The Party's Over
The rise and fall of Communist playwright and memoirist Lillian Hellman
A Difficult Woman:
The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
by Alice Kessler-Harris
$30.00 List Price
Lillian Hellman was once a star. She was one of the most successful playwrights of her time, with her first produced work, The Children's Hour, running for two years on Broadway. As a screenwriter in the 1930s, she earned the top rate of $2,500 a week to write two films of her choice per year. The three volumes of her memoirs—An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976)—were best sellers.
Her personal life was equally glamorous. After a brief early marriage, she flitted from romance to romance, courted by everyone from theater producers to diplomats to writers. The last category included Dashiell Hammett, who was the love of her life despite the fact that for most of their thirty-year affair he was married to someone else. She played elegant hostess to literary luminaries at her Upper East Side town house, her upstate New York farm, and her Martha's Vineyard beach house. In 1976, at age seventy-one, she joined the likes of Raquel Welch and Diana Ross as a model for the Blackglama furs advertising campaign, with the famous tagline "What becomes a legend most?"
Hellman's star rose and fell several times during her life, but since her death, in 1984, it has been in steady decline. Now she has become a legend of quite a different sort, as unfashionable as the mink she posed in. Nothing she wrote has reverberated as loud and long as Mary McCarthy's devastating quip about her on The Dick Cavett Show in 1980: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" McCarthy's remark alluded to Hellman's once-celebrated memoirs, which have been