Lillian Hellman Additional Biography


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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201221-Hellman.jpg Lillian Hellman. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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, freedom of speech, and protests against the Vietnam War.

Although Jewish American, Hellman seemingly cared little about the Jewish religion and traditions. She was never a supporter of Zionism and identified most closely with Jewish culture during the 1930’s and 1940’s, when it was attacked by the Nazis. Her antifascist plays Watch on the Rhine (1941) and The Searching Wind (1944) do not, however, center directly on the mistreatment of Jews but rather emphasize the shortcomings of American liberals in combatting the fascist threat to American freedoms. Hellman’s staunch antifascism was somewhat based on her attraction to socialism and communism, a flirtation that led to her famous and largely successful confrontation with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952.

Hellman became a living legend, admired by many for her outspoken independence and social commitment. Ironically, her last years were spent in bitter disputes over the reliability of her memoirs. The evidence suggests that Hellman’s very flattering self-portrait was largely fictional in the famous “Julia” section from Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973), upon which a highly successful motion picture was based.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

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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...

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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...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

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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...

(The entire section is 575 words.)