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Lillian Hellman:

An Inventory of Her Papers in the Manuscript Collection 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-01900
Language: English, French, and Italian
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts and purchases, 1963-1994 (Gift 1984, G2868, G8191, G9246, R2200, R3521, R4498, R7661, R13058, R13213, G10046)
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 2005

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Lillian Hellman 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.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

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.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Works, 1934-84, 44 boxes
This series is subdivided into two subseries, A. Plays and B. Other Works. The extensive collection of drafts of plays comprising the first subseries is arranged in alphabetical order, and within each play the sequence is chronological, with theatrical adaptations, translations, and film versions appearing last for each title. Included here are Hellman’s scenarios for film versions of The Children’s Hour, The Little Foxes, The Searching Wind, and Watch on the Rhine. Citations to Manfred Triesch’s 1966 bibliography The Lillian Hellman Collection at the University of Texas are given where appropriate. Drafts relating to revivals of The Children’s Hour and The Little Foxes, as well as many drafts of My Mother, My Father and Me not listed in Triesch are present in the collection.
Subseries B., Other Works, has been arranged into the following categories: Cookbook, Film, Interviews, Memoirs, Short Works, and Speeches. Prominent are the drafts of Hellman’s four volumes of memoirs published between 1969 and 1980, along with the afterwords she wrote for Three, the 1979 one-volume publication of the texts of Pentimento, Scoundrel Time, and An Unfinished Woman. The drafts of the mysterious Maybe include large-type pages made necessary by Hellman’s deteriorating vision.
Lillian Hellman’s work on the films The Chase and The North Star is represented by drafts found in the subseries, along with some other film work not based on her own dramas. Unrealized film projects present here include a 1952 script of Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing and an outline of Christina Stead’s The Little Hotel (1976).
Drafts and notes for articles and other short pieces, together with interviews, speeches, teaching files, and her editorial work on The Selected Letters of Anton Chekhov complete the subseries.
Series II. Correspondence, 1904-84 (bulk 1934-84), 47 boxes
The filing system used for the voluminous correspondence series continues that used by Hellman herself, with files arranged alphabetically by correspondent or subject. Although the general absence of personal correspondence in the Hellman papers has been noted, there are groups of significant personal correspondence to be found in the papers. These include a large group of letters Lillian Hellman sent John Melby between 1945 and 1978 illuminating aspects of their relationship and Melby’s problems as a State Department employee in the Cold War years. These letters were donated by Melby to the Ransom Center.
The Dashiell Hammett files contain letters from Hammett to Hellman written between 1931 and 1950. Accompanying these is correspondence between Lillian Hellman and Diane Johnson, Steven Marcus, Stephen Talbot, and Jon Tuska, all of whom, as Hammett biographers, faced greater or lesser difficulties placed in their paths by Hellman.
At Dorothy Parker’s death in 1973 Lillian Hellman became her friend’s literary executor. While few letters between them are found here, there is substantial correspondence dealing both with publication of Parker’s work and with attempts of various writers to produce biographies of Mrs. Parker. Hellman’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent publication of John Keats’s You Might as Well Live is detailed in her letters to Keats and to his publisher, Viking Press.
An extensive correspondence between Hellman, her father Max, and her aunts during the period of Max Hellman’s hospitalization in the late 1940s survives in the papers and gives a view of Hellman family dynamics.
Perhaps the most significant group of letters from the pre-World War Two period to remain in the Hellman papers is one relating to the Spanish Civil War documentary film The Spanish Earth. A number of letters from Herman Shumlin and Archibald MacLeish relating to the production of that film, along with later correspondence from director Joris Ivens and the film’s distributors are present.
The extensive index of correspondents found at the end of this finding aid identifies and locates these and numerous other personal and corporate correspondents in the papers. The large collection of fan mail in the series is selectively indexed.
Series III. Other Papers, 1922-84 (bulk 1946-84), 49 boxes
A valuable resource in studying Lillian Hellman’s life is her appointment books. These volumes, with two early exceptions, cover the years 1956 to 1984 and were consistently maintained, recording her social contacts and day-to-day activities.
Hellman notebooks found in the series are in the main notes for or of foreign travel between 1944 and 1980, containing notations ranging from mundane to do lists to sharp observations of people and places. The notebooks kept in Russia and Yugoslavia in the 1940s and in Washington and the Near East in 1963 and ’64 record thoughts and scenes which found their way into some of Hellman’s periodical articles.
Dashiell Hammett, both as a writer and as a political figure, is well-represented in the clippings and scrapbooks of this series. Two scrapbooks are devoted to coverage of his writing career between 1929 and 1950, and several folders of post-1950 clippings are concerned with his political and creative life.
Series IV. Legal and Financial Papers, 1942-84 (bulk 1961-84), 12 boxes
The documents and correspondence concerning Lillian Hellman’s acquisition and administration of Dashiell Hammett’s literary estate fill two boxes in the series. Here a considerable amount of information on foreign and domestic publication and on non-literary use of Hammett’s works and characters may be gleaned, together with Hellman’s consistent effort to shape public perception of Hammett in her dealings with publishers, filmmakers, and biographers. Also included in the series are files created by the law firm of O’Dwyer and Bernstien on behalf of Lillian Hellman which were subsequently turned over to her.
Series V. Works by and Papers of Others, 1934-84, 4 boxes
The series includes a group of materials relating to Dorothy Parker evidently acquired by Hellman in the period in which she, Hellman, was Parker’s literary executor. Found here is a small amount of miscellaneous correspondence, and several manuscripts, including the original handwritten manuscript of "New York at 6:30 P.M.," sent by former Esquire editor Harold Hayes to Hellman in 1974.
The materials assembled by federal government agencies concerning Lillian Hellman include, in folder 119.3, copies of letters the originals of which exist in Miss Hellman’s correspondence files. Examples are letters written to her in the late 1960s by Elena Golisheva and Grigori Kozintsev.

Related Material

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.

Separated Material

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.

Index Terms


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.


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).


Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961.
Dramatists, American--20th century--Biography.


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

Document Types

Christmas cards.
Editorial cartoons.
Galley proofs.
Legal documents.
Sheet music.
Sound recordings.

Folder List>