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Lillian Hellman:

An Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Hellman, Lillian, 1905-1984
Title: Lillian Hellman Papers
Dates: 1904-1984 (bulk 1934-1984)
Extent: 119 boxes, 38 oversize boxes, 2 oversize folders, 9 galley files (68 linear feet)
Abstract: The Lillian Hellman papers comprise manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, business records, appointment books, scrapbooks, and clippings.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-1900
Language: English, French, and Italian
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Gifts and purchases, 1963-1994 (Gift 1984, G2868, G8191, G9246, R2200, R3521, R4498, R7661, R13058, R13213, G10046)

Processed by:

Bob Taylor, 2005

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


Lillian Hellman, America’s most significant woman playwright of the twentieth century, was born on June 20, 1905, in New Orleans to Max and Julia Newhouse Hellman. Her early years, spent alternately among her well-to-do maternal relatives in New York City and with her father’s hard-working sisters in New Orleans, provided the young Lillian with experiences and viewpoints she used to effect throughout her lengthy writing career.

After graduation from high school in the early 1920s Hellman attended college briefly before finding employment at the publishing house of Boni and Liveright. With her marriage to playwright and humorist Arthur Kober in 1925 Hellman began serious attempts at a literary career, publishing short stories she later dismissed as trivial. Following the Kobers’ move to Hollywood in 1930 Lillian became a script reader at MGM and soon afterwards began an affair with the novelist Dashiell Hammett that led to the Kobers’ divorce in 1933.

Hellman’s interest in writing returned during 1933 and, encouraged by Hammett, she began work on a play based on a true story of the power of a malicious lie. Opening on Broadway on November 20, 1934, Hellman’s The Children’s Hour became the season’s hit, running eventually for 691 performances.

While Hellman’s second play, Days to Come (1936), was a relative failure, her third effort, The Little Foxes (1939), solidified her position as a major figure in American drama. This damning depiction of greed in the turn-of-the-century South, as mirrored in the Hubbard family, is perhaps Hellman’s best-known play. Lillian Hellman developed screenplays from The Children’s Hour (filmed as These Three) and The Little Foxes, and both were directed by her friend William Wyler.

During the Second World War Lillian Hellman wrote two more successful plays, Watch on the Rhine and The Searching Wind, each featuring a contemporary setting and an anti-fascist story line. Hellman again produced screenplays from both these plays, although Dashiell Hammett also worked on Watch on the Rhine and was the author of record for the film version.

In 1946 Hellman returned to the story of the Hubbards, as she featured them at an earlier stage in their development in Another Part of the Forest. Three of the next four plays from Hellman’s typewriter were adaptations: Montserrat (1949), from a play by Roblès, The Lark (1955), based on Anouilh’s L’Alouette, and Candide (1956), from Voltaire’s novel. The Autumn Garden (1951) was Hellman’s only play between 1946 and 1960 not based on an earlier source.

In 1952 Lillian Hellman’s well-known support for left-of-center causes led to her being subpoenaed to appear before the United States Congress’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Her appearance there, in which she declined to testify against others, together with her famous statement that she would not “cut her conscience to fit this year’s fashions” led to a hiatus in her career. Employment in Hollywood became, temporarily at least, impossible, and Broadway edged away from the controversy her name was seen likely to provoke.

By 1955 Hellman was back on Broadway with The Lark, followed shortly by Candide. The latter effort proved disappointing, as the libretto failed to achieve the continuing popularity of Leonard Bernstein’s score. Toys in the Attic (1960) was the last original drama written by Hellman, and also her last completely successful play. My Mother, My Father and Me, which was performed to mixed notices in 1963, was Lillian Hellman’s final dramatic work.

As if to disprove Scott Fitzgerald’s famous observation that “there are no second acts in American lives,” Lillian Hellman in the late 1960s launched a new career as a memoirist, publishing An Unfinished Woman in 1969 to positive reviews and excellent sales. Pentimento followed in 1973 to even greater commercial success, with its “Julia” section serving as the basis for a successful motion picture.

Scoundrel Time (1976), having a narrower focus on Cold War political hysteria, proved less interesting to the general reading public and provoked considerable criticism both from the left and right for its self-righteous tone. Hellman’s tendency to gloss over her own political history (particularly her failure to criticize Stalinism) and her idealized descriptions of her life with Dashiell Hammett led to increasing criticism.

In 1980 Hellman published her last essay of remembrance, Maybe, a work that was in some measure a study of the difficulty of recollection. Shortly before Maybe appeared Mary McCarthy made her famous denunciation of Lillian Hellman. McCarthy, on a television program, said of Hellman “every word ... she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

Having achieved a very considerable measure of celebrity among the cultural elite, the women’s movement, and readers generally, Lillian Hellman found this attack one she could not ignore. Despite contrary advice, she pursued a civil suit against McCarthy, hoping, it appears, to bankrupt her attacker.

The essentially trivial fight between the two women, coming as it did late in the lives of both, united them in them in a sort of notoriety neither sought. Lillian Hellman spent much of the final four years of her life, down to her death on June 30, 1984, pursuing a civil suit against McCarthy that was never consummated.


Feibleman, Peter S. Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman. New York: Morrow, 1988.

Mellen, Joan. Hellman and Hammett. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Wright, William. Lillian Hellman: the Image, the Woman. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1987.


The Lillian Hellman papers comprise manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, business records, appointment books, scrapbooks, and clippings. The collection, which spans the years 1904 to 1984, is largely in its original order. The material is arranged in five series: Series I. Works, 1934-84; Series II. Correspondence, 1904-84; Series III. Other Papers, 1922-84; Series IV. Legal and Financial Papers, 1942-84; and Series V. Works by and Papers of Others, 1934-84.

The Works Series of 44 boxes consists of two subseries, one embracing Hellman’s drama, the second her film scripts, memoirs, and other work (interviews, short prose, speeches, editorial work, and teaching). Miss Hellman maintained her archive of creative work with considerable care, retaining successive drafts, with inserted revisions and corrections. A number of galleys, some with author’s annotations, are present, as are extensive research notes for several plays.

The Correspondence Series, running to 47 boxes, contains Hellman’s professional, business, and household correspondence files, particularly from the late 1940s onward. Carbons of much of her outgoing correspondence are included.

Correspondents include agents Don Congdon and Robert Lantz, lawyers Oscar Bernstien and Stanley M. Isaacs, and the publishing firms Knopf, Little Brown, and Random House. Personal correspondence is generally absent, but there are at least a few letters present from such friends and colleagues as Leonard Bernstein, John Hersey, Richard Poirier, Margaret Tallichet (Talli Wyler), and Richard Wilbur.

The Other Papers Series is, at 49 boxes, the largest in the collection, containing a miscellany of address books, appointment books, clippings, notebooks, and scrapbooks. The clippings and scrapbooks which represent the majority of the series are, to an extent, mutually exclusive both in subject matter and time coverage. The clippings file, which was maintained until the end of Miss Hellman’s life, devotes considerable space to political matters. Attention to political issues is particularly strong for the years 1948 to 1952. The scrapbooks, which include programs and some telegrams and correspondence as well as clippings, are devoid of political affairs and were not created after 1981.

The Legal and Financial Papers Series is a disparate collection of records of Lillian Hellman’s investments, personal taxes, household expenses, as well as a miscellany of retired legal files. Of greatest interest here is the documentation of her acquisition and administration of the literary estate of Dashiell Hammett.

The Works by and Papers of Others Series is, at four boxes, the smallest in the collection. Found here are several short pieces about Hellman, a late typescript draft of Diane Johnson’s biography of Dashiell Hammett, and galleys and page proofs of the 1974 Hammett anthology The Continental Op. A substantial group of reports and documents concerning Lillian Hellman compiled by various federal agencies between 1940 and 1975 and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Peter Benjaminson also appears in the series.


Other collections at the Ransom Center containing material by or related to Lillian Hellman are those of Dashiell Hammett, Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, and Bernard Malamud.


A small group of sound recordings, including Lillian Hellman’s university seminar class discussions, has been withdrawn to the Sound Recordings Collection. Likewise, diplomas, plaques, and other awards are housed in the Ransom Center’s Personal Effects Collection.


Due to size, this inventory has been divided into two separate units which can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted text below:

Lillian Hellman Papers--Series I.-II. [Part I] [This page]

Lillian Hellman Papers--Series III.-IV. and Index of Correspondents [Part II]


People

Abrahams, William Miller, 1919- .

Bernstein, Leonard, 1918-1990.

Bloomgarden, Kermit.

Cowan, Arthur W. A.

Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.

Hellman, Max B.

Hersey, John, 1914-1993.

Isaacs, Stanley M. (Stanley Myer), 1882-1962.

Johnson, Diane, 1934- .

Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984.

Kober, Arthur, 1900-1975.

Kronenberger, Louis, 1904-1980.

Lantz, Robert.

Lederer, Katherine.

Levin, Harry, 1912-1994.

MacLeish, Archibald, 1892-1982.

Mailer, Norman.

Malamud, Bernard.

Melby, John F. (John Fremont), 1913- .

Orlova, R. D. (Raisa Davydovna)

Parker, Dorothy, 1893-1967.

Perelman, S. J. (Sidney Joseph), 1904-1979.

Poirier, Richard.

Pritchett, V. S. (Victor Sawdon), 1900-1997.

Shairp, Mordaunt, 1887-1939.

Shumlin, Herman, b. 1898.

Solano, Solita, 1888-1975.

Soupault, Philippe, 1897-1990.

Spiegel, Sam.

Styron, William, 1925-2006.

Tallichet, Margaret, 1914-1991.

Terkel, Studs, 1912- .

Trilling, Diana.

Wechsler, James Arthur, 1915- .

Weinstein, Hannah.

Wilbur, Richard, 1921- .

Wyler, William, 1902-1981.

Organizations

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Ashley-Steiner-Famous Artists, Inc.

Ashley-Steiner Inc.

Atlantic Monthly Press.

Authors' League of America.

Bernard Reis & Company.

British Broadcasting Corporation.

Dr. Jan van Loewen Ltd.

Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

Dramatists Guild.

Dramatists Play Service (New York, N.Y.).

Harold Matson Company.

Kermit Bloomgarden (Firm)

Little, Brown and Company.

MCA Artists, Ltd.

M.S. & I.S. Isaacs (Firm).

National Institute of Arts and Letters (U.S.).

New American Library.

New York Times.

The New Yorker.

O'Dwyer & Bernstien (Firm).

Random House (Firm).

Robert Lantz (Firm).

Robert Lantz-Candida Donadio Literary Agency.

Samuel French, Inc.

Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.

Schwartz & Frohlich (Firm).

Viking Press.

William Aspenwall Bradley (Firm).

Subjects

Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.

Dramatists, American--20th century--Biography.

Places

United States--Intellectual life--20th century.

Document Types

Christmas cards.

Editorial cartoons.

Elevations.

Galley proofs.

Journals.

Legal documents.

Photographs.

Postcards.

Scrapbooks.

Sheet music.

Slides.

Sound recordings.