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Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels Paperback – Bargain Price, June 1, 2011

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Paperback, Bargain Price, June 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Martinson, an associate professor of English and writing at Occidental College, aims to capture a "more complex" and "human" Hellman than other biographers have. Her portrait of the famed playwright and memoirist (1905–1984) is more admiring than those of William Wright or Carl Rollyson. Martinson excels in evoking Hellman's forceful presence: the cigarette-husky voice, the galvanic sexuality of a woman who refused to be defined by her plain face or tiny stature. She also grasps the crux of Hellman's romance with Dashiell Hammett, which was his invaluable editing and guidance in shaping her plays, from The Little Foxes through Toys in the Attic. Martinson conscientiously covers the basics, from Hellman's childhood bouncing between New Orleans and New York through her feisty old age. But Martinson is more interested in Hellman the woman than in her controversial political stances. Taking her subject at face value as a courageous opponent of McCarthyism, she goes similarly easy on the nonfiction, praising Hellman for inventing "a new form of the memoir," without examining her carelessness with facts and frequently self-serving political statements. This vivid evocation of a tumultuous life is a good starting place for those unfamiliar with Hellman's achievements (and misdeeds), but the definitive biography remains to be written. 16 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As controversial as she was accomplished, dramatist and memoirist Hellman has been neglected of late, an omission Martinson, who gained unprecedented access to invaluable archives, corrects in this meticulous, groundbreaking biography. Raised in both her native New Orleans and New York, Hellman, unruly and precocious, became a commanding, audacious, and unconventional woman who made enemies right and left thanks to her irascibility, success, and complicated affairs with brilliant, difficult men. Among Hellman's many conquests, the gifted yet dissolute noir writer Dashiell Hammett was the love of her life and the bane of her existence, helping her, in better days, to become an epoch-defining playwright with The Children's Hour and The Little Foxes.Martinson fluently recounts the intricate inside stories of each of Hellman's triumphs on Broadway and in Hollywood, and each of her best-selling memoirs, including the National Book Award-winning An Unfinished Woman (1969). And then there's Martinson's riveting coverage of Hellman's heroic appearance before the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. Hellman's life was exceptionally full, complicated, and dramatic, and Martinson judiciously orders a daunting wealth of material to portray Hellman in all her moxie and glory. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (June 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582437238
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,684,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Deborah Martinson writes the lives of complicated women--creative, sexual and political. Women who live with humor, passion and edge make history. And they make it dramatically. With a PhD in literature focused on autobiography and fiction, Martinson writes and teaches the hows and the whys of living and writing. Martinson is just finishing Virginia Durr: Southern Radical Come Hell or High Water. Durr changed from belle to New Dealer, to civil rights hell raiser. Courageously. The Durr biography follows Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels (2005, pb. 2011). Martinson's first book, In the Presence of Audience: The Self in Diaries and Fiction (2003) focused on Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Violet Hunt and Doris Lessing. Martinson is Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Occidental College, and has taught biography as at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on June 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
After wading through the seas of calumny that have swamped all previous biographies of Lillian Hellman, it is refreshing to dig through Debroah Martinson's ably researched 2005 book and find that, in her opinion, Lillian Hellman never did anything wrong, but on the other hand eventually one tires a bit of 359 pages worth of cheerleading.

I wondered how Dr. Martinson was planning to deal with the "Julia" controversy, as from multiple sources Hellman was assailed by accusers who basically said she was a liar and that either there was no Julia or that Hellman never met her if she existed at all. Martinson has a disarming defense. How do we know that there wasn't really a Julia? After all, Lillian Hellman knew plenty of people back in the 1930s. I have to agree partially with this one, although it is strange that she never gave any more details about the elusive "Julia" even after people began pooh-poohing her honesty. She was certainly backed into a corner at the end, wasn't she, like a rat in the trap of her own integrity.

The best part of the book details Hellman's earliest Hollywood years with Sam Goldwyn and William Wyler. Sam Jaffe said, "Goldwyn had class with a capital K." It's interesting to note that Hellman was unable to collaborate with Hemingway on the narration to Joris Ivens' THE SPANISH EARTH because she was laid up due to complications from an abortion. Other commentators have been sure that Hellman wrote parts of it, but Dr. Martinson's research proves them 100 percent wrong. It would be great to have published versions of all the Hammett novels he began and which Martinson mentions here, even if each of them amounted only to a chapter or so, and it would be also great to read the screenplay Hellman wrote for Arthur Penn's THE CHASE (1966) before Horton Foote revised it to make it more linear.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Wahrenbrock on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In a project where five million puzzle pieces, each differing in significance and subjectivity, can be assembled in an infinite amount of ways, Martinson has done so with a rhythm and candor that, I believe, reflects Hellman's colorful and fluid life. Each section of Martinson's book - in some cases, each paragraph - carefully constructs a masonry of Hellman's life, only to crumble upon itself and build anew, illustrating Hellman's own complexity and unwillingness (inability?) to be understood and encapsulated completely. Martinson's skillful rhythmic pacing of Lillian's life accurately conjures the Ouroboros, in which Lillian, in an attempt to discover who she is, must first absorb and understand her past in order to create an authentic future (although Lillian herself might scoff at such a notion!).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By D. Donovan, Editor/Sr. Reviewer on April 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
LILLIAN HELLMAN: A LIFE WITH FOXES AND SCOUNDRELS provides new insights into the many controversies which have surrounded her life, but it's even more special because it's the first to write about Hellman with full cooperation of Hellman's literary executors and others who tell the truth about the robust woman's life. Hellman's sharp wit and comments often made for a radical approach to the stage: her affairs with high profile men and her volatile professional and personal relationships generated many myths and inconsistent images about her life. Fans of Hellman will relish a biography which brings reality back into the picture --from the mouths and memories of those who knew her best.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on December 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This riveting new biography of Lillian Hellman benefits greatly from the author's access to previously unavailable documents and the candid recollections any number of Ms. Hellman's closest acquaintances. Professor Martinson ably captures Hellman's difficult, larger-than-life personality, and her equally large theatrical, literary, and political legacies to present a rounded portrait of an amazing life and career - one marked by achievement and controversy, and by innumerable affairs, including Hellman's legendary, multi-decade pairing with the writer, Dashiel Hammett of Thin Man fame.

In all, Ms. Martinson has delivered a first-rate biography and cultural history - no small achievement.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Britta Van Dun on January 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Martinson renders an eloquent and fascinating portrait of the always intriguing, if not nearly as infamous, Lillian Hellman. Writer, dramatist, activist, lover, Hellman emerges as a prolific and unabashed spokeswoman of her time - dedicating her life to the arts and advocating American as well as global civil liberties during McCarthy's reign of House Committee hearings. Martinson curates a tremendous collection of research into a sophisticated and thoughtful read that is as playful as it is thorough and scintillating. In Martinson's resonant style, we see the ash at the tip of Hellman's cigarette as she directs a play with one hand, ruefully raising a toast with the other. Regardless of circumstance or mood, Hellman's biting quips are never far behind. Martinson is masterful in offering her craft to the subject and scope of this massive project, revealing Hellman's tenderness and passions in ways that simultaneously inform and endear the reader - not only to Hellman and her sometimes brash eccentricities, but to Martinson's literary gifts as well - and they are many. I raise a toast to A Life of Foxes and Scoundrels. Cheers
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