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.
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*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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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