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Biography

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Overview (2)

Date of Birth 20 June 1905New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Date of Death 30 June 1984Tisbury, Massachusetts, USA

Mini Bio (1)

During the 1930s, it was fashionable to be a part of the radical political movement in Hollywood. Lillian Hellman devoted herself to the cause along with other writers and actors in their zeal to reform. Her independence set her apart from all but a few women of the day, and gave her writing an edge that broke the rules. Born in New Orleans in 1905, but raised in New York after the age of five, she studied at Columbia. She married Arthur Kober in 1925, did some work in publishing and wrote for the Herald Tribune. When her husband, also a writer, got a job with Paramount, they moved out to California. It was there that she met Dashiell Hammett and subsequently divorced Kober. Their relationship lasted, in one form or another, for 30 years. Her first important work was the play "The Children's Hour," which was based on a true incident in Scotland. This was an amazingly successful play, and gave Lillian a definite standing in the literary community. Her next venture, a play called "Days To Come," was a complete failure so off she went to Europe. There, she took in the Spanish Civil War and traveled around with Ernest Hemingway. When back in the States, she wrote "The Little Foxes," which opened in 1939 and was a financial windfall for her. She also followed Dorothy Parker and other highly esteemed writers to Hollywood where she was well compensated for her screenwriting efforts. While it may have been fun and daring to be part of a radical political group in the 1930s, with the '40s came the Un-American Activities Committee. She was forced to testify in government hearings, and there was the threat of black lists and tax problems. She remained a visible force and became almost an icon in her later years. Despite an assortment of health issues, including being practically blind, she traveled, lectured, and promoted her political beliefs. She was 79 when she died in 1984, and yet she is still very much with us. It's been over 60 years since it originally opened, but "The Little Foxes," along with other works, is still being produced at all levels of the theater. What writer could ask for anything more?

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Sheryl Reeder <sherry@reeder.com>

Spouse (1)

Arthur Kober (1925 - 1932) (divorced)

Trivia (11)

Was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award: in 1957 as author of the book of Best Musical nominee "Candide" and in 1960 as author of Best Play nominee "Toys in the Attic."
Publicly positioned herself as the ultimate civil libertarian and supporter of free speech, but when attacked in print or in the mass media, she would fight back, leading some to accuse her of having a double standard. Joan Mellen, in "Two Invented Lives: Hellman and Hammett," tells of how Hellman's 1976 memoir "Scoundrel Time," in which she excoriated anti-Communist liberals for directing their energies against Communists rather than against fascists and capitalists, exasperated those who knew the truth as the book was full of falsehoods and evasions, as was her subsequent memoir, "Pentimento." According to Mellen, Hellman pressured her publisher, Little Brown, to cancel its contract with Diana Trilling, who had written a collection of essays defending herself and her husband Lionel Trilling against Hellman's charges. Hellman had demanded that Trilling's book be censored, and when she refused, Little Brown canceled Trilling's contract. (The book later was published by Harcourt.) But Hellman's credibility among fair-minded, non-partisan people was destroyed by her legal attack against Mary McCarthy, who had denounced Hellman as a liar. McCarthy stated publicly, "I think every word she writes is false, including 'and' and 'but'" on the The Dick Cavett Show (1968). An enraged Hellman sued McCarthy and the Corp. for Public Broadcasting for libel, but the suit backfired against her. McCarthy produced evidence elucidating Hellman's lies, including the whopper that she knew nothing about the Moscow Trials in which Joseph Stalin had purged the Soviet Communist Party of the old guard Bolsheviks, who were then liquidated. Hellman had signed petitions applauding the guilty verdict and encouraging leftists not to cooperate with John Dewey's committee that sought to establish the truth behind Stalin's "show trials." She also opposed the entry of Leon Trotsky, Stalin's nemesis, into the United States as a political refugee. The most damning evidence McCarthy turned up revealed that the chapter of her memoir "Pentimento," in which she claimed to have bravely smuggled money to an anti-fascist activist in Nazi Germany, not only was a lie but was outright theft: she had stolen another women's story. (The chapter had provided the basis for Fred Zinnemann's 1977 film Julia (1977), in which, as Elia Kazan pointed out, Hellman -- a notoriously homely woman -- had the satisfaction of being played by the beautiful Jane Fonda.) Hellman had fabricated this chapter of her life by appropriating the story of Muriel Gardner (who later wrote her own account in "Code Name Mary"). Lawyer Wolf Schwabacher -- who was an attorney for both women -- had told Hellman Gardiner's story. Helman was told by the lawyer handling her case that she would have to produce evidence of the real Julia for the case to proceed. (After "Pentimento" had been published, Gardiner had noticed the similarity between her story and the Julia chapter and sent a letter to Hellman. Noting that they had the same lawyer, she asked whether they had had friends in common. Hellman never replied to her letter.) Trapped by her own fabrication, Hellman even thought about asking Gardiner to testify that she was not Julia. Hellman's reputation was further sullied when Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway's ex-wife who had been a reporter during the Spanish Civil War, also began to reveal Hellman as a liar and fantasist. Hellman began fabricating new lies to justify the old, and many sympathetic observers felt that the woman -- now in her early 80s -- no longer could remember what was real and what was not. The libel case against McCarthy was terminated upon Hellman's death.
Her longtime companion Dashiell Hammett was an active member of the Communist Party USA, which is why Helman originally came under scrutiny of the US intelligence community in 1938. The FBI continued to conduct surveillance against her through the war years but intensified its targeting of her after her support of 1948 left-wing presidential candidate Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party. A 1948 report by the Headquarters, Second Army Security Group (which carried out intelligence gathering in the Northeastern US), labeled her as a "Communist adherent." FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded more intelligence on her, and the FBI started a watch on her Manhattan apartment at 63 East 82nd Street and at her country place in Pleasantville in Westchester County, New York. Hellmann maintained a room for Hammett at both her homes, and other famous left-wingers, including domestic and foreign communists and political progressives such as Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller, frequently visited her at both places. She was still under surveillance as late as 1970 for her activities against the Vietnam War, when she was the grand dame of the left.
She & Dashiell Hammett lived together on and off for many years but were never married.
Is portrayed by Jane Fonda in Julia (1977).
Is portrayed by Judy Davis in Dash and Lilly (1999).
Her play, "The Little Foxes," at the Shattered Globe Theatre in Chicago, Illinois was nominated for a 2009 Joseph Jefferson Award for Production of a Play (Midsize).
Always spent her birthday alone, usually on a fishing trip.
Her hobby was fishing.
Received a standing ovation when she appeared on stage at the 49th Annual Academy Awards in 1977 to present the Oscar for Best Documentary.
She wrote the script for the original version of Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Voltaire's satirical classic, "Candide", but the show was unsuccessful at the time, and the blame was placed largely on Hellman's script, which was declared too serious and bitter. It had also introduced incidents not in Voltaire's original novel, and had eliminated many of the novel's comic incidents, so a new script (by Hugh Wheeler) was commissioned for the 1973 revival. The new version was much more faithful to Voltaire's book, and is the one in use today.

Personal Quotes (8)

I will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion.
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth.
Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge's chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view.
[on Norma Shearer] A face unclouded by thought.
[on the complaints of critics] If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody's mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.
[on growth] The past, with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments, is there for each of us forever, and it should be.
[on the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s] Wearing or not wearing a bra is terribly unimportant. It's being able to buy that bra yourself - that's important.
[on writers] They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talk about writing or themselves.

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