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- 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.
- 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.
- Letter to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) of the US House of Representatives (19 May 1952)
- 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.
- Letter to HUAC (19 May 1952)
- 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)
- 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.
- Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973), Introduction
- Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a Judge's chamber can believe in an unprejudiced point of view but, simply in self-interest, the biographer must try for one, or make us believe he has, or tell us that he hasn't.
- "Love Letters, Some Not So Loving" (a review of H.G. Wells and Rebecca West by Gordon N. Ray), in The New York Times (13 October 1974); this has often been paraphrased as "Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a Judge's chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view."
- I like people who refuse to speak until they are ready to speak.
- As quoted in Untamed Tongues : Wild Words from Wild Women (1993) by Autumn Stephens, p. 132
Scoundrel Time (1976)
- To many intellectuals the radicals had become the chief, perhaps the only, enemy. … Not alone because the radical's reasons were suspect but because his convictions would lead to a world that deprived the rest of us of what we had. Very few people were capable of admitting anything so simple. But the antiradical camp contained the same divisions: often they were honest and thoughtful men, often they were men who turned down a dark road for dark reasons.
But radicalism or anti-radicalism should have had nothing to do with the sly, miserable methods of McCarthy, Nixon and colleagues, as they flailed at Communists, near-Communists, and nowhere-near Communists. Lives were being ruined and few hands were raised in help. Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?
- p. 82
- Sad is a fake word for me to be using, I am still angry that their reason for disagreeing with McCarthy was too often his crude methods. . . . Many of the anti-Communists were, of course, honest men. But none of them . . . has stepped forward to admit a mistake. It is not necessary in this country; they too know that we are a people who do not remember much. I have written here that I have recovered. I mean it only in a worldly sense because 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.
- p. 150
Quotes about Hellman
- Sorted alphabetically by author or source.
- I think she is one of our ablest playwrights. As a playwright I have tremendous respect for her. As a person she is not my cup of tea.
- Tallulah Bankhead, in Tallulah : My Autobiography (1952), Ch. 11 : Regina and Sabina
- During breakfast the next morning, my assistant called. "Have you seen the papers?" she said. "Hellman is suing Mary McCarthy, PBS, and you for two and a quarter million."
"And me?" I replied, in a prepubescent squeak. The other phone rang, and the familiar whiskey-and-cigarettes baritone rasped, "Why the hell didn’t you defend me?"
"I guess I never thought of you as defenseless, Lillian," I managed.
"That’s bullshit. I’m suing the whole damn bunch of you." In that, at least, she proved a woman of her word.
I had been to dinner at Lillian’s, and she, too, had been on my show. She was a sharp and entertaining guest—an eager appearer, arriving early, looking as if she’d just stepped out of Elizabeth Arden. No one was neutral about Lillian. She had a famous friendship with Dorothy Parker, yet to Jean Stafford she was "Old Scaly Bird."
A professional critic talking about a public figure is rarely the stuff of lawsuits. Incredibly, Hellman denied being a public figure, forgetting, perhaps, that she had recently appeared in a national advertising campaign for Blackglama furs, which used only women who were so identifiable that their names were omitted; the copy read "What becomes a legend most?"
- 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.
- J. Edgar Hoover, in an FBI memo (20 October 1943)
- 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's memoirs 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.
- Mary McCarthy, in response to the defamation suit, as quoted in Seeing Mary Plain : A Life of Mary McCarthy (2002) by Frances Kiernan
- Nadine Gordimer writes about black people with such astounding sensibilities and sensitivity-not patronizing, not romantic, just real. And Eudora Welty does the same thing. Lillian Hellman has done it. Now, we might categorize these women as geniuses of a certain sort, but if they can write about it, it means that it is possible. They didn't say, "Oh, my God, I can't write about black people"; it didn't stop them. There are white people who do respond that way though, assuming there's some huge barrier. But if you can relate to Beowolf and Jesus Christ when you read about them, it shouldn't be so difficult to relate to black literature.
- 1980 interview in Conversations with Toni Morrison edited by Danille K. Taylor-Guthrie (1994)
- Hellman at American Masters (PBS)
- Brief biography at Kirjasto (Pegasos), preserved at the Internet Archive
- "Lillian Hellman Refuses to Name Names" at History Matters
- Hellman at the Internet Movie Database
- Essay about Lillian Hellman's FBI file by Herbert Mitgang
- "Why Lillian Hellman Remains Fascinating" By William Wright, from the New York Times (3 November 1996)
- Hellman at the Jewish Virtual Library
- The Children's Hour at IMDb
- The Children's Hour