Saturday, June 20, 2009



Today would have been Lillian Hellman's one hundred and fourth birthday. She was born in 1905 and died on June 30th, 1984. Of Course Lillian wrote two of the very best dramas in American drama. Lillian was linked throughout her life with many left-wing causes. She was romantically involved for 30 years with mystery and crime writer Dashiell Hammett (and was the inspiration for his character Nora Charles), -- yes "The Thin Man"-- dear readers. She was also a long-time friend and literary executor of author Dorothy Parker-- the ultimate wit of the 20th century. She was the one who coined that wonderful phrase. Lillian Hellman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana into a Jewish family. During most of her childhood she spent half of each year in New Orleans, in a boarding home run by her aunts, and the other half in New York City. Hellman's most famous plays include The Children's Hour (1934), The Little Foxes(1939) and Toys in the Attic (1959). The Oscar-winning film Julia was claimed to be based on the friendship between Hellman and the title character. Upon the film's release, in 1977, New York psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner claimed that she was "Julia" and that she had never known Hellman. Hellman replied that the person upon whom the character was based was not Gardiner. However, the fact that Hellman and Gardiner had the same lawyer (Wolf Schwabacher , that the lawyer had been privy to Gardiner's memoirs, and that the events in the film conform to those in the memoirs, have led some to conclude that they had been appropriated by Hellman without attribution to Gardiner. Hellman was fond of including younger characters in her plays. In The Children's Hour (1934), the play takes place in a children's school and the antagonist of the play, Mary, is a young girl. In The Little Foxes (1939), an important sub-plot takes place between the potential marriage of the youngest characters in the play, Leo and Alexandra. Dear Lillian Hellman appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950. At the time, HUAC was well aware that Hellman's longtime lover Dashiell Hammett had been a Communist Party member. Asked to name names of acquaintances with communist affiliations, Hellman chose to deliver a prepared statement, which read in part:
“To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.”As a result, Hellman was blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios for many years. Prior to the war, as a member of the League of American Writers with Hammett, she had served on its Keep America Out of War Committee during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Some other interesting things happened in history today. In 1791King Louis XVI of France attempted to flee the country in th so-called Flight to Varennes, but was caught. In 1837 Queen Victoria ascended the British throne following the death of her uncle, King William IV.In 1863
West Virginia became the 35th state. And oh yes, those of you with an interest in the bizarre in1893 A jury in New Bedford, Mass., found Lizzie Borden innocent of the ax murders of her father and stepmother. We all remember that famous taunt "Lizzie Borden took an an axe and gave her father forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her mother forty-one" And in the category of "the bigger you are, the harder you fall in 1947 (the year of my birth) Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was shot dead in Beverly Hills, Calif., apparently at the order of mob associates. Ed Sullivan premiered on television the year after in 1948
1948 and in 1963 The United States and Soviet Union signed an agreement to set up a hot line communication link between the two superpowers. And finally in 1975 The movie "Jaws" was released and the suspense film was never the same again. How long did it take YOU to go back into the water?
The tobacco industry agreed to a massive settlement in exchange for relief from mounting lawsuits and legal bills.
1999. Happy Birthday to Nicole Kidman who turns 42 years old today. Olympia Dukakis, Martin Landau and James Tolkan all turn 78. And in the "this will make you feel old department" Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys turns 67 today. Anne Murray turns 64. Candy Clark (yes, "American Graffiti") is 62, John Goodman is 57 and dear Lionel Richie and Nancy Sinatra have both reached the big "60" today. It's a gray day in the city today- another infamous "June Gloom" days but I'm sure we'll see sun later. It's crazy --one day it's sunny very early and the next its gloom, doom and looks like it wants to rain. Take that back, I think it has. There are puddles outside. And before I neglect this one-- today would have been the 100th birthday of actor Erroll Flynn, that dashing romantic star of years gone by and the very favorite star of my writing partner John Nugent. Could there a be a musical in his life or what?


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