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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. Lillian Hellman 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. {Identify the border above, please. If you can't, delete 'over the border'.} {Please complete the last sentence above. Done} 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.