Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hellmann + Hellman (for Hellman or Hellmann)

Besides being a movie based on the 1931 play by Lillian Hellman, the phrase "The Children's Hour" can also refer to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a painting by Winslow Homer, or a variety of radio broadcasts on the BBC and elsewhere. But the most famous use of this title was probably William Wyler's The Children's Hour, starring Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn. Twenty-five years earlier, there had been another Hollywood adaptation called These Three with Merle Oberon and Joel McCrea. Both films are well worth seeing, but the later one hews more closely to the Hellman original, which clearly involves lesbianism and was inspired by the true story of two Scottish school teachers. In the earlier version, the issue was framed as infidelity, not homosexuality—which is to say that in 1936, Martha is jealous of her best friend Karen; in 1961, she's jealous of Karen's fiancĂ©. I mentioned this bit of movie trivia to a young man whose own school had recently mounted a production of The Children's Hour, and whose own parents both happen to be women. He thought about it for a minute, then nodded sagely: "Makes sense." Hellman was apparently okay with the "adulterated" version, the screenplay for which she wrote herself. (The Hays Code prohibited references to homosexuality in film back then and it was illegal in New York State to mention it on stage as well, although this ban was apparently ignored with regard to the Broadway play itself.) To Hellman, at any rate, the play was more about spreading gossip than outing gays. Today's typo was found out 23 times in OhioLINK, and 244 times in WorldCat.

(Original poster for The Children's Hour, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Carol Reid

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