Lillian Hellman

Definition

Theater

  • (1905 - 84) America's most successful woman dramatist. With theencouragement of her partner, the detective novelist Dashiell Hammett, sheturned to writing plays after earlier careers as a press agent and bookreviewer. Her tightly constructed works are examples of the well-made play.

    Hellman's first work, The Children's Hour, was producedin 1934. Its subject of lesbianism resulted in a ban from the LordChamberlain, although it had run for 691 performances on Broadway.Her other plays include the powerful Southern drama The LittleFoxes, which opened in New York in 1939 and was seen in Londonin 1941, the anti-Nazi The Watch on the Rhine (1941), AnotherPart of the Forest (1946), and Toys in the Attic, whichopened in 1960 in both New York and London. She also worked on thelibretto for Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide (1957). Herautobiographical volumes include Scoundrel Time (1976), whichdeals (not always very accurately) with her summoning by the house Un-AmericanActivities Committee in the 1950s.

    Hellman was an abrasive character who met her match duringpreparations for The Children's Hour. The theater owner LeeShubert (see Shubert brothers) saw an unknown womanwatching a rehearsal from the stalls with her feet on the seat infront of her. "Take your dirty shoes off my chair!" hegrowled, pushing her leg down. Hellman retorted, "I don't likestrange men fooling around with my right leg, so don't do it again."Having been informed who Hellman was, Shubert entered into a briefexchange:

    Shubert This play could land us in jail.
    Hellman I'm eating a frankfurter, and I don'twant to think about jail. Would you like a piece of it?
    Shubert I forbid you to get mustard on my chairs.

    Hellman did not see him again until her play had run for six months, when she heard him loudly ask the doorman who she was.

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