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These Three Details


Lillian Hellman's 1934 Broadway play Lillian Hellman was such a hot potato that film producer Samuel Goldwyn was denied Production Code permission to use the play's original title. The reason was the story's lesbian theme, a factor that also blocked Lillian Hellman from winning a Pulitzer Prize. In the original story, lifelong friends Martha Dobie and Karen Wright manage an exclusive girl's boarding school. Spoiled rotten student Mary Tilford, angered at being disciplined, fabricates a story that casts a questionable light on the women's friendship. In attempting to defend themselves against the accusations of the little girl's wealthy and powerful aunt, Martha and Karen lose everything in court. By the time the girl has admitted her lie and the aunt has come to apologize, it is too late. After confessing that she has harbored "unnatural" feelings towards Martha, Karen commits suicide. In adapting her play to the screen, Lillian Hellman expertly weeded out all hints of lesbianism, and also eliminated Karen's self-inflicted death ("suicide as a plot solution" was another Production Code no-no). In the revised version, Mary Tilford (played with unbridled venom by Bonita Granville) spreads a rumor that Martha (Miriam Hopkins) has been carrying on an illicit affair with doctor Joseph Cardin (Joel McCrea), the boyfriend of Karen (Merle Oberon). The end result is essentially the same -- the school is destroyed, along with Martha and Karen's reputation -- but Karen manages to survive to fade-out time. In defending the evisceration of her play, Hellman defended herself by noting that her original point was not to force a lesbian subtext down the throats of the audience, but to show how a vicious lie -- any vicious lie -- can have disastrous consequences. While it makes a good story, it is probably not true that, when informed that the leading characters in Lillian Hellman were lesbians, producer Goldwyn replied, "Who cares? We'll make them Americans." These Three was refilmed in 1961 by its director William Wyler, under its original title Lillian Hellman, with Hellman's original text -- lesbianism and all -- intact; ironically, the censor-ridden earlier film is the far superior version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:March 18, 1936


Awarded by
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Bonita Granville Best Supporting Actress 1936 Nominee


Miriam Hopkins
as Martha Dobie
Merle Oberon
as Karen Wright
Joel McCrea
as Dr. Joseph Cardin
Alma Kruger
as Mrs. Tilford
Bonita Granville
as Mary Tilford
Marcia Mae Jones
as Rosalie Wells
Carmencita Johnson
as Evelyn
Margaret Hamilton
as Agatha
Walter Brennan
as Taxi Driver
Frank McGlynn, Sr.


William Wyler
Samuel Goldwyn
Lillian Hellman
Play Author
Lillian Hellman
Gregg Toland
Alfred Newman
Composer (Music Score)
Dan Mandell
Richard Day
Art Director
Omar Kiam
Costume Designer