On this day in 1980, playwright Lillian Hellman filed a lawsuit claming $2.2 million in damages against novelist Mary McCarthy for libel.
McCarthy, a sarcastic and critical novelist whose most popular novel was The Group (1963), about eight Vassar graduates, had called Hellman “a bad writer, overrated, a dishonest writer” while appearing on a national talk show. The two writers evidently had a long history of hostility, dating back some 30 years, when the pair had clashed publicly at a poetry seminar at Sarah Lawrence college.
Many writers and supporters of free speech rushed to McCarthy’s defense, including an heiress who picked up McCarthy’s $25,000 legal defense fees and saved her from certain financial ruin. Hellman died before the lawsuit came to trial, and the suit was dropped.