Lillian Hellman Essay, Research Paper
Lillian Hellman was one of the most influential and successful playwrights of her time.
Throughout her professional life she has expanded her writing into different genres, as
well as being a playwright she was a screenwriter during a popular time in Hollywood and
later in her life she wrote many popular memoirs reviewing her life. Hellman was
gripped with many obstacles in her career and personal life, including a torrid love affair
with writer Dashiell Hammett, having to testify in front of the house on un-American
activities and being a female in a male dominated profession.
Julia Newhouse and Max Bernard Hellman had only one child, Lillian Florence
Hellman, born June 20th 1905 in New Orleans. Growing up she would spend her time
between New York where her parents lived in New Orleans. Lillian stayed with her two
aunts in a bed and breakfast they owned in the French Quarter. As a child Lillian would
romp through the dangerous city of new Orleans by herself proving she was very
independent at an early age. Six months out of the year she would attend school in New
Orleans, the rest was spent in New York where she also attended school. She decided to
go to college in the east, attending both New York University and Columbia University.
In 1925 Lillian Hellman left college and read scripts for a living. On December
31st she married her husband Arthur Kober, who also became a successful playwright.
Through these years Hellman traveled to Paris and Germany. Kober and Hellman moved
to Hollywood in 1930, where Kober worked as a screenwriter and Lillian Hellman read
manuscripts for MGM. In Hollywood she met Dashiell Hammett. Shortly after she moved
to New York and lived with Hammett, she divorced Arthur Kober.
In New York Hammet wrote The Thin Man modeling his character Nora Charles
after Lillian. After little luck in New York Hellman moved back to California as a
screenwriter. While in Hollywood her mother died. The Children’s Hour an early and
controversial play written by Hellman opened in London. The play deals with a child’s
accusation that ruins two school teachers lives. The taboo subject matter of same sex
relationships that the play deals with led to praise by her peers and boycotting by
conservatives. The Little Foxes is the next Hellman play to be performed, it is her most
popular play yet, staying open for 410 performances. In The Little Foxes material greed
for power create tragic conflicts in a southern family. Hellman bought a 130 acre farm in
upstate new York with the money her plays had brought her. Watch on the Rhine opens in
1941, with the success of this play Hellman had established her endurance and talent
throughout the literary and theatrical world. In Watch on the Rhine, the destructive evil of
the nazi disrupts the sheltered lives of a suburban family in Washington ,DC. She went on
to write the Autumn garden (1951) and Toys in the Attic( 1960).
In 1952 Lillian Hellman was supposed to appear before the house un-American
activities committee for her slight affiliations with the communist party in Hollywood
when she was a script writer. Hammet was also harassed by Charles Mcarthy and the
committee, leading to his arrest. Hellman refused to discuss her friends political views as
many Hollywood employees were forced to do. this was what she thought on the subject;
“I’m pleased with what I did in front of the house UN American committee because it had
good results and it let other people take the same position, which was the first time
anybody had ever taken it.” (Bryer dust cover)
Dashiell Hammett died in 1961. In the 1970’s Hellman gained recognition for her
autobiographical writings. She was the author of three memoirs, An Unfinished Woman,
Pentimento, and Scoundrel Times. Throughout these books she recalled her relationships
with many people during her life. From her childhood best friend, Julia, who was killed
during World War II, to her maid on her farm. All three memoirs gained critical acclaim
and consumer recognition. An Unfinished Woman was the winner of the National Book
Award and Pentimento was made into a movie starring Jane Fonda. Scoundrel Time, her
last published work touches on the hardships she suffered during the Mcarthy era.
“Hellman combined tightly woven plots with insight into psychological weakness
and deep concern with the social issues of her time,” one critic said about her work. She
was thought of as a strong woman in hard times, “I don’t have to tell you how deeply I
believe in women’s liberation. I think some of its cries are rather empty cries because I
think it all comes down to whether or not you can support yourself as well as a man can
support himself.” (Bryer dust cover) Lillian Hellman died on June 30th 1984.