You have no idea how many puns I had to let go of as I was thinking about the title of this post. I mean, what the hellman? (couldn’t resist…) ANYWAY…moving on. 🙂
After Agatha Christie, Lillian Hellman was the next female playwright to blip on my radar.
Sadly, she may have been the ONLY female playwright I was introduced to while doing my undergraduate degree (in drama/communications, or what other colleges might call theatre). Wait, I take that back…I also got a dose of Lorraine Hansberry through A Raisin in the Sun, but regardless, most of my theatrical literary education was dominated (like much of history) by dead white guys. Talented dead white guys, but still.
So why would I write about the one female playwright that practically everyone already knows about? Two reasons (maybe three): 1) I like her work, 2) Bette Davis liked her work and I LOVE Bette Davis, and 3) she wrote some great plays.
More people are probably familiar with Lillian Hellman’s work than realize it. At least three of her plays were turned into major motion pictures: The Children’s Hour (starring Audrey Hepburn), Watch on the Rhine (starring Bette Davis!), and probably her most well-known piece, The Little Foxes (also starring Bette Davis!). Now, I was introduced to The Little Foxes in Intro to Theatre and I enjoyed it (and of course I like the movie — with Bette Davis! — tell me if this gets old). BUT what REALLY made me a fan of Lillian Hellman was The Children’s Hour. Holy wow. A lot of people are impressed by Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement (which was good), but the concept that a young girl’s lie could cause so much pain and anguish because of misunderstanding and malicious intent — that was first perfected by Hellman in this piece. Also, the brave woman had courage enough to address the topic of lesbianism — in 1934! — and did so with great humanity.
Maybe you read The Little Foxes in college or high school or maybe you thought Lillian Hellman invented mayonnaise. Regardless, if you’ve never given her more than a passing glance, her work is worth checking out.
And if you don’t feel like reading, have a movie night. I recommend something with Bette Davis. 😉