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Scoundrel Time Paperback – July 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 155 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay paperback ed edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316352942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316352949
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael G. VINE VOICE on April 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
In the spring of 1952, Lillian Hellman was ordered to Washington to appear before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). The length of her testimony was only a few minutes more than one hour and consisted of repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment. Nevertheless, the experience had a chilling and sobering effect on her. So much so, it took her more than two decades to attain the necessary degree of emotional equilibrium to write about it. The result is Scoundrel Time a short, curious book.
Miss Hellman deftly describes the nightmarish environment in which she found herself once subpoenaed to testify. Like so many film industry artists who had gone before her, she knew she would be required to "name names"; something she could never bring herself to do even though failure to do so could mean jail or further harrassment.
After her one HUAC appearance, she was never called to testify again and, other than some difficulties with passport renewal, suffered no official governmental sanctions. However, she was immediately blacklisted and her highly successful screenwriting career came to a screeching halt.
Included within the pages of Scoundrel Time are many anecdotes about the author's life during those troubling years. Some of these anecdotes appear to have little or nothing to do with the topic at hand and it's not at all clear why they were selected and others left out.
The introduction (which takes up more than 20% of the book) was written by Garry Wills and gives some historical perspective on HUAC. Wills explains how the committee was founded in 1938 but only came into its own after the Cold War era had begun.
All in all, an interesting read about a regrettable period in US history. One which contains valuable lessons applicable to the present day.
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Format: Paperback
Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) originally came to public attention as the author of THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and would go on to create a number of other landmark plays for the stage, including WATCH ON THE RHINE, THE LITTLE FOXES, and TOYS IN THE ATTIC. She is easily among the great American dramatists of the 20th Century--but even so she is perhaps more famous for the events of 1952, the year in which she faced the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of its dark powers... and the committee blinked.

In 1969 Hellman published the autobiography AN UNFINISHED WOMAN; in 1973 she continued writing of her life with PENTIMENTO; and in 1976 she wrote an account of her encounter with HUAC in SCOUNDREL TIME. All three books were controversial, and writer Mary McCarthy famously stated "Everything she writes is a lie--and that includes 'and' and 'the!'" It was true that Hellman shaded the truth more than just a little, especially where her own support for Soviet Russia was concerned; it was true that she also had a distinct tendency to ignore her own failings and excesses even as she zeroed in mercilessly on those of others. All the same, no one can deny a singular fact: unlike a long line of others, she neither crawled nor self-destructed before HUAC. In the process she became among the first to show up the committee for the lawless, headline-hungry entity it had become.

As more than one biographer has noted, Hellman actually behaved with the courage and dignity we hope we would possess if confronted with a similar situation. It cost her a great deal: blacklisted and unable to work, Hellman would spend more than a decade counting pennies and struggling to rebuild her life and career.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steven Hellerstedt on September 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
`Scoundrel Time' is a harrowing, highly personal account of the events surrounding Lillian Hellman's appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, in 1952. It was, to put it mildly, a tricky situation. Although Hellman did not `cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions,' the damage to her life and career were extensive. Even though she was not a friendly witness the Committee didn't cite her for contempt. That did nothing to save her from being blacklisted, however. Beyond a revealing look at a life disrupted by a government that felt, as Garry Wills puts it in his extended introduction, `Hollywood must be censored politically if nation was to be protected ideologically,' Hellman details the post-hearing shake-out. Without a chance to work at home, and with work abroad hindered by an ever-suspicious government, Hellman would eventually lose her home, a number of fair-weather friends, while we all lost a decade's worth of plays and screenplays.

It's helpful to read Wills' introduction prior to Hellman's book. Wills writes that Hellman's scheduled appearance before the Committee `was especially dangerous because Miss Hellman was as little qualified to understand the Committee as it was to grasp her code of honor.' Wills supplies the context while Hellman concentrates on the emotions of someone undergoing a witch hunters' scrutiny. Wills rightly discerns an inability on Hellman's part to understand that Richard Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and others of their ilk were sincere Cold Warriors. All things considered Hellman displays a rather surprising dearth of rancor towards her persecutors, but she doesn't hide the fact that she considers them unscrupulous opportunists.
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