Comment about this article or add new information about this topic ...
http://www.notablebiographies.com/He-Ho/Hellman-Lillian.html

Lillian Hellman's FBI file
Fine, 1988. Lillian Hellman's FBI file The plays and memoirs of Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) may well outlast the continuing criticism of her by old and newright professional Red baiters. They have judged her, above all else, by her sLillian Hellman's FBI file The plays and memoirs of Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) may well outlast the continuing criticism of her by old and newright professional Red baiters. They have judged her, above all else, by her strLillian Hellman (1905-1984) may well outlast the continuing criticism of her by old and newright professional Red baiters. They have judged her, above all else, by her strong liberal ...
http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/hellman-per-fbi.html

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