Background of the Story

Lillian Hellman was a gifted writer who was nevertheless accused of being untruthful in her writings, which may be the case with her story about “Julia.”  Lillian claims in a chapter of her book entitled “Pentimento” that she and Julia, who is never given a surname, were friends from childhood.  Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) came from a wealthy family who were able to send her to medical school in Oxford and in Vienna.  Lillian admired Julia tremendously, and has weaved a story around a friendship with a person she had allegedly only heard about.

                      Jane FondaCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                               Jane Fonda - Wikimedia

Lillian and Dashiell Hammett

One truth about Lillian Hellman’s life is the fact that she had a thirty-year relationship with the writer Dashiell Hammett, although he was twelve years older than she was.  The film “Julia” recounted that affair with Jane Fonda portraying Lillian Hellman and Jason Robards portraying Dashiell Hammett.  Jason Robards adds much to any film that he makes.  He is the consummate actor.

We meet the couple at a beach house which appeared to be located in Cape Cod.  Lillian was trying very hard to finish writing a play which “Dash” told her she needed to rework.  The play finally received Hammett’s accolade; he said that it was the best play that anyone had written in a long time.  We know that play as “The Children’s Hour” which launched her writing career in 1934. 

Writer’s Conference in Russia

Because of her newly found fame, Lillian was invited to a writer’s conference in Russia.  She informed her friend Julia that she would be coming to Europe and made arrangements to meet with her.  Julia suggested that Lillian change her travel plans to pass through Berlin on the way to Russia from Paris, so that they might spend time together in Berlin. 

A man named Johann (Maximilian Schell) approached Lillian in Paris, and told her that Julia had arranged for her to be entrusted with $50,000 which would help to save the lives of hundreds of Jews in Nazi Germany.  Julia had become an advocate for an anti-Fascist movement.  He said that he would be at the train station; if she agreed to take on that chore, she should say “hello” to him.  If she ignored him, he would understand.  Because two friends were seeing Lillian off in Paris, it was difficult to say “hello” to him.  Lillian hesitated and then did run after him when he passed, and said “hello,” giving her friends a false explanation.  She was later approached by a man who brought her a box of chocolates and a hat box, and told her it was a birthday gift from Julia, and he disappeared.  Lillian found a note on the hat box telling her to wear the hat and to leave the chocolates on the seat of the train from Paris to Berlin when she left.


Vanessa RedgraveCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                        Vanessa Redgrave - Wikimedia

Episode on the Train

The scenes on the train are exciting and suspenseful. Two women shared her compartment.  One of the women told her to put her new hat on.  The other took her box of chocolates, ate one and offered one to the customs inspector when he entered their compartment.  When Lillian went to the Ladies Room, she examined her hat and found that crinkly paper, probably money, was hidden in the lining.       When the three got off the train, the other two women stayed with her.  At the border, one of the women told her that her temporary visa might take longer, but she should not worry because everything was in order.

Lillian’s Meeting with Julia

Lillian met Julia at a small Café in Berlin.  They did not have much time to spend with each other.  Julia told Lillian to put her hat on the seat between them and then covered it with her coat.  When Lillian asked her why she had crutches, she explained that she had an artificial leg from an incident when she was beaten up by thugs.  She also told Lillian that she had a one-year-old daughter, whom she named Lily, who was living with a baker in Alsace.  She asked Lillian to take Lily to America if anything happened to her.  When Lillian went to the Ladies Room, she brought her coat, wrapped around Lillian’s hat.  She brought back the coat and hat when she returned to her seat.  When they were about to leave the Café, Julia told her not to return to Paris by way of Germany.  Back in Paris, Lillian’s luggage had supposedly been lost, but it was returned to her hotel room, and had been noticeably rummaged.


Jason RobardsCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                          Jason Robards - Wikimedia

Before leaving France, Lillian went to Alsace where she visited several bakeries asking about Lily.  She was told that Alsace was a big place and it would be difficult to find her.

Back in the states, Lillian had lunch with an old friend Sammy who indicated slyly to her that she and Julia had an intimate relationship.  Lillian slapped Sammy so hard he fell out of his seat.

Lillian learned that Julia had died.  She went again to Alsace to find Lily and could not.  Dash tried to console her when she had sleepless nights and scary memories.  Lillian contacted Julia’s family who did not want to admit that Julia had a child.

The film is not uplifting; there is no happy ending.  It is a thriller, though, and the female characters especially add to the sense of danger that was present in the years before Europe was involved in all-out war.


Lillian HellmanCredit: Wikimedia Commons

                                                          Lillian Hellman - Wikimedia

Award for the Film

Both Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Robards won the Academy Award for their Supporting Roles in “Julia.”  Jane Fonda won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, and Vanessa Redgrave also won a Golden Globe for her Supporting Role in “Julia.”

Meryl Streep made her film debut in “Julia” as a college friend of Lillian named Anne Marie.  She had a few lines to say, and as we know, she went on in later years to win three Academy Awards, having been nominated nineteen times.

Lillian Hellman is always mentioned along with famous writers of the twentieth century.  After her initial success with “The Children’s Hour,” she went to write two other well-known plays entitled “The Little Foxes” and “Watch on the Rhine,”  as well as a memoir entitled “An Unfinished Woman.”



Pentimento by Lillian Hellman
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