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Scoundrel Time [Paperback]

Lillian Hellman
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 July 2000
In 1952, Hellman joined the ranks of intellectuals and artists called before Congress to testify about political subversion. Terrified yet defiant, Hellman refused to incriminate herself or others, and managed to avoid trial. Nonetheless the experience brought devastating controversy and loss. First published in 1972, her retelling of the time features a remarkable cast of characters, including her lover, novelist Dashiell Hammett, a slew of famous friends and colleagues, and a pack of "scoundrels" -- ruthless, ambitious politicians and the people who complied with their demands.


Product details

  • Paperback: 12 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay Paperback Ed edition (1 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316352942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316352949
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 22 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,955,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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I HAVE TRIED TWICE BEFORE to write about what has come to be known as the McCarthy period but I didn't much like what I wrote. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quick, Dramatic and Still Important Read 27 July 2013
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions..."The greatest female American playwright of the twentieth century, Lillian Hellman, said it on May 19, 1952, as she was called before the United State House of Representatives. The House Un-American Activities Committee, with its witch hunting hearings intent on driving so-called Communists and fellow travelers from entertainment, and any other influential positions in American life. Creating various abominable blacklists that prevented its victims' employment, and hounded them into suicide and self-imposed exile. Hellman's words resounded around America and the world back then, and still do. They are contained in her well-known and greatly admired memoir of the time, SCOUNDREL TIME.

The New Orleans-born Hellman did, indeed, testify before the committee, as she was required to do on May 21, 1952. She was accused of having attended Communist Party meetings in 1937. In her letter of the 19th, she explained that she was willing to testify only about herself, but was unwilling to claim her rights under the Fifth Amendment unless forced to, and would not 'name names' of other supposed communists and fellow travelers which is what the Inquisitional committee wanted its victims to do. In her testimony, she denied that she ever had belonged to the Communist party, but was eventually forced to take the Fifth, and did not 'name names'. After her testimony, she released to the press her stirring letter of the 19th, which was immediately heard round the world. Her career was severely damaged by HUAC - she had to work as a saleswoman at Macys for some time -- but she never was imprisoned. Her longtime lover Dashiell Hammett, the American author credited with developing the hard-boiled noir detective story, was.
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3.0 out of 5 stars a very personal view of a difficult time 24 May 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Lillian Hellman was a decent person who was caught in a terrible cross wind and ruined. From a charmed life as a screenwriter, she fell to the bottom more quickly than she could have imagined possible. I found this to be the least successful of her series of memoires, in which she re-made herself and re-entered the spotlight as a good if not truly distingusihed writer. However, the topic is more focused than the other volumes, in particular focusing on the travials of her friend, Dashell Hammett. This is very moving. In fact, I found the best part of the book was the introduction by Garry WIlls, who is a truly first-rate political writer. His depiction of the time, made more vivid by his self-identification as a conservation, is chilling and comic at the same time - he recalls how Ayn RAND said that any film with Russians even smiling was propaganda and hence punishable by law!

Recommended, but there are better and far more comprehensive histories of the period.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Strength of character 7 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
This is a very slight volume, but worth reading if you are interested in Hellman, Hammett, the MacCarthy witchhunts or simply how the mind of simple heroes work.
Above all this book tells the story of a modest hero, someone who stood up for her beliefs and paid a price for it.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One day in May. 8 April 2011
By Michael G. - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." 27 Feb 2008
By Gary F. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
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. SCOUNDREL TIME, which presents Hellman's confrontation with HUAC from her own clearly biased view, is a fascinating portrait of both the "red scare" and the various figures who swirled through it--from then-congressman Richard Nixon to director Elia Kazan to writer Clifford Odets--and of how she herself saw her own place in a moment that would come to define mid-20th Century America. Flawed? Shaded? Yes, indeed. But nonetheless involving and revealing for that. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Truth makes you a traitor... in a time of scoundrels' 12 Sep 2005
By Steven Hellerstedt - Published on Amazon.com
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.

`Scoundrel Time' was published in 1976, shortly after the resignation of one of Hellman's persecutors, Richard Nixon. To paraphrase Jimmy Breslin, the good guys finally won and it must have given an odd sense of satisfaction to those who lives were disrupted by his rise to power. Hellman is a flawed and vulnerable character in this memoir, and all the more human for it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quick and Dramatic, Still Important Read 27 July 2013
By Stephanie De Pue - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions..."The greatest female American playwright of the twentieth century, Lillian Hellman, said it on May 19, 1952, as she was called before the United State House of Representatives. The House Un-American Activities Committee, with its witch hunting hearings intent on driving so-called Communists and fellow travelers from entertainment, and any other influential positions in American life. Creating various abominable blacklists that prevented its victims' employment, and hounded them into suicide and self-imposed exile. Hellman's words resounded around America and the world back then, and still do. They are contained in her well-known and greatly admired memoir of the time, SCOUNDREL TIME.

The New Orleans-born Hellman did, indeed, testify before the committee, as she was required to do on May 21, 1952. She was accused of having attended Communist Party meetings in 1937. In her letter of the 19th, she explained that she was willing to testify only about herself, but was unwilling to claim her rights under the Fifth Amendment unless forced to, and would not 'name names' of other supposed communists and fellow travelers, which is what the committee wanted its victims to do. In her testimony, she denied that she ever had belonged to the Communist party, but was eventually forced to take the Fifth; she named no names. After her testimony, she released to the press her stirring letter of the 19th, which was immediately heard round the world. Her career was severely damaged by HUAC - she had to work as a saleswoman at Macys for some time -- but she never was imprisoned. Her longtime lover Dashiell Hammett, the American author credited with developing the hard-boiled noir detective story, was.

Hellman authored two additional volumes of memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, and Pentimento . "The Little Foxes," "Toys in the Attic," and "The Watch on the Rhine" are among her best-known plays; she also authored many screenplays. Her last years were marred by a feud with American author Mary McCarthy, who had accused Hellman, on the televised Dick Cavett show, of lying with every word, "including `and' and `the'." Hellman chose to sue McCarthy for libel; the suit was closed with her death.

Many years ago, well before the McCarthy business, I interviewed Hellman for an American newspaper. It was a strong interview, with a couple of reverberant lines in it, and was picked up at the time by several major newspapers. Quotes of it, to my knowledge, have since been picked up by at least six books. The New York Public Library, Lincoln Center branch, has been given a copy of the original taped interview and its transcript; I believe they are available on the Internet. SCOUNDREL TIME is a quick and dramatic read, as befits its author, and still an important one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting take on a troubled time 28 Sep 2009
By C. Hoeft - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Scoundrel Time is a very interesting book. It takes you through the events that happened in Lillian Hellman's life during a very troubled time in American history. I found it interesting to here her opinion on the issue. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Cold War or McCarthyism. I bought this book for a Cold War upperdivision class in college and am glad that I did.
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