Hellman, Lillian, 1905-1984

Alternative names
Birth 1905-06-20
Death 1984-06-30

Biographical notes:


From the description of The autumn garden : playscript, undated. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71131544

Lillian Hellman (1905-1984), playwright and screenwriter.

From the description of These three : (Hellman story), 1935. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702193196

Lillian Hellman, America’s most significant woman playwright of the twentieth century, was born on June 20, 1905, in New Orleans to Max and Julia Newhouse Hellman. Her early years, spent alternately among her well-to-do maternal relatives in New York City and with her father’s hard-working sisters in New Orleans, provided the young Lillian with experiences and viewpoints she used to effect throughout her lengthy writing career.

After graduation from high school in the early 1920s Hellman attended college briefly before finding employment at the publishing house of Boni and Liveright. With her marriage to playwright and humorist Arthur Kober in 1925 Hellman began serious attempts at a literary career, publishing short stories she later dismissed as trivial. Following the Kobers’ move to Hollywood in 1930 Lillian became a script reader at MGM and soon afterwards began an affair with the novelist Dashiell Hammett that led to the Kobers’ divorce in 1933.

Hellman’s interest in writing returned during 1933 and, encouraged by Hammett, she began work on a play based on a true story of the power of a malicious lie. Opening on Broadway on November 20, 1934, Hellman’s The Children’s Hour became the season’s hit, running eventually for 691 performances.

While Hellman’s second play, Days to Come (1936), was a relative failure, her third effort, The Little Foxes (1939), solidified her position as a major figure in American drama. This damning depiction of greed in the turn-of-the-century South, as mirrored in the Hubbard family, is perhaps Hellman’s best-known play. Lillian Hellman developed screenplays from The Children’s Hour (filmed as These Three ) and The Little Foxes, and both were directed by her friend William Wyler.

During the Second World War Lillian Hellman wrote two more successful plays, Watch on the Rhine and The Searching Wind, each featuring a contemporary setting and an anti-fascist story line. Hellman again produced screenplays from both these plays, although Dashiell Hammett also worked on Watch on the Rhine and was the author of record for the film version.

In 1946 Hellman returned to the story of the Hubbards, as she featured them at an earlier stage in their development in Another Part of the Forest . Three of the next four plays from Hellman’s typewriter were adaptations: Montserrat (1949), from a play by Roblès, The Lark (1955), based on Anouilh’s L’Alouette, and Candide (1956), from Voltaire’s novel. The Autumn Garden (1951) was Hellman’s only play between 1946 and 1960 not based on an earlier source.

In 1952 Lillian Hellman’s well-known support for left-of-center causes led to her being subpoenaed to appear before the United States Congress’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Her appearance there, in which she declined to testify against others, together with her famous statement that she would not “cut her conscience to fit this year’s fashions” led to a hiatus in her career. Employment in Hollywood became, temporarily at least, impossible, and Broadway edged away from the controversy her name was seen likely to provoke.

By 1955 Hellman was back on Broadway with The Lark, followed shortly by Candide . The latter effort proved disappointing, as the libretto failed to achieve the continuing popularity of Leonard Bernstein’s score. Toys in the Attic (1960) was the last original drama written by Hellman, and also her last completely successful play. My Mother, My Father and Me, which was performed to mixed notices in 1963, was Lillian Hellman’s final dramatic work.

As if to disprove Scott Fitzgerald’s famous observation that “there are no second acts in American lives,” Lillian Hellman in the late 1960s launched a new career as a memoirist, publishing An Unfinished Woman in 1969 to positive reviews and excellent sales. Pentimento followed in 1973 to even greater commercial success, with its “Julia” section serving as the basis for a successful motion picture.

Scoundrel Time (1976), having a narrower focus on Cold War political hysteria, proved less interesting to the general reading public and provoked considerable criticism both from the left and right for its self-righteous tone. Hellman’s tendency to gloss over her own political history (particularly her failure to criticize Stalinism) and her idealized descriptions of her life with Dashiell Hammett led to increasing criticism.

In 1980 Hellman published her last essay of remembrance, Maybe, a work that was in some measure a study of the difficulty of recollection. Shortly before Maybe appeared Mary McCarthy made her famous denunciation of Lillian Hellman. McCarthy, on a television program, said of Hellman “every word ... she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

Having achieved a very considerable measure of celebrity among the cultural elite, the women’s movement, and readers generally, Lillian Hellman found this attack one she could not ignore. Despite contrary advice, she pursued a civil suit against McCarthy, hoping, it appears, to bankrupt her attacker.

The essentially trivial fight between the two women, coming as it did late in the lives of both, united them in them in a sort of notoriety neither sought. Lillian Hellman spent much of the final four years of her life, down to her death on June 30, 1984, pursuing a civil suit against McCarthy that was never consummated.

From the guide to the Lillian Hellman Papers TXRC05-A10005., 1904-1984 (bulk 1934-1984), (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)

Muralist, painter; San Antonio, Tex.

Also known as Bertha Louise Hellman Rublee. Worked on the Public Works of Art Project of the U.S. Treasury Department.

From the description of Bertha Hellman newspaper clippings, 1934. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 220182271

Muralist, painter; San Antonio, Tex. Also known as Bertha Louise Rublee.

Worked on the Public Works of Art Project of the U.S. Treasury Department.

From the description of Oral history interview with Bertha Louise Hellman, 1965 May 13. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 233007114

Muralist, painter; San Antonio, Tex. Also known as Bertha Louise Rublee.

Worked on the Public Works of Art Project of the U.S. Treasury Department.

From the description of Bertha Louise Hellman interview, 1965 May 13. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 220196173

Bertha Louise Hellman (1905-1984) was a muralist and painter in San Antonio, Tex.

Also known as Bertha Louise Rublee. She worked on the Public Works of Art Project of the U.S. Treasury Department.

From the description of Oral history interview with Bertha Louise Hellman, 1965 May 13 [sound recording]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 458412133


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  • Federal aid to the arts
  • Federal aid to the public welfare
  • Mural painting and decoration
  • Muralists--Interviews
  • Drama--Promptbooks and typescripts
  • Mural painting and decoration--20th century
  • Women painters--Interviews
  • Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961
  • Women artists
  • Motion pictures
  • Art and state
  • Drama (American)
  • Motion pictures--Production and direction
  • Dramatists, American--20th century--Biography


  • Dramatists


  • United States (as recorded)
  • Texas--Houston (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Texas--Houston (as recorded)
  • Texas--Houston (as recorded)
  • Texas--Houston (as recorded)