June 20

This Day in History

Literary

Jun 20, 1905:

Lillian Hellman is born

Playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman is born in New Orleans on this day.

Hellman grew up shuttling between New Orleans and New York: Her parents spent six months of each year with family in each city. She studied at New York University and at Columbia, but did not take a degree from either college. She worked in New York in publishing and in Hollywood evaluating screenplays while she wrote her own material.

In 1925, she married the playwright Arthur Kober but divorced him several years later. She traveled to Russia and civil-war-era Spain, and became a supporter of leftist causes.

In 1934, her first play, The Children's Hour, about children's lies regarding two schoolteachers, was published and became an immediate hit, running for 691 performances. Another big hit was The Little Foxes in 1939, about the manipulations of a ruthless family.

Hellman had a long relationship and lived sporadically with hard-boiled mystery writer and former private eye Dashiell Hammett. Both their lives were shattered by Senator McCarthy's anticommunist campaign, though neither were communists. Hammett went to jail, and Hellman lost her home. After Hammett's release, he fell ill. She cared for him until his death in 1961. She wrote many more highly acclaimed plays, as well as screenplays and four books of memoirs. She taught at Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, and died of a heart attack on Martha's Vineyard in 1989.

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