Lillian Hellman

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Hellman, Lillian,

1905–84, American dramatist, b. New Orleans. Her plays, although often melodramatic, are marked by intelligence and craftsmanship. The Children's Hour (1934), her first drama, concerns the devastating effects of a child's malicious charge of lesbianism against two of her teachers. The Little Foxes (1939) and Another Part of the Forest (1946) constitute a chilling study of a wealthy and rapacious Southern family. Several of Hellman's dramas—notably Watch on the Rhine (1941) and The Searching Wind (1944)—treat international political themes such as isolationism and the rise of fascism. In 1952 she was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because she had attended Communist party meetings in the late 1930s. She made several English adaptations of French plays and, with Richard WilburWilbur, Richard,
1921–2017, American poet and translator, b. New York City, B.A. Amherst, 1942, M.A. Harvard, 1947. A virtuoso craftsman who wrote with grace and precision in traditional verse forms, Wilbur was always original and generally affirmative in his view of the
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, wrote a libretto for a musical version of Voltaire's Candide (1955). Her other plays include Days to Come (1936), The Autumn Garden (1951), and Toys in the Attic (1960). In 1931 she met the writer Dashiell HammettHammett, Dashiell
, 1894–1961, American writer, b. St. Mary's co., Maryland. After a variety of jobs, including several years working as a detective for the Pinkerton agency, beginning in the early 1920s he found success as a writer, largely originating the hard-boiled
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, who remained her constant companion until his death in 1961.


See her autobiographical works, An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976); biographies by W. Wright (1986), C. Rollyson (1988), and A. Kessler-Harris (2012); P. Feibleman, Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman (1988); J. Mellen, Hellman and Hammett (1996).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hellman, Lillian


Born June 20, 1905, in New Orleans, La. American writer and dramatist.

Hellman studied at New York University and Columbia University. Her realistic, socially significant work is filled with profound interest in man’s inner life, exemplified in such plays as The Children’s Hour (1934) and The Days to Come (1936). A bourgeois family’s history of predatory accumulation of wealth is unfolded in The Little Foxes (1939; Russian translation, 1944) and Another Part of the Forest (1947; presented on the Soviet stage as Ladies and Gentlemen).

During World War II, Hellman created the bold antifascist plays Watch on the Rhine (1941) and The Searching Wind (1944) and a screenplay, The North Star (1943), about the heroic struggle of Soviet guerrillas. The themes of her postwar plays reflect the destiny, mood, and spiritual confusion of a segment of the American intelligentsia; these plays include The Autumn Garden (1951) and Toys in the Attic (1960; Russian translation, 1967). Hellman has also published autobiographical works—An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976).

For several decades, Hellman has taken part in the antifascist democratic movement in the USA. She visited the USSR in 1944 and again in 1967. Her plays have been presented in many Soviet theaters.


My Mother, My Father and Me. New York, 1963.
Collected Plays. Boston, 1971.
In Russian translation:
P’esy. Moscow, 1958.
Pogonia: Kinostsenarii. Moscow, 1971.


Golysheva, E. “Vozvrashchenie L. Khellman.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1975, no. 4.
Moody, R. Lillian Hellman: Playwright. New York, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hellman, Lillian

(1905–84) playwright; born in New Orleans. After studying at New York and Columbia Universities, she worked in publishing and as a book reviewer and play-reader before attaining her first success with the play, The Children's Hour (1934). Concerned with social, political, and moral issues along with more personal ones, she wrote a number of successful plays including The Little Foxes (1939) and Toys in the Attic (1960). She also wrote many film scripts and adapted the works of others for film and the stage. She published several memoirs, including Scoundrel Time (1976), and she wrote the book for Leonard Bernstein's musical, Candide (1956). For some 30 years she lived with Dashiell Hammett and shared his commitment to radical political causes; her appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1952) resulted in her being blacklisted in Hollywood. Her last years were tainted by a feud with Mary McCarthy and allegations that she had often lied in her memoirs.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.