(Ruth Franklin’s article appeared in Bookforum, April/May 2012.)
Lillian Hellman was once a star. She was one of the most successful playwrights of her time, with her first produced work, The Children's Hour, running for two years on Broadway. As a screenwriter in the 1930s, she earned the top rate of $2,500 a week to write two films of her choice per year. The three volumes of her memoirs—An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976)—were best sellers.
Her personal life was equally glamorous. After a brief early marriage, she flitted from romance to romance, courted by everyone from theater producers to diplomats to writers. The last category included Dashiell Hammett, who was the love of her life despite the fact that for most of their thirty-year affair he was married to someone else. She played elegant hostess to literary luminaries at her Upper East Side town house, her upstate New York farm, and her Martha's Vineyard beach house. In 1976, at age seventy-one, she joined the likes of Raquel Welch and Diana Ross as a model for the Blackglama furs advertising campaign, with the famous tagline "What becomes a legend most?"
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