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June 20: Lillian Hellman

June 20, 2014

lillian_hellman_04Playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman, a key recruiter for the Screen Writers Guild in its early days and a longtime lover of mystery writer Dashiel Hammett, was born in New Orleans on this date in 1905. Hellman was involved in many leftwing causes and described herself as “a most casual member” of the American Communist Party for three years, 1938-’40, during which time her most famous play, The Little Foxes, premiered on Broadway and ran for 410 performances. Her other best-known works include the plays Watch on the Rhine (1941) and The Children’s Hour (1934), the screenplays for The Little Foxes (1941) and The North Star (1944), and the memoirs Pentimento (1973) and Scoundrel Time (1976). The latter dealt with her persecution and blacklisting by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in the late 1940s, during which time she turned down a multi-year contract with Columbia Pictures because it included a loyalty clause that required her to swear that she had never been a communist and would not associate with subversives. To see the trailer for The Little Foxes, look below.

“I am a writer and I am also a Jew. I want to be quite sure that I can continue to be a writer and if I want to say that greed is bad or persecution is worse, I can do so without being branded by the malice of people who make a living by that malice. I also want to be able to go on saying that I am a Jew without being afraid of being called names or end in a prison camp or be forbidden to walk the street at night.” —Lillian Hellman