b. 20 June 1905, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, d. 30 June 1984, Tisbury, Massachusetts, USA. Educated at New York University and at Columbia University, New York, Hellman became a highly acclaimed playwright with many of her dramas staged on Broadway. Several of her stage plays were transferred to the screen and in Hollywood she worked on screenplays herself, sometimes adapting her own stage work, on other occasions writing original material. She was married to writer Arthur Kober, from 1925-32, and then had a long personal relationship with writer Dashiell Hammett. Politically aware, much of her work reflected her interests, in particular the nature and misuse of power. Brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she was an uncooperative witness and later wrote of these experiences in her book, Scoundrel Time. Her stage works of the 30s and 40s include The Children’s Hour (1934), Days To Come (1936), The Little Foxes (1939), Watch On The Rhine (1941), The Searching Wind (1944) and Another Part Of The Forest (1949), which was a prequel to The Little Foxes. Among films based upon her stage plays (screenplays by her unless stated) are These Three (1936, based upon The Children’s Hour), The Little Foxes (1941, gaining Oscar nominations for screenplay and film), Watch On The Rhine (1943, screenplay by Hammett who was Oscar nominated as was the film), The Searching Wind (1946), Another Part Of The Forest (1948, scripted by Vladimir Posner), and The Children’s Hour (1962, UK title: The Loudest Whisper), co-scripted with John Michael Hayes. Later plays include The Autumn Garden (1951) and Toys In The Attic (1960).
In 1949 Marc Blitzstein wrote the libretto and music for Regina, which was based on Hellman’s The Little Foxes. She made her own venture into the world of the Broadway musical, writing the book for Candide, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Richard Wilbur, John Latouche and Dorothy Parker. Despite its credentials, the show was a flop. The 1977 film, Julia, was based upon a part of Hellman’s book, Pentimento, and starred Jane Fonda as the author. Intellectually stimulating and politically and socially challenging, Hellman wrote of lesbianism in The Children’s Hour, corporate greed in The Little Foxes, which also dealt with desperately strained inter-family relationships, as did Toys In The Attic. Inevitably, when transferred to film, her forthright themes were watered down.