December 22nd, 2015

Everything she says is a lie, including “and” and “the”

That Hillary Clinton might lie is no surprise at all, even to her supporters, who shrug it off or rationalize it. And on the topic of lies and the lying liars who tell them, there was mention in the comments section recently of the famous quip by Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman during a 1979 appearance by the former on the Dick Cavett Show: “every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

It was pretty funny at the time, but it engendered a lawsuit by Hellman, a lawsuit designed to bankrupt McCarthy. It might have even succeeded in doing so had Hellman not died before its completion, and had not Hellman’s executors dropped the suit.

The story of the remark, the lawsuit, and the two women lingers on, which may at this point be what they’re both most famous for—although I’m pretty sure that, of the two, Hellman remains the more well-known. She was indeed a liar, who herself said, ” [or wrote; not sure which]: “Everyone’s memory is tricky and mine’s a little trickier than most.”

The McCarthy-Hellman feud was about a lot of things. To Hellman, it was about her literary reputation as well as her construction of a life, since a lot of that reputation rested on her memoirs and the stories she told there. For McCarthy, it seems to have been about her devotion to truth, and the truth of—among other things—Hellman’s self-serving whitewashing of Hellman’s Stalinist politics. There was also the possibility of a stolen lover, back in the days. If you read this essay about the episode, you’ll see that Hellman does not come across very well, to say the least:

Others saw it as a continuation of the feud of the anti-Stalinists of which McCarthy was an early member vs. the Stalinists which included Hellman, Hammett, and other left-wing liberals who continued to defend Stalin long after his crimes had been made public. Hellman once chastized Kruschev for turning against Stalin, she felt he was disloyal. Although she claimed not to know anything about the Moscow purge trials, Hellman had signed petitions applauding the guilty verdicts and encouraged others not to cooperate with a committee that sought to establish the truth behind the trials. McCarthy, herself, said that the enmity was personal. She hated what she saw as Hellman’s attempts to make herself look more like a heroine at the expense of others.

Both women had been pro-Soviet way back when, but McCarthy had renounced that position and Hellman never seems to have done so. There was another, earlier altercation they had, about the writer John Dos Passos and his political change:

Hellman and McCarthy had only met a few times in their lives, the most notable being at Sarah Lawrence College in 1947, at a dinner party thrown by the college president, Harold Taylor, to discuss a writer’s conference. McCarthy attended as did Stephen Spender who was also teaching at the college. Hellman was an invited guest. Just before dinner, McCarthy overheard Hellman flippantly telling a group of students that the writer and painter John Dos Passos had sold out the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War because “he didn’t like the food in Madrid.” Incensed, McCarthy stormed in and proceeded to tell the students that if they wanted to know the truth about Dos Passos’ change of heart, they should read his book, Adventures of a Young Man. Hellman, in turn, was not pleased at being dressed down in front of a group of students.

I wrote a lengthy piece about that change of heart, here. It certainly wasn’t about the food:

Dos Passos’s main contact in Spain was to have been a good friend of his named Robles, a left-wing intellectual who seems to have angered Moscow at some point and who was “disappeared,” apparently shot by the Communists after being accused of being a Fascist spy.

Dos Passos tried to discover what had actually happened to his pal Robles…

That was the disillusionment that led Dos Passos from Spain, which Hellman flippantly dismissed. Lovely.

12 Responses to “Everything she says is a lie, including “and” and “the””

  1. The Other Chuck Says:

    The talking heads at MSNBC regularly call Trump a liar often pointing out in detail some of his lies. There is no question that Trump lied about his draft dodging days during the Vietnam War. When caught he pivots easily or lies about the previous lies. However, I believe his assertions about Hillary.
    Takes one to know one.

  2. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Religious fanaticism’s ‘twin sister’ is ideological fanatism. It is sacrilege to question the dogma.

  3. sdferr Says:

    Reds! . . . can’t live with ’em,

    . . . can’t live with ’em.

  4. Ray Says:

    “a lawsuit designed to bankrupt McCarthy”
    Too bad McCarthy didn’t file a slap suit.

  5. Richard Saunders Says:

    One must always keep in mind that “true” and “false” have completely different meanings for the left than for the right (as defined in the modern US usage). To a conservative, “true” means “consistent with objectively observable facts;” “false”means “not consistent with objectively observable facts.” To a progressive, “true” means “advances the left’s cause;” “false” means “hinders the left’s cause.”

    Thus, we have Dan Rather’s defense of his phony story about George W. in a movie called “Truth,” we have “Bush lied,” and we have whatever comes out of Barry, Hillary, Harry, Diane, Barbara, Debbie, and the rest of their gang’s mouths.

    Come to think of it, didn’t this all get started at the time of, or even because of, the Spanish Civil War?

  6. Sgt. Mom Says:

    A good bit ago, I read a bio of Hellman – can’t find the title of it — but it was fairly critical, and went over her fraud over her supposed friend ‘Julia’. I had always wondered about that, in a mild sort of way, as one of my passing interests when in HS and college was women members of the WWII underground. Why had her good pal ‘Julia’ never turned up in any accounts of WWII derring-do, years after the fact?
    I saw a TV interview with her, where someone asked about that – sometime in the 1970s, it must have been — and it struck me that she gave the same shifty sideways look that my then-toddler-aged daughter did, when about to decide to tell a whopper.
    Then I read the bio … yes, an entitled liar, who counted on her celebrity to make the lies stick.

  7. PatD Says:

    Reminds me of the story about two old actresses who met at a doorway. The first motioned the other to go through, saying, “Age before beauty”. The second demurred, saying “Pearls before swine”.

    Hellman was the force behind “Candide” and wrote some of the book. The show flopped, but the music survives. We enjoy these two completely different renditions by Broadway star Kristen Chenoweth and Opera star Diana Damrau.

  8. Barry Meislin Says:

    “It certainly wasn’t about the food…”

    Then, there’s always “Hommage to Catalonia”….

    Also not a food good. Nor a travel book.

    (Rather, food for thought as to the utter dishonesty it takes to be a fellow traveler….)

    In any event, it was Orwell’s turning point.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    Barry Meislin:

    See this.

  10. Barry Meislin Says:

    Excellent post…

    Hope you got around to reading the book….

    File under: All roads lead from Orwell.

  11. Gringo Says:

    Lillian Hellman would be pleased that people are still discussing her, over 30 years since her death. Ironic that she, who many regard as a scoundrel, wrote a memoir titled Scoundrel Time. Rest assured Ms. Hellman was referring to people other than herself.

  12. Passerby Says:

    Mary McCarthy ought to be better known than Hellman, and known for better things than this. Namely her perceptive literary essays and excellent novels, many of which scathingly satirize the left and liberal angst and moral relativism – albeit from a conservative leftist standpoint, like Orwell. In those days the left were able to laugh at and criticise themselves; in fact many of the best criticisms of leftist thought and mores came from their own number.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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