Lillian Hellman

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New Orleans, Louisiana
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Lillian Hellman is widely considered as one of America’s most influential playwrights. She also wrote screenplays for a number of films. Her career began when she joined MGM as a reader. Dashiell Hammet, a writer, became her friend and critic, as well as a supporter of her work. During a trip to Germany, she was exposed to the Nazi party’s anti-Semitic policies for the first time. Her anti-Fascist position was reflected in some of her works, including the plays ‘Watch on the Rhine’ and ‘The Searching Wind,’ as well as her screenplay for ‘The North Star.’ Her sympathy for Communist causes was met with skepticism in her home country. Following WWII, America was engulfed in a wave of anti-communist hysteria. She used to be a member of the Communist Party, but she had grown disillusioned with how it operated. Despite being blacklisted by Hollywood, she never revealed the names of fellow Communists and struggled to satisfy financial obligations. ‘The Children’s Hour,’ ‘The Little Foxes,’ ‘The Autumn Garden,’ ‘The Lark,’ and ‘Toys in the Attic’ are among her successful pieces. She was a lesbian who wrote about it when it was still forbidden, and she didn’t believe in marriage as an institution. Her memoirs, which she released in three volumes, were well-received. She is known as a trailblazer who was much ahead of her time.

Childhood and Adolescence

Julia Newhouse and Max Hellman, both Jewish, gave birth to Lillian Hellman on June 20, 1905, in New Orleans. Her father worked in the shoe business. When she was five years old, her family relocated to New York City. She used to spend half of the year with her parents and the other half with her aunts in Louisiana when she was a kid. She attended Columbia and New York Universities but did not receive a degree from either. She married Arthur Kober, a press agent, in 1925, but they rarely saw each other. She resumed her studies in Bonn after a trip to Europe. Her return to America was prompted by rising anti-Semitism.

Career of Lillian Hellman

In 1930, Lillian Hellman traveled to Hollywood with her husband. MGM hired her as a reader, and she was paid $50 per week. The work entailed creating novel summaries that may be turned into scripts. She produced the play ‘The Children’s Hour’ in 1933, thanks to novelist Dashiell Hammet’s encouragement. It was prohibited in Chicago, Boston, and London because of its contentious theme of lesbianism. It helped her gain notoriety and financial success.

Goldwyn Pictures recruited her to create the screenplay for ‘The Dark Angel.’ The narrative of two men striving for a woman’s affection was told in the 1935 film. In 1935, she became a member of the Screen Writers Guild. The guild was founded by screenwriters as a union. She raised the subject of writing credit, which some producers were reluctant to acknowledge.

For the rights to her play, ‘The Children’s Hour,’ Goldwyn Pictures gave her $35,000. She rewrote the play, taking out the lesbian subplot. The picture, titled ‘The Three,’ was released in 1936, and her screenplay was praised. In 1936, she formed the Contemporary Historians, Inc., with literary giants such as Ernest Hemingway, to produce the film ‘The Spanish Earth,’ which criticized Gen. Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

Her next endeavor was the screenplay for ‘Dead End,’ a 1937 crime picture. Its actors became known as the Dead End Kids after appearing in a number of films as a group. When the Dewey Commission exonerated Trotsky of Stalin’s charges in 1937, Hellman signed ‘An Open Letter to American Liberals’ with 88 other important Americans. It accused Trotsky for destabilizing the Soviet Union, defending Stalin. Her observations during a trip to Spain in 1937 were broadcast in the United States and published in the liberal publication The New Republic. The report’s authenticity, however, was afterwards called into question.

In 1938, she joined the Communist Party, but subsequently departed because she felt she was in the “wrong place” and the political left did not suit her “maverick temperament.” Her anti-fascist plays were written during WWII, and ‘Watch on the Rhine’ was performed 378 times on Broadway. Communists reacted badly to ‘The Searching Wind,’ which was released at a time when the Soviet Union was attempting to placate Hitler.

Her own piece, ‘Another Part of the Forest,’ was directed by her in 1946. Marcus Hubbard’s journey from poverty to unethical prosperity was the subject of the drama. Toys in the Attic, a semi-autobiographical play, was a tremendous hit on Broadway in 1960, with 464 performances. It won numerous awards and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.

She partnered with Leonard Bernstein on two occasions. Her adaptations of Jean Anouilh’s drama, L’Alouette (‘The Lark’ in English), and ‘Candide,’ both based on Voltaire’s work, were set to music composed by him. ‘An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir’ (1969), ‘Pentimento: A Book Of Portraits’ (1973), and ‘Scoundrel Time’ (1976) are three volumes of her memoirs that bore witness to her dignified struggle and vision.

Major Projects of Lillian Hellman

‘The Little Foxes,’ a hugely successful play by Lillian Hellman, was performed 410 times on Broadway in 1939. The drama was inspired by a quarrel between her maternal grandmother, Sophie Marx, and the Hellman family.
The disenchantment that people feel as middle age sets in is explored in her 1951 play, ‘The Autumn Garden,’ which critics consider her best. The play received a New York Drama Critics Circle Award nomination.

Achievements & Awards

‘Watch on the Rhine,’ a play by Lillian Hellman, won the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle award in 1941.
For ‘An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir,’ released in 1969 as the first of three volumes of her memoirs, she received the US National Book Award in the Arts and Letters category.

She earned the Edward MacDowell Medal for her service to literature in 1976, as well as Actors’ Equity’s Paul Robeson Award. She received honorary degrees from a number of universities, including Brandeis, Yale, Wheaton, and Columbia.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1932, Lillian Hellman divorced Arthur Kober. Meanwhile, Dashiell Hammet, a mystery writer, became her partner and critic. She also had affairs with John Melby, a diplomat, and Ralph Ingersoll, a publisher. She died of a heart attack at her house on Martha’s Vineyard on June 30, 1984, at the age of 79.

Estimated Net Worth

Lillian is one of the wealthiest playwrights and one of the most well-known playwrights. Lillian Hellman’s net worth is estimated to be $6 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


“I cannot and will not trim my conscience to suit this year’s fashions,” she told a commission investigating her Communist associations.
The playwright’s infatuation with a great writer was explored in Sam Toperoff’s fictional biography, ‘Lillian & Dash.’