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Lillian Hellman told interviewer Jan Albert in 1975: "THE CHILDREN'S HOUR was actually based on a real case written by...It happened in Scotland in the nineteenth century and written by a man called William Roughead who was a lawyer and who wrote a number of quite good books about Scotch law cases. And the actual case was two middle aged ladies who ran a boarding school in Scotland and who took into their school an Indian girl, half Indian, half Scotch. And she seems to have made accusations about them. And they brought suit and sued to the end of their lives...evidently broke themselves and died without ever winning. I don't remember really whether they won or lost. And I obviously did a great deal of changing there. But certainly that was the basic idea."

"The Children's Hour" opened on Broadway on November 20, 1934, to smash success after being banned in Chicago, London and Boston. When "Hour" was denied the Pulitzer Prize in 1934, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award was created as compensation. Hellman said she was drunk during its premiere as an antidote to jitters over response to the play.

A lobby card for "These Three," the first film collaboration of Lillian Hellman and William Wyler
Copyright MGM.

William Wyler could not envision how to film the play under the restrictions of the Hays Code during the Thirties. Then, he said, "I met Hellman, who I was very impressed with, and she explained to me that the story was not about lesbianism." She insisted that the underlying story was about the power of a lie to ruin lives, so Wyler signed on to make "These Three" for producer Sam Goldwyn. Hellman added to Jan Albert: "We took the basic idea of the school and took the lesbianism out. It wasn't allowed. And it made a very nice little picture called THESE THREE with Merle Oberon and Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea."

The theme of the play made it relevant again for a stage revival in 1952 with Patricia Neal during the height of the Red Scare and in the midst of Hollywood’s blacklisting. Finally, in 1961, William Wyler got his opportunity to make the movie again with the original plot intact. His second version of "The Children's Hour" starred Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, and James Garner.

A lobby card for "The Children's Hour." Copyright MGM.

Legendary Director, William Wyler, with his stars in "The Children's Hour"
Copyright MGM.

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