Hellman and Hammett

Overview

In the first dual biography of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, New York Times bestselling author Joan Mellen sheds new light on two of the twentieth century's most intriguing characters. The first biographer to draw from the Hellman-Hammett archives at the University of Texas, and with unprecedented access to their circle of friends, Mellen taps mines of fresh material to produce a groundbreaking look at these extraordinary American nonconformists, separately and together. Cutting against the social and ...
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Overview

In the first dual biography of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, New York Times bestselling author Joan Mellen sheds new light on two of the twentieth century's most intriguing characters. The first biographer to draw from the Hellman-Hammett archives at the University of Texas, and with unprecedented access to their circle of friends, Mellen taps mines of fresh material to produce a groundbreaking look at these extraordinary American nonconformists, separately and together. Cutting against the social and political grain of their day, Hellman and Hammett as proud American radicals were persecuted during McCarthyism. They also turned out some of the most compelling prose of our country: Hammett's classic Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man, and Hellman's plays The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, and her memoirs An Unfinished Woman and Pentimento. Meanwhile, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett defied every accepted formula of how a man and woman should love each other: intimate as a couple, they lived together infrequently, drank to excess, participated in orgies, and engaged in flagrant infidelities. For the first time, members of Hellman and Hammett's circle, including Peter Feibleman, Norman Mailer, and Rose Styron, have agreed to speak openly about this enigmatic relationship which defined an era.
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Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
Hammett, lean, mean, and charming, was at the height of his glory when Hellman, brilliant, bold, and elegant, accosted him at a Hollywood nightclub in 1930, thus launching one of the world's most notorious literary love affairs. Mellen, author of the superb "Kay Boyle" (1994), writes with keen insight into writers' temperaments, oeuvres, and cultural milieus. Here, in the first dual biography of Hammett and Hellman, she presents the arresting, sometimes appalling facts of their lives with great dramatic flair and illuminating compassion. Hammett was addicted to alcohol and promiscuity when he and Hellman fell in love, habits he adamantly refused to break. Hellman, always trying to compensate for her lack of beauty, fought back by conducting numerous affairs of her own. Positive that her success as a dramatist depended on Hammett's literary acumen, Hellman condemned herself to 30 years of anguish. It's both sad and fascinating to watch the balance of power shift as Hammett drowns his muse and Hellman, writing for dear life, achieves fame and fortune. Mellen dispels the haze of myth that has surrounded these two powerful and controversial personalities, revealing the hard but unforgettable truths about their messy, very public lives and impossible but enduring love.
Kirkus Reviews
A complex literary relationship gets an intense treatment that, thanks to the delicious awfulness of its central characters, is worth reading—but with caution.

Drawing on numerous interviews as well as published and unpublished documents, Mellen (Kay Boyley, 1994, etc.) follows her outrageous protagonists from their 1930 Hollywood meeting, when Hammett's writing career was trailing off and Hellman's had not yet begun, to the years after Hammett's death, when Hellman effectively rewrote their relationship in her memoirs. The result is a gossipy account of love, literary mentorship, drink, and betrayal. Mellen's comments occasionally seem more appropriate for after-dinner conversation than thoughtful biography; she casually notes, for instance, that "like any woman pained by her appearance, [Hellman] took sexual rejection hard." Likewise, Mellen's handling of information bears watching. For example, discussing the 1951 lien filed against Hammett for not paying income taxes while serving in WW II, she quotes Hammett wondering if he has four months after his return to pay up; elsewhere, Mellen fudges this to say Hammett thought he had "plenty of time," thereby skirting the question of why he didn't pay. Other snags look like simple carelessness, as when Mellen reports that Hellman frightened a five-year-old godchild by saying, "When the plane goes down, I'll get you." What plane was Hellman referring to? The book offers no context for the quotation. Such handling of detail gives readers ample room to wonder if the ideas organizing Mellen's work (such as her sense that Hammett deliberately and consciously transferred his "creative enterprise" and even his "identity" to Hellman) would hold up under scrutiny.

Impressive research, but the rough edges make one wish Hammett had been around to say, "Go back now and try again," as he did to Hellman when she was writing The Children's Hour.

From Barnes & Noble
Documenting a passionate, unconventional love affair, this biography recounts the separate and intersecting stories of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, two extraordinary American radicals who produced some of the century's most compelling prose. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765474292
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 572

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