cover image Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy

Lillian Hellman: Her Legend and Her Legacy

Carl Rollyson. St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (613pp) ISBN 978-0-312-00049-3

This critical biography by a dean at Baruch College (and author of Marilyn: A Life of the Actress) is probably the fullest and fairest account yet of ""America's finest radical playwright.'' Rollyson demolishes the Hellman legend and makes a good stab at evaluating the legacy. Based on letters, diaries, FBI files and interviews, this well-balanced book discusses Hellman's plays and other published writings, her work for Hollywood, political involvements and numerous sexual liaisons. Although he deplores her adherence to Stalinism and her frequent deceptions, Rollyson tries to understand Hellman's conceits and compulsions, her grande dame manner, her love of gifts, money, attention and celebrity. An authoritarian who professed to be a great democrat, she portrayed herself as ``the genuine article''a feisty, tactless truth-teller. She ``longed for a beauty she did not have and would compensate by sleeping around and by getting even with more attractive women.'' An incompetent director, she disliked actors, and many of those who appeared in her plays hated her, Rollyson contends, but her former lovers remained fascinated, and she could be generous to old friends. These contradictions enhanced Hellman's reputation and make this a compulsively readable biography. Photos not seen by PW. (May)