Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: A leading American playwright and important screenwriter, Hellman published memoirs in the 1960’s and 1970’s that advanced the growing interest in women’s lives and in autobiography.
Lillian Florence Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 20, 1905, the daughter of Max Hellman, a shoe salesman, and Julia Newhouse, an Alabama native whose family had succeeded in several business enterprises, including banking. As a child, Lillian was acutely conscious of the power the Newhouses’ money gave them; financial speculation and chicanery would become the theme of her most powerful plays. When her father’s New Orleans shoe business failed, he moved his family for six months of each year to New York City while he traveled as a salesman. Five-year-old Lillian found it difficult to adjust to two different cultures and school systems; her record as a student was erratic. Nevertheless, she acquired a diversity of experience that stimulated her precocious imagination and provided many of the themes of her plays and memoirs.
Hellman was an only child, doted on by her parents, who indulged her whims and gave her room to experiment in the heady, vibrant atmosphere of New York City in the 1920’s. Hellman attended classes at New York University and then at Columbia, but she did not earn a degree. Instead she worked briefly for the innovative New York publisher, Horace...
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Lillian Hellman Criticism
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Hellman’s place in the American theater is secure. The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes, Another Part of the Forest, The Autumn Garden, and Toys in the Attic reflect an astute moral intelligence and a vividness of characterization that will ensure the continuing revival of her major work.
Hellman also contributed an elegance of style to the memoir form; her depictions of events and portraits of friends in her life, although admitted by Hellman to contain factual inaccuracies, captivated readers.
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Lillian Hellman spent her life attempting to establish a singular identity apart from any one cultural or political group. Reared in a Southern Jewish American family, she was educated in New Orleans and New York City. She was married for relatively few years (1925-1932) to author Arthur Kober and bore no children. She took a succession of male lovers, generally on her own terms, although her long relationship (1930-1961) with author Dashiell Hammett was an exception in that she usually followed his advice and accepted his criticism.
Although lesbianism figures in her first successful play, The Children’s Hour, Hellman refused to be called a feminist and was never active in women’s groups. She also charted an independent role in her career. All of her best plays, however, include strong-willed women characters whose independence and self-reliance thwart the males with whom they interact. Experiences from her upbringing in New Orleans formed the basis for her picture of the South in transition in The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest. She was fascinated by the business successes of her relatives, yet repelled by their selfishness and lack of interest in social issues. In contrast, she was an outspoken defender of liberal causes, including labor unions, anti-Franco efforts in the Spanish Civil War, civil rights,...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Lillian Florence Hellman was born in New Orleans of Jewish parents. Her father was also born in New Orleans, and her mother in Alabama, of a family long established there. Part of her mother’s family moved to New York, and when Hellman was five years old, her parents moved there and commenced a routine of spending six months of each year in New York and six in New Orleans with her father’s two unmarried sisters. As her memoirs make clear, Hellman’s plays are strongly influenced by her Southern, urban background. Her mother’s family was a source for the Hubbards in The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest; her paternal aunts, for the sisters in Toys in the Attic. All her original plays except the first two (The Children’s Hour and Days to Come) are set in the South: in the Washington area, in Alabama towns, or in New Orleans. Hellman was graduated from high school in New York in 1922, attended New York University from 1922 to 1924, and briefly attended Columbia University in 1924, without completing a degree at either school. She worked for a time thereafter in New York and Hollywood in the areas of publishing, book reviewing, and reading manuscripts of plays and movie scenarios. In 1925, she married Arthur Kober; they were divorced in 1932. Two years later, her first play, The Children’s Hour, was a tremendous hit, achieving a longer original run (691 performances) than any of her later plays....
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Lillian Hellman was one of the five or six most important American playwrights in the first half of the twentieth century. Her influential memoirs, which were written at the end of her career in the theater, have enhanced her stature in the history of American literature. In her plays as well as her memoirs, she draws upon her family background and her early years in the South. Hellman’s father had failed in business when she was five years old, and the family thereupon moved to New York City, where Hellman’s mother’s family, the Newhouses, had banking and commercial interests. For part of each year, the Hellmans returned to New Orleans, and young Lillian was thus exposed to very different influences: the racial injustice and leisurely pace of the South and the urban grittiness and sophistication of the North. These contrary environments set up enormous conflicts in the strong-willed only child, who alternately identified with and condemned her mother’s rich family. They projected a dynamism and ambition the young child admired, but she envied and deplored their ruthless competitiveness.
Hellman’s first produced play, The Children’s Hour, was an enormous success. It is characteristic of her melodramatic penchant for presenting sharply drawn characters who come into conflict over basic issues of good and evil. Always acutely...
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Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans on June 20, 1906, to businessman Max Bernard and Julia Hellman. Carol MacNicholas, in her article on Hellman in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that while she and her mother had opposite personalities, Hellman’s ties to her mother were quite strong and became a focus of some of her work. After her college years at New York University and Columbia University in the early 1920s, Hellman began her literary career as a manuscript reader for Horace Liveright, Inc., a New York City publishing firm. There she met and married press agent Arthur Kober, with whom she moved to Europe, where she wrote short stories. While traveling to Germany, she observed the beginnings of the Nazi movement and its increasingly vocal anti- Semitism, subjects that she would later explore in her plays. In the 1930s, the couple moved to Hollywood, where Hellman read film scripts for Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer and started a long-term friendship with novelist and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett. With his encouragement, Hellman completed her first play, The Children’s Hour, produced in 1934. The play, which focuses on the disastrous effects of vicious gossip, earned high praise for its courageous and compelling portrait of homosexual themes.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, with the production of several of her plays, including Watch on the Rhine in 1941, Hellman earned a reputation as one of America’s finest playwrights. She...
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Until she was 16, Lillian Hellman lived half of her time in the South—New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was born in 1906—and half in New York City. Once she married and began her career as a writer, she never returned to the South, which housed the rapacious immorality she denounced in The Little Foxes, its "prequel," Another Part of the Forest, and Toys in the Attic, Nor did she reserve her harsh moralizing for the South—most of her plays attack universal moral faults. Hellman's repulsion against the profiteering of people like the Hubbard family of The Little Foxes perhaps began as she listened to the scheming of her mother's side of her family, the Marxs. They were a wealthy and elegant family who had risen from immigrant poverty to make their fortune in merchandising in the South, and who later succeeded in banking. Hellman is quoted in William Wright's 1986 book, Lillian Hellman: The Image, The Woman as asserting that the Marx family grew "rich from the 'borrowings' of poor Negroes," and that this heritage fueled her lifelong radicalism. She further revealed that great-uncles Max and Isaac Marx and great-aunt Sophie Newhouse Marx served as models for the Hubbard family. When Lillian was five, her father contributed to Hellman's lifelong obsession with the power of money—his shoe business went bankrupt, forcing the comfortable family to move in with poorer relatives, the Hellmans, who ran a boarding house. During Max...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the only child of Max and Julia Hellman. She was spoiled as a child, and she doted on her philandering father. Her childhood was divided between New Orleans and New York; she spent half the year in each city, as her father, a traveling salesman, made his living after having failed in business in New Orleans. Raised also by her father’s two sisters, who owned a New Orleans boardinghouse, Hellman got to know a variety of human types that would later people her plays and memoirs.
Hellman had an inclination to write at an early age, but she was not certain where her talent lay. Attempts to write fiction came to very little, and she spent most of her twenties working at odd jobs in publishing, the theater, and films. Married to short-story writer and playwright Arthur Kober, Hellman was able to soak up the atmosphere of the theater, but somehow it did not occur to her to write plays. Not until she met and began to live with Dashiell Hammett, the famous detective writer, did she begin to show the melodramatic flair that would make her first produced play, The Children’s Hour (1934), an enormous Broadway success.
Soon in demand as a screenwriter as well, Hellman developed a reputation as an outspoken woman, radical in her politics and daring in her love affairs. In the 1930’s and...
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Lillian Hellman, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 20, 1906, was the only child of Max and Julia Newhouse Hellman. Her paternal grandfather, Bernard Hellman, had emigrated from Germany in 1848 and settled in the city's Jewish community, where her father grew up. Her mother's family, from Alabama, had banking and other commercial interests in New York, where, in 1911, her father, a shoe merchant, moved the family when an embezzling partner forced him into bankruptcy.
While growing up, Hellman made annual treks to New Orleans to stay with her two spinster aunts. Her life in New Orleans was ethnically and culturally insulated from the more rustic (and conservative) life and values of the agrarian South, yet some contact with its traditions was inevitable and these values stayed with Hellman for her whole life. Her schooling was entirely northern, however. After high school, she briefly studied at New York and Columbia universities, but, in 1925, she took a job with a publishing firm as a reader and married Arthur Kober, a press agent. The couple went to Paris to edit the Paris Comet, an English-language magazine.
After returning to America, Hellman worked as a writer in Hollywood, where she met her lifelong friend, Dashiell Hammett, the mystery writer. She divorced Kober in 1932 and began work as a reader for the Broadway producer, Herman Shumlin. By then she had already collaborated on a play called, Dear Queen, which was...
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