Literary Birthday: Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman (born today in 1905) was raised comfortably in Louisiana before her family, who did not always manage their money well, moved to New York. There, she worked various jobs while trying to get her writing career off the ground. When it did, with the 1934 premiere of her hit play The Children’s Hour, her success came with a heavy helping of controversy. Based on an incident that took place in Scotland in 1810, the story was set at an all-girl’s school where a student spreads a lie that the two women running the institution were lovers.

A milder version of the moral panic Hellman depicted greeted the play itself, which was considered too dirty-minded for the Pulitzer Prize. She, along with her longtime paramour Dashiell Hammett, palled around with Communists and other radicals. This gained her the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, who put the playwright under surveillance. Hellman’s FBI file runs to over a hundred not terribly interesting pages: “Miss HELLMAN did not engage in any Communist activities in Fairbanks.”

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