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Lillian Florence Hellman

Lillian Hellman was an American playwright, scriptwirter and author of memoirs, who was also active on the political stage. In her works she attacked injustice and exploitation.


  • Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana into a Jewish family.Her father was Max Hellman, a New Orleans shoe salesman, and her mother was Julia Newhouse of Demopolis, Alabama. Julia Newhouse's parents were Leonard Newhouse, a Demopolis liquor dealer, and Sophie Marx, of a successful banking family.

  • Education

    • As a child she spent her time moving back and forth between New York and her native New Orleans. She claimed in her memoirs that the constant moving was responsible for her failures in school and college.

      She studied for two years at New York University and then took several courses at Columbia University.


    • Heilman began her literary career working as a manuscript reader for a publisher and was then a theatrical play reader and a film scenario reader before beginning to produce her own plays in the 1930s.

      Her first play, "The Children's Hour", about a schoolgirl’s malicious accusations of lesbianism against her teachers, was an instant success. She continued to write plays on strong and provocative themes such as race, greed, hypocrisy, and sex, notably The Little Foxes, a portrait of the American South.

      Another play that attracted much interest was the anti-Nazi drama, "|Watch on the Rhine", which was partially based on her own experiences in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Many of her plays were adapted for the screen.

      She also wrote three books of memoirs, which are full of the names of the now famous authors with whom she associated, among them F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. One of the memoirs, "Pentimento", was made into the film "Julia".

      The themes of her literature were often public issues, such as agitation, fascism, appeasement, and isolationism, although private themes surfaced too, for example, middle age, in "The Autumn Garden", and the pretences of family love, in "Toys in the Attic".



    From the mid-1930s, Hellman became involved with left-wing politics. While never a "card-carrying" Communist Party member, she remained an ardent supporter even as events in the Soviet Union became increasingly repressive.

    In 1936-1937 Hellman traveled in Europe where she met other American expatriate writers of the so-called Lost Generation, including Ernest Hemingway. She saw the Spanish Civil War first-hand and also visited the Soviet Union as well. To this period Hellman returned in her first memoir, An Unfinished Woman (1969).

    Party affiliation: Communist Party



    I am not willing, now or in the future, to bring bad trouble to people who, in my past association with them, were completely innocent of any talk or any action that was disloyal or subversive. I do not like subversion or disloyalty in any form and if I had ever seen any I would have considered it my duty to have reported it to the proper authorities. But 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....


    Her gifts included a talent for dialogue and for stage technique, and an ability to handle powerful themes.

    Heilman was a woman of strong personal opinions who was blacklisted for leftist sympathies throughout the 1950s.




    • Her rocky personal life reflected her strong character, and after a first unsuccessful marriage, she intermittently carried on a relationship with the detective story writer.
    • Husband: Arthur Kober - playwright and press agent
    • partner: Dashiell Hammett - writer
      Having divorced Kober and returned to New York City in 1932, Lillian Hellman met Hammett (she was 24 and he was 36). They maintained their relationship off and on for 30 years until his

      death in January 1961.
    Lillian Hellman
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    Died June 30, 1984
    (aged 79)


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    • Gender
    • Activities
      • Dramatists
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    • Works
      • Play: The Children's Hour
      • Screenplay: The Little Foxes
      • autobiographical book: An Unfinished Woman
    • General Info
    • Religious beliefs
    • Views and World outlook
    • Quotations
    • Party affiliation
    • Party affiliation description
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    • Career Description
    • Relatives
      • Max B. Hellman
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