Lillian Hellman, The Children’s Hour, and Julia

RORY: You said you wanted to read The Children’s Hour.
LORELAI: I did?
RORY: The other night when we were watching Julia, and Jane Fonda was playing Lillian Hellman.

The Children’s Hour, 1934 play by Lillian Hellman. It is set in a girl’s boarding school run by two women, and when an angry student runs away, she tells her grandmother the women are having a lesbian affair to avoid being sent back. This false accusation destroys the women’s careers, relationships, and lives.

The play is based on an incident which occurred in Scotland in the 19th century, which Hellman read about in a 1930 true crime anthology called Bad Companions by William Roughead. The Children’s Hour was a financial and critical success, and was adapted into a film called These Three in 1936, then again under its original title in 1961; both versions were directed by William Wyler.

Julia, 1977 period drama film [pictured] directed by Fred Zinnemann, based on a chapter in 1973 Lillian Hellman’s controversial book Pentimento: A Book of Portraits. It is about Hellman’s alleged friendship with a woman named Julia, who fought against the Nazis prior to World War II. Jane Fonda plays Lillian Hellman, and Vanessa Redgrave is in the role of Julia. An image of the real Lillian Hellman is shown at the end.

Julia performed well at the box office and received generally positive reviews. However, it was felt, with good reason, that the supposedly true story must have been, at best, heavily fictionalised. At the time of her death, Lillian Hellman was still in the process of suing the writer Mary McCarthy for libel after she cast strong doubt on the story’s veracity.

In 1983, New York psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner claimed that she was the person the “Julia” character was based on. Lillian Hellman had never met Gardiner, but had heard about her through a mutual friend, so they couldn’t possibly have had the relationship or adventures together that Hellman had written about. This does seem the most likely explanation, however.

Muriel Gardiner wrote about her anti-Fascist activities in Vienna of the 1930s in a 1983 book, Code Name Mary: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground.

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