The Cold War Romance of Lillian Hellman and John Melby

Overview

Lillian Hellman's memoirs are as notable for what they omit as for what they reveal. In An Unfinished Woman (1969), she notes that, although she kept an extensive diary of her Moscow trip in the winter of 1944-45, "No where is there a record of . . . how close I felt then and now to a State Department career man whose future, seven or eight years later, went down the drain for no reason except the brutal cowardice of his colleagues under the hammering of Joe McCarthy."

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Overview

Lillian Hellman's memoirs are as notable for what they omit as for what they reveal. In An Unfinished Woman (1969), she notes that, although she kept an extensive diary of her Moscow trip in the winter of 1944-45, "No where is there a record of . . . how close I felt then and now to a State Department career man whose future, seven or eight years later, went down the drain for no reason except the brutal cowardice of his colleagues under the hammering of Joe McCarthy."

The State Department career man is John Fremont Melby, principal author of the government's China White Paper of 1949. Hellman and Melby met in Russia, fell in love, talked often of marriage, and, during their separations over the next thirty years, wrote each other voluminously. When Hellman appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the famous confrontation of May 21, 1952, she was anxious to protect not the Hollywood leftists she had known but Melby and Averell Harriman, the former American ambassador to Russia under whose roof she began her affair with Melby.

The Cold War Romance of Lillian Hellman and John Melby is the story of their affair, certainly one of the most intense of Hellman's life. It is also the story of Hellman's role in Melby's seven Loyalty-Security hearings, extending over eighteen months. The transcripts of these hearings, divulged here for the first time, reveal far more about her politics than does her brief appearance before the HUAC. Melby was fired from the State Department in 1953 by John Foster Dulles because of his affair with Hellman and because he would not repudiate her. It was a pure case of "guilt by association."

This is a tale of politics, personalities, and passion. Based on Hellman's and Melby's letters, FBI and Passport Office files, transcripts of Melby's hearings, and the files of Hellman's lawyer, Joseph Rauh, this book establishes that Hellman's association with the Communist party was fleeting. But more importantly, it is a compelling account of a love affair that was aborted and then revived by the Cold War.

Originally published in 1989.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

Newman presents the story of author Lillian Hellman's intense relationship with Foreign Service officer John Melby--a relationship which cost Melby his job in a case of "guilt by association." Illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
She, of course, was the famed playwright ( The Little Foxes ; Watch on the Rhine , etc.); he was a rising star in the State Department, specializing in Asia. They met in 1944 and began an affair which, surviving a bruising encounter with McCarthyism due to Hellman's alleged Communism, continued on and off till her death in 1984. Efficiently written and solidly based on the letters the pair wrote each other, this is the entwined story of their affair and their involvement with the House Un-American Activities Committee, the FBI, the Passport Office and the State Department Security Office. Hellman may have been a member of the Communist Party, briefly, in her youth, but as we see here, she was not a Communist ``in any significant sense,'' nor was she, as J. Edgar Hoover thought, disloyal to the U.S. Despite his impeccable record, Melby was fired by John Foster Dulles, a classic case of ``guilt'' by association. Through these two cases, Newman ( Recognition of Communist China ) has neatly recapped the Cold War hysteria of the time. (Apr.)
Library Journal
In this exhaustive, perhaps overlong book, Newman examines how, in 1953, the brilliant, dedicated U.S. Foreign Service officer John Melby was ousted from his job and career for refusing to renounce publicly his long-time friend and lover, suspected Communist playwright Lillian Hellman. Based on recently desensitized government documents and Melby's own correspondence to Hellman (she destroyed hers to him), this study fills a gap she left intentionally in Scoundrel Time yet offers no new insight into Hellman, the subject of several new biographies (e.g., Carl Rollyson's Lillian Hellman, LJ 4/15/88). It serves best as a glimpse of the hysteria and vengefulness of the McCarthy era.-- Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, Mo.
Booknews
Melby was fired from the State Department because of his affair with Hellman, and because he would not repudiate her. Based on Hellman and Melby letters, FBI and Passport Office files, Melby's hearing transcripts, and the files of Hellman's lawyer, this book recounts a love affair that was aborted and then revived by the Cold War. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
The grim hysteria of the McCarthy era comes through these pages with compelling immediacy. . . . A dramatic evocation of a paranoid era.

Kirkus Reviews

Efficiently written . . . . Newman has neatly recapped the Cold War hysteria of the time.

Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807865750
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 1/27/2011
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 0.87 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert P. Newman is author of Recognition of Communist China?: A Study in Argument and Evidence.
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