Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman dated Dashiell Hammett even before he divorced his wife. She didn't begin publishing seriously until he stopped publishing seriously. They are a well known hard-drinking, hard writing, leftist Hollywood couple.

Lillian Hellman's theatre work is mostly based on characters she knew from her life, including her family (on her mother's side, a wealthy family in the South). While much of her film work is political, she wrote the screenplay for THE LITTLE FOXES (remember, Hammett only wrote some screenplays for his novels -- Shakespeare certainly didn't write the screenplays of his plays!)


Like Hammett, she was a leftist -- she opposed Hitler very early in his rise to power because he was a fascist, but she remained sympathetic to the others who had fought fascism -- the communists. She wrote many political screenplays during World War II.

From an excellent online source of scholarly biography:

When Hammett was serving his sentence for refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, his lawyer adviced Hellman to leave the country. America had at that time became very worried about the spread of Communism. She sailed to Europe with William Wyler, who knew she was broke and paid her fare and hotel bill. In 1952 Hellman was called to appear before HUAC. She refused to reveal the names of associates and friends in the theatre who might have Communist associations, but she wasn't charged with contempt of Congress. In a letter to the Committee she wrote: "But the 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, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group..." Hellman was excused by the committee, with the remark: "Why cite her for contempt? After all, she is a woman..."

About the Hollywood Blacklist:

Who was blacklisted? Well, how many names of screenwriters (rather than novelists) from the 1930s and 1940s do you know? Almost everyone in Hollywood was questioned, from Lucille Ball, to Charlie Chaplin (who was kept out of the country), to some of the German emigres here in the US only to escape the Nazis in Europe! (famous playwright Bertoldt Brecht, for example).

Of the blacklisted writers and performers, more than 90 percent never worked again.

Laws and Entertainment and Literature

Like the Hays Code & censorship, the House Un-American Committee and the blacklist changed Hollywood -- and Broadway -- forever.

Apolitical novels, plays, and screenplays are more likely to be made than political ones.

How is literature and film political?

Is there a difference between literature about ideas (the "novel of ideas", the "cabinet play", the "issue based" tv episode, or even the political film, like REDS) and entertainment?

Can politics be entertaining?

Are new political shows and films (MASH, can you think of more recent examples...) not popular?


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