November 20th – Special Event

November 20th

Lillian Hellman 1935

11-20-1934   The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman opens on Broadway at the Maxine Elliott Theatre. At the time of the play’s premiere, the mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State, but authorities chose to overlook its subject matter when the Broadway production was praised by the critics. The play is based on an actual incident that took place in 1810 at a school in Edinburgh, Scotland. A student named Jane Cumming accused her school teachers, Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, of having an affair. Dame Cumming Gordon, the accuser’s influential grandmother, advised her friends to remove their daughters from the boarding school. Within days the school was empty and the two women lost their livelihood. Pirie and Woods sued and won their case, both in court and on appeal, but the victory was considered hollow, given the damage done to their lives. In 1936, the film These Three directed by William Wyler was released. Based on The Children’s Hour, it took out the lesbianism and instead had both women in love with the same man. It was because of the Hays Code that was in effect at the time that forbid a film to focus or even hint at lesbianism. In 1961, Wyler made a second film starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner. The 1961 film retained substantial portions of Hellman’s original dialogue, as well as the original theme and title of her play. 

Cast in the orginal Broadway play: Robert Keith, Anne Revere, Florence McGee, Katherine Emery, and Katherine Emmet. The play closed in July 1936 after 691 performaces. In 1936 it was presented in Paris and at London’s Gate Theatre Studio. Below the 1936 film and the 1961 film.

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