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 Lillian Hellman

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Lillian Hellman

  • Birth 20 Jun 1905 New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
  • Death 30 Jun 1984 Tisbury, Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Burial Chilmark, Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Memorial ID 2423

Playwright. Born in New Orleans to Max and Julia Hellman. Attended both New York University and Columbia University. She began her literary career reviewing books for the "New York Herald Tribune" and had some short stories published. Married to playwright Arthur Kober (1925-1932). In 1930 she moved to Hollywood where she reviewed movie scripts for MGM. She also met author Dashiell Hammett and would have an intimate relationship with him until his death. Hammett maintained Lillian was the inspiration for Nora Charles, a character in his "Thin Man" mysteries. Hellman's first success as a playwright came in 1934 with "The Children's Hour," a story she said was "... not about lesbians" but rather "... about the power of a lie." Family hatred and greed was the subject of "The Little Foxes" (1939), and is one of Hellman's best-known works. Both plays had successful runs on the stage and were later adapted to the movie screen by MGM. "The Little Foxes" received nine Academy Award nominations. After traveling in Spain during it's civil war, Hellman wrote her antifascist play "Watch on the Rhine" (1941), for which she received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The play brought to the forefront her left-wing political leanings and though she always maintained that she never joined the Communist Party, she was involved from time to time in liberal and leftist organizations and activities. In 1952, she was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee where she was pressured to reveal names of theatrical associates who might have Communist affiliations. She responded to their demands by saying, "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." Blacklisted for not cooperating with the committee, and while Hammett served a six month prison sentence for his refusal to cooperate, Hellman went to Europe with the help of friend William Wyler. Even though she was blacklisted into the 1960s, Hellman continued to work. During the 1950's she adapted the works of other writers for the stage, and in 1960 she wrote "Toys in the Attic." She taught creative writing classes and worked on her autobiographical trilogy, "An Unfinished Woman" (1969), "Pentimento" (1973) and "Scoundrel Time" (1976). Lillian received many honorary degrees from various universities. She died of cardiac arrest at her home in Martha's Vineyard.

Bio by: Nan





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2423
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Lillian Hellman (20 Jun 1905–30 Jun 1984), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2423, citing Chilmark Cemetery, Chilmark, Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .