Lillian Hellman

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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.

Lillian Florence Hellman (20 June 190530 June 1984) was an American playwright.

See also: The Children's Hour


  • There are people who eat earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. (Softly) Sometimes I think it ain't right to stand and watch them do it.
    • The Little Foxes (1939)
  • Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth.
    • The Little Foxes (1939)
  • For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt.
    • The Watch on the Rhine (1941)
  • Lonely people, in talking to each other can make each other lonelier.
    • The Autumn Garden (1951)
  • I am ready and willing to testify before the representatives of our Government as to my own opinions and my own actions, regardless of any risks or consequences to myself.
    But I am advised by counsel that if I answer the committee’s questions about myself, I must also answer questions about other people and that if I refuse to do so, I can be cited for contempt. My counsel tells me that if I answer questions about myself, I will have waived my rights under the fifth amendment and could be forced legally to answer questions about others. This is very difficult for a layman to understand. But there is one principle that I do understand: I am not willing, now or in the future, to bring bad trouble to people who, in my past association with them, were completely innocent of any talk or any action that was disloyal or subversive. I do not like subversion or disloyalty in any form and if I had ever seen any I would have considered it my duty to have reported it to the proper authorities. But 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.
  • I am prepared to waive the privilege against self-incrimination and to tell you everything you wish to know about my views or actions if your committee will agree to refrain from asking me to name other people. If the committee is unwilling to give me this assurance, I will be forced to plead the privilege of the fifth amendment at the hearing.
  • A man should be jailed for telling lies to the young.
    • Candide (1956) a comic operetta based upon the satire by Voltaire.
  • We will not think noble because we are not noble. We will not live in beautiful harmony because there is no such thing in this world, nor should there be. We promise only to do our best and to live out our lives. Dear God, that's all we can promise in truth.
    • Candide (1956)
  • Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did.
    • An Unfinished Woman (1969)
  • I do not believe in recovery. The past with its pleasures, its rewards, its foolishness, its punishments, is there for each of us forever, and it should be.
    • Scoundrel Time (1976)
  • Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.
    • Introduction to Pentimento

Quotes about Hellman[edit]

  • You are reminded that this subject has a national reputation through her writings in which she has opposed Nazism and fascism. Under no circumstances should it be known that this bureau is conducting an investigation of her. It should be handled in a most discreet manner and under no circumstances should it be assigned to the local police or some other agency.
  • Today, when every form of perversion except masturbation and bestiality have been shown on the screen, Hellman, Wyler and the Mirisch Co. apparently thought a re-do of The Children's Hour would sell tickets if lesbianism were not only restored as the charge the evil child falsely brings, but also condoned... There is an explicit line of dialogue which asserts that those who choose to practice lesbianism are not destroyed by it — a claim disapproved by the number of lesbians who become insane and/or commit suicide.
    • Films in Review (April 1962)
  • Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the.
    • Mary McCarthy, in a statement about Hellman in a 1979 interview on The Dick Cavett Show; this prompted a defamation suit against McCarthy which was dropped after Hellman's death.
  • If someone had told me, don't say anything about Lillian Hellman because she'll sue you, it wouldn't have stopped me. It might have spurred me on.
  • As a playwright I have tremendous respect for her. As a person she is not my cup of tea.

External links[edit]

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