Dash and Lil
This was originally a response to a posting on the Classic Film Board. I was asked to post it here, and now I can see why. There are few postings here.
No. Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman were never married, but they did live together until his death in 1961. Hellman died in 1984. She was alive when JULIA was made and even attended the Oscars the year JULIA received 10 nominations. I believe she presented the Writing awards. JULIA won Best Adapted Screenplay. Of course, it also won Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards as Dash and Best Supporting Actress for Vanessa Redgrave as Julia. Redgrave's "anti-Zionist" acceptance speech caused an uproar. Actually, the protests began before she won, and she reacted to them in her speech. She was pretty much shunned at the after-Oscar events. Sad. It should have been one of the happiest nights of her life. The pictures of her sitting alone at a table at the Governor's Ball with her Oscar show her ambivalent mood.
The film is basically accurate about the relationship between Dash and Lillie. He was her mentor, teacher, and lover.
As a dramatist, Lillian Hellman was pretty good, but not great to the level of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, or Edward Albee, probably the best American dramatists of the 20th Century. I'm a literature teacher, and I have taught THE LITTLE FOXES. The students really enjoy it, and they understand that it is an allegory for the rise of fascism at the beginning of the century. It's a play with much merit. It also gave me a reason to expose this younger generation to the greatness that was Bette Davis and the excellence that was old Hollywood. They like the movie too.
Hellman's first success was THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, the play she's working on in the movie. It's about two women who run a private girls school. One of the young girls is malicious, gets mad at them, and tells her grandmother that she's heard "funny" things coming from one of their rooms. In essence, she's saying they are involved in lesbian activities. The grandmother is wealthy and powerful. She spreads the rumor, and everyone pulls their girls out of the school. The whole thing is a lie, but it destroys their lives. It was filmed in 1936 as THESE THREE by William Wyler (who also directed THE LITTLE FOXES) and starring Joel McCrea, Miriam Hopkins, and Merle Oberon. The lesbian angle, of course, was taken out, and the lie involved instead a menage a trois. Wyler filmed the play again in 1961 with James Garner, Shirley MacLaine, and Audrey Hepburn. He wanted to do the story with the lesbian theme more explicit. It's okay, but THESE THREE is a much better movie. Oh. Miriam Hopkins is also in the remake, but in a supporting role. She's very good.
Another famous Hellman play is WATCH ON THE RHINE. Done on Broadway in 1941, it was another warning of the dangers of fascism, but much more explicitly so and set in contemporary Washington, DC. It was filmed by Warner Brothers in 1943. It stars Bette Davis, Paul Lukas (in his Best Actor Oscar-winning role), Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Lucille Watson. It's a good film, worth seeking out. It's interesting to note that Dashiell Hammett did the screen adaptation of this play, and was nominated for an Oscar for his efforts.
Hellman wrote a "prequel" to THE LITTLE FOXES entitled ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST. It too was filmed. In 1948, Universal did a version of it with Frederic March and Ann Blyth. Ann Blyth plays Regina, Bette Davis's role in FOXES. Dan Duryea plays the father of his character from FOXES. It's also worth watching.
In the early 1960s, Hellmann had her last big success: TOYS IN THE ATTIC, about a man who takes care of his two spinster sisters. It too was filmed: in 1963 and starring Dean Martin, Wendy Hiller, and Geraldine Page.
Hellman had other successes but none that have lasted as the ones mentioned above. In the 1950s, she was a victim of Hollywood blacklisting because of her political views. She wrote about this experience in a book called SCOUNDREL TIME (1976). Another poster mentioned PENTIMENTO (1973). Yes, try to find that and read it. One of the stories (actually reminiscences) was the basis for JULIA. Hellman also wrote specifically and more thoroughly about her relationship with Hammett in a book entitled AN UNFINISHED WOMAN (1969).
Speaking of JULIA: did you recognize Meryl Streep in her feature film debut? She plays one of the rich, snotty friends of Lillie. She's sitting at a bar, dressed in read, and says some catty things about Julia to Lillie. Her brother is the one Lillie punches out after he accuses Julia and Lillie of lesbian behavior.
Other film screenplays written by Hellman include THE DARK ANGEL (1935), DEAD END (1937), THE SEARCHING WIND (1946), and THE CHASE (1966). She also wrote the original screenplay for THE NORTH STAR (1943), a pro-Russia film that served as Allied propaganda during the war, but it became the reason she was targeted by the House on UnAmerican Activities committee, which led to the blacklist. In 1943, however, she received an Oscar nomination for her screenplay. A play about all of this was done on Broadway in the late 70s called ARE YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN . . . It consisted mostly of orations, and I believe Hellman actually performed in it.
I hope this was the kind of information you were looking for. One more thing: most of Hellman's plays are set in the South, where her roots were - she was born in New Orleans, Louisiana (the state in which FOXES is set, though never named), but she lived most of her life in New England, specifically on Martha's Vinyard, which is where Dash and Lillie are while she writes the play in the film. And there was a movie made for TV in the US about 5 or 6 years ago. I don't remember the title, but I think it was DASH AND LILLIE. I didn't see it, so I don't remember who was in it.
"Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"