68 – Lillian & Julia Vs Mary & Muriel

This episode delves into Hollywood history and the fascinating back story surrounding the 1977 Oscar-winning movie Julia. Based on the memoirs of playwright Lillian Hellman and starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, Julia is a strange and thrilling story about Hellman’s real life brush with espionage and German fascism…or is it? 

After the film was released and won 3 Oscars (including for Adapted Screenplay) it was suggested by Hellman’s rival Mary McCarthy that Hellman may have inserted herself into the narrative, and the ‘facts’ may actually be a fiction, or worse, taken from someone’s else life story. And the story is all set around WW2! 

Contrarah and Nick look at the moral implications of fabricating film plots, the role of male screenwriters in writing believable female friendships and the ‘she said, she said’ nature of professional female rivalry.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but what exactly is the truth?!

1 thought on “68 – Lillian & Julia Vs Mary & Muriel”

  1. With regards to McCarthy vs Hellman, their longstanding rivalry was mainly political in nature (McCarthy was a Trotskyite, Hellman was pro-Stalin) – not professional jealousy as speculated in the podcast. Besides, they were in completely different fields: Hellman was a famous screenwriter and playwright; McCarthy was a critic and more known back then for non-fiction. Not very accurate to assume a catfight when it was a genuine clash of ideology.

    Also, Hellman wasn’t the one being persecuted here. Remember she was the one suing McCarthy in the first place. The lawsuit that Hellman started meant that McCarthy HAD to demonstrate that Hellman was fudging facts (to prove that she’s not guilty of defamation), but it also meant that Hellman was actively trying to get it proven in court that she didn’t fudge facts. The question of Hellman making stuff up doesn’t matter from an artistic standpoint (I believe in poetic license), but it was ABSOLUTELY important for the lawsuit.

    And I don’t think it’s sexist or unfeminist that Hellman was the only one under scrutiny. The whole controversy was about Hellman’s claims in a memoir (which claims to be fact), not the movie (which is obviously a fictionalised version of something that claims to be fact). That’s why the debates were about the veracity of what Hellman wrote in Pentimento, instead of what Sargent or Zinnerman did to the movie.

    Was Hellman telling the truth? I mean it really comes down to whether you choose to believe either Hellman or Muriel Gardiner, the only other woman with a first-hand account on this matter.


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