Lillian Hellman (Lillian Florence Hellman)

Lillian Hellman

Lillian Florence Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984) was an American dramatist and screenwriter known for her success as a playwright on Broadway, as well as her left-wing sympathies and political activism. She was blacklisted after her appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) at the height of the anti-communist campaigns of 1947–52. Although she continued to work on Broadway in the 1950s, her blacklisting by the American film industry caused a drop in her income. Many praised Hellman for refusing to answer questions by HUAC, but others believed, despite her denial, that she had belonged to the Communist Party. Lillian Hellman was romantically involved with fellow writer and political activist Dashiell Hammett, author of the classic detective novels The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, who also was blacklisted for 10 years until his death in 1961. The couple never married. As a playwright, Hellman had many successes on Broadway, including Watch on the Rhine, The Autumn Garden, Toys in the Attic, Another Part of the Forest, The Children’s Hour and The Little Foxes. She adapted her semi-autobiographical play The Little Foxes into a screenplay, which starred Bette Davis and received an Academy Award nomination in 1942.

Lillian Hellman’s accuracy was challenged after she brought a libel suit against Mary McCarthy. In 1979, on the The Dick Cavett Show, McCarthy said that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.” During the libel suit, investigators found errors in Hellman’s popular memoirs such as Pentimento. They said that the “Julia” section of Pentimento, which had been the basis for the Oscar-winning 1977 movie of the same name, was actually based on the life of Muriel Gardiner. Martha Gellhorn, Ernest Hemingway’s ex-wife, said that Hellman’s remembrances of Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War were wrong. McCarthy, Gellhorn and others accused Hellman of lying about her membership in the Communist Party and being an unrepentant Stalinist. Lillian Hellman died on June 30, 1984, aged 79, from a heart attack near her home on Martha’s Vineyard and is buried beneath a pine tree on a rise at one end of Abels Hill/Chilmark Cemetery, Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

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Born

  • June, 20, 1905
  • USA
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

Died

  • June, 30, 1984
  • USA
  • Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Cause of Death

  • heart attack

Cemetery

  • Chilmark Cemetery
  • Chilmark, Massachusetts
  • USA

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