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Lillian Hellman

  • Things start as hopes and end up as habits.

  • God forgives those who invent what they need.

  • Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth.

  • ... there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. And other people who stand around and watch them eat it.

  • Fashions in sin change.

  • Anger is protest.

  • It doesn't pay well to fight for what we believe in.

  • Styles in wit change so.

  • You are what you are. It is my opinion that trouble in the world comes from people who do not know what they are, and pretend to be something they're not.

  • Nowadays people write English as if a rat were caught in the typewriter and they were trying to hit the keys which wouldn't disturb it.

  • Like all former thinkers, I'm writing a book.

  • History is made by masses of people. One man, or ten men, don't start the earthquakes and don't stop them either. Only hero worshipers and ignorant historians think they do.

  • People always sound so proud when they announce they know nothing of music.

  • The judgment of music, like the inspiration for it, must come slow and measured, if it comes with truth.

  • ... some people are democrats by choice, and some by necessity.

  • You lose your manners when you're poor.

  • ... maybe half a lie is worse than a real lie.

  • A room of one's own isn't nearly enough. A house, or, best, an island of one's own.

  • I think we should not try so hard to talk. Sometimes it is wise to let things grow more roots before one blows them away with words.

  • Haven't you lived in the South long enough to know that nothing is ever anybody's fault?

  • ... lonely people talking to each other can make each other lonelier. They should be careful because lonely people can't afford to cry.

  • ... you're a toucher: you constantly touch people or lean on them. Little moments of sensuality. One should have sensuality whole or not at all. Don't you find pecking at it ungratifying? There are many of you: the touchers and the leaners.

  • Don't you think people often say other people are tough when they do not know how to cheat them?

  • A man should be jailed for telling lies to the young.

  • They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talk about writing or themselves.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • How often the rich like to play at being poor. A rather nasty game, I've always thought.

  • ... people change and forget to tell each other.

  • You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.

  • Not like the country? My. I never heard anybody say a thing like that before. It takes courage to just up and say you don't like the country. Everybody likes the country.

  • The happy problem of our time — longer life.

  • Failure in the theater is more dramatic and uglier than in any other form of writing. It costs so much, you feel so guilty.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • The writer's intention hasn't anything to do with what he achieves. The intent to earn money or the intent to be famous or the intent to be great doesn't matter in the end. Just what comes out.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • [On Tennessee Williams:] He writes by sanded fingertips.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • We had been talking as old friends should talk, about nothing, about everything.

  • Intellectuals can tell themselves anything, sell themselves any bill of goods, which is why they were so often patsies for the ruling classes in nineteenth-century France and England, or twentieth-century Russia and America.

  • Mama seemed to do only what my father wanted, and yet we lived the way my mother wanted us to live.

  • My mother was dead for five years before I knew that I had loved her very much.

  • My father was often angry when I was most like him.

  • Nothing, of course, begins at the time you think it did ...

  • ... the convictions of Hollywood and television are made of boiled money.

  • Maybe money is unreal for most of us, easier to give away than things we want.

  • I like people who refuse to speak until they are ready to speak.

  • [France] may be the only country in the world where the rich are sometimes brilliant.

  • Is it age, or was it always my nature, to take a bad time, block out the good times, until any success became an accident and failure seemed the only truth?

  • ... it was an unspoken pleasure that having come together so many years before, ruined so much, and repaired a little, we had endured.

  • Norma Shearer, the face unclouded by thought ...

  • [When asked whether her mother cared that she had been living with Dashiell Hammett:] Everybody's mother still cares.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • interview with Barbara Walters on Not For Women Only ()
  • Childhood is less clear to me than to many people: when it ended I turned my face away from it for no reason that I know about, certainly without the usual reason of unhappy memories. For many years that worried me, but then I discovered that the tales of former children are seldom to be trusted. Some people supply too many past victories or pleasures with which to comfort themselves, and other people cling to pains, real and imagined, to excuse what they have become.

  • ... failure in the theater is more public, more brilliant, more unreal than in any other field.

  • Guilt is often an excuse for not thinking ...

  • It is a mark of many famous people that they cannot part with their brightest hour: what worked once must always work.

  • It is best in the theater to act with confidence no matter how little right you have to it.

  • But he was not a man to leave things alone when the toothache of blind contention was upon him ...

  • ... it's a sad day when you find out that it's not accident or time or fortune but just yourself that kept things from you.

  • Nobody outside of a baby carriage or a judge's chamber believes in an unprejudiced point of view.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities (1952), in Lillian Hellman, Scoundrel Time ()
  • Truth made you a traitor as it often does in a time of scoundrels.

  • We are a people who do not want to keep much of the past in our heads. It is considered unhealthy in America to remember mistakes, neurotic to think about them, psychotic to dwell upon them.

  • I am suspicious of guilt in myself and other people: it is usually a way of not thinking, or of announcing one's own fine sensibilities the better to be rid of them fast.

  • One sits uncomfortably on a too comfortable cushion.

  • A theme is always necessary, a plain, simple, unadorned theme to confuse the ignorant.

  • What a word is truth. Slippery, tricky, unreliable.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • "On Reading Again," Three ()
  • Success and failure are not true opposites, and they're not even in the same class. I mean, they're not even a couch and a chair.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in The Listener ()
  • Rebels seldom make good revolutionaries, because organized action, even union with other people, is not possible for them.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in The Listener ()
  • Since when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Katherine Lederer, Lillian Hellman ()
  • ... as one grows older, one realizes how little one knows about any relationship, or even about oneself.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • Maybe
    • ()
  • You can't recover from what you do not understand.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • Maybe
    • ()
  • What good is freedom if you've not got the money for it? It's all very fine to go on about Nora's escape at the end of A Doll's House but just how was she planning to eat that night?

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Mark W. Estrin, Lillian Hellman ()
  • Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Garson Kanin, Hollywood ()
  • Writers talk too much.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Jackson R. Bryer, ed., Conversations With Lillian Hellman ()
  • Tallulah [Bankhead] was sitting in a group of people, giving the monologue she always thought was conversation.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Zoe Caldwell, Time ()
  • [On Elizabeth Taylor:] Every time she gets laid she gets married. Nobody told her you can do it and stay single.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Peter Feibleman, Lilly: Reminiscences of Lillian Hellman ()
  • In the end, they were together for the best of all possible reasons: the sheer pleasure of each other's company.

    • Lillian Hellman
  • I don't think many writers like their best-known piece of work, particularly when it was written a long time ago.

    • Lillian Hellman
  • Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.

    • Lillian Hellman
  • [On Moscow:] As if Los Angeles had no sun and no grass.

    • Lillian Hellman
  • [Notice on the door of the room where she wrote:] This room is used for work / Do not enter without knocking / After you knock, wait for an answer / If you get no answer, go away and don't come back / This means everybody / This means you / This means night or day. Court-martialling will take place in the barn, and your trial will not be a fair one.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Margaret Case Harriman, Take Them Up Tenderly ()

Lillian Hellman, U.S. playwright, writer

(1906 - 1984)

Full name: Lillian Florence Hellman.