Go to Hellman
Of the making of books about Lillian Hellman, there is no end. Since her death in 1984, she has been the subject of three full-scale biographies, a book-length memoir by one of her lovers, and a 350-page portrait of her long-term relationship with the mystery novelist and screenwriter Dashiell Hammett. An admiring PBS documentary and an adoring one-woman Broadway show have also been on offer.
What is surprising about this posthumous réclame is that by 1984, Hellman had come to be widely viewed as an embarrassment to the republic of letters. Not only was she a longtime supporter of Soviet Communism, but once it was revealed that her trilogy of autobiographical bestsellers—An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976)—contained innumerable inaccuracies and self-serving fabrications, many of those who had hitherto written admiringly about Hellman made haste to cast off from the sinking ship of her reputation.
About the Author
Terry Teachout, Commentary’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, wrote about Alan Gilbert in the last issue. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, will be staged later this year in Lenox, Mass., and New Haven, Conn.