own good. And there but for the gracenof feminism go we.nAs a shameless but fitting finale tonthis chorus of ideological excuses fornpersonal dissipation, Gloria Steinemnhas donated her writer’s fee fromnMarilyn: Norma Jean to a “project” ofnher own creation, something callednthe Marilyn Monroe Children’s Fund.nThe name of this fund honors MarilynnMonroe’s “special kinship with children.”nIts work will “conhnue some­nLillian Hellman, True and Falsen”Female murderers get sheaves of offers of marriage.”n—ShawnLillian Hellman: The Woman WhonMade the Legend by WilliamnWright, New York: Simon &nSchuster; $18.95.nIn a recent issue o(The Nation, JohnnL. Hess complains about the currentnflow of books demythologizing thenvenerated martyrs of the Americannleft. So what if new historical researchnsuggests that the Rosenbergs (or at leastnone of them) were actually guilty? Sonwhat if the same is true of AlgernHiss—and even Sacco, of Saceo andnVanzetti? It was all so long ago. It’sntime to move on now; new issuesncall—like Irangate and the delicts ofnthe contras. Hess’s concern over obsessionnwith the past was provoked bynWilliam Wright’s new biography ofnLillian Hellman. In a way, he has anpoint. Since Hellman was at best “angood second-rate playwright,” it’s notnimmediately clear why a biography ofnher should rate (as this one did) thenlead article in the New York TimesnBook Review as well as the front pagenof the Washington Post Book Review.nThe answer has to do not with thenintrinsic importance of any of thesenpeople, but rather with the culturalnimportance they have graduallynachieved as they have been crafted,nover hme, into symbols of Americannpolitical life. The Rosenbergs havenbecome at worst merely minor-leaguenatom-spies, but for the past 35 yearsntheir unkind fate has been used by thenleft as an indictment of the corruption,nrepression, and even racism of thenAmerican judicial system—most re-nArthur Eckstein is professor of historynat the University of Maryland.ncently in the 1983 movie Daniel. As anresult, it’s too late now, when uncomfortablenevidence surfaces, for the Rosenbergsnsuddenly to be dismissed asnforgettable. Similarly with Sacco andnVanzetti. It is of no historical importancenper se if one (or both) of thesenancient Italians were guilty or innocentnof a robbery and murder in Massachusettsn70 years ago. What keepsnthe controversy going is that the executionnof Sacco and Vanzetti has beennused for decades by the left as a culturalnweapon to lambaste American justicenand society as repressive and hypocritical.nBut if it turns out that the martyrsn(the Rosenbergs, Sacco and Vanzetti,nHiss) might not have been so innocent,nthen the credibility, the goodnsense, and even the good faith of thenleft are called into question. No wondernthat John Hess worries about ongoingnhistorical research here, callingnit “the new necrophilia”; no wondernhe prefers that investigation of thesentopics—or at least discussion of themn—be ended. But when historical incidentsnaffect society and culture asnmuch as this history has, then it isnimportant to get things right.nAnd so to the new biography ofnLillian Hellman, the original cause ofnHess’s unhappiness. The facts of Hellman’snlife, as they emerge fromnWright’s book, appear to be these.nHellman was the spoiled, brilliantnchild of an upper-middle-class Jewishnfamily; she had a good education andnfound easy access to New York literarynsociety in the 20’s because of hernvivacity and wit; she was the author ofnpotboiling melodramas for the stage,nwhich, despite their controversialnworth, nevertheless have remainednthing that Marilyn herself earednabout.”nAnd logos count as legends, andnbabies sleep at their mothers’ convenience.nby Arthur Ecksteinnnnvery popular with the public; she wasnsubject, throughout her life, to violentntantrums if she did not get her way; shennever, throughout her life, sufferednfrom serious financial need; indeed,nshe seems to have lived her life in onenlong, continuous consumer-frenzy:nCadillacs and limousines, spiffynclothes, gourmet dining, tons of alcohol,nand men, men, men.nAn enviable life, all in all, and livednintensely (Hellman’s most endearingncharacteristic), but not necessarily anheroic one. The problem is that towardsnthe end of it, in the 1970’s,nHellman did begin to portray her lifenas heroic, and this version of eventsnwas accepted as true by a very widenaudience.nTwo episodes were decisive in creatingnthe Hellman legend of the 70’s. InnPentimento (1973), the second of hernautobiographical memoirs, Hellmannrevealed that in 1937 she had undertakennthe very dangerous job of runningnmoney to the anti-Nazi undergroundnin Berlin and that she hadnprovided crucial help to one of thenanti-Nazi leaders, her old friendn”Julia.” Then came Scoundrel Timen(1976), a riveting account of the circumstancesnsurrounding her appearancenin 1952 before the House Un-nAmerican Activities Committee.nHellman depicted herself as a fiercendefender of civil liberties and the FirstnAmendment, defiantly standing up tonthe venal and moronic inquisitors ofnHUAC as they quizzed her about hernleft-wing past. She stakes out hernmoral position in a statement that laternbecomes famous: “I cannot and willnnot cut my conscience to fit this year’snfashions,” i.e., testify against hernfriends of the left. So impressive is herndefiance of the Committee that a spectatornis moved to exclaim: “Thank Godnsomebody’s finally had the guts to donit!” But her bravery proves costly; she isnSEPTEMBER 1987135n