Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lillian Hellman and The Children's Hour

Lillian Florence "Lilly" Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984) was an American author of plays, screenplays, and memoirs and throughout her life, was linked with many left-wing political causes.

I am sitting on the sofa, updating my reading blog and watching one of my favorite movies, "The Children's Hour". The movie is made from one of Hellman's plays written 1934.

The first sentence above indicates that she was very left-wing. The subject of the movie that I am watching is about a children's school which is ruined because one of the young, trouble making students lies about the female teachers engaging in a lesbian relationship.

The movie was made in 1962, when a lesbian relationship was still illegal in most, if not all, of the United States. However, the amazing thing is that the play was written in 1934. Unbelievable!

A half-length portrait of two women, dran in black on a pink background. One woman stands in front, looking to the side. The other woman stands behind her, with her hands placed on the arms of the woman in front. SHe is slightly taller than the woman in front and looks down at her face from behind. Next to the face of the woman in front reads, in white letters, "DIFFERENT...". Below the picture reads "AUDREY HEPBURN, SHIRLEY MACLAINE, JAMES GARNER". Beneath these names reads "THE CHILDREN'S HOUR", with a small sketch of a man next to the title. In a white border to the poster reads the name "WILLIAM WYLER".No wonder Hellman was tagged as a liberal. Who on earth would write about such things when they were still so taboo?

In 1944, Charles R. Jackson wrote a book called, "The Lost Weekend" which contains strong homosexual undertones. However, this is ten years after Hellman's play.

The production of the play of "The Children's Hour" is just as riveting (from Wikipedia, which is never wrong):

This was Hellman's first hit play. At the time, any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State, but the play was such a success and so widely praised by critics that the subject matter was overlooked.

After the play was banned in Boston, Chicago, and London, it opened in Paris, retitled Les Innocents (The Innocents), to popular review.

In 1936, the play was made into a film directed by William Wyler. However, because of the Production Code, the story was adapted into a heterosexual love triangle, the controversial name of the play was changed, and the movie was eventually released as These Three. Hellman reportedly worked on the screenplay, virtually all of the play's original dialogue was kept, and she was satisfied with the result, saying the play's central theme of gossip was unaffected by the changes.

In 1952, a revival and revised stage production was also construed as an implied criticism of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In 1961, the play was adapted, with its lesbian theme intact, for the film The Children's Hour, also directed by Wyler.

That alone with worth a watch of this classic.

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