From the Daily Telegraph, Friday 11th April, 1997 - Page 2
By Sandra Barwick
HELENE HANFF, the author of 84 Charing Cross Road, the correspondence between her
and the manager of a bookshop in the Fifties, has died aged 79 in a nursing home in New
York, keeping a secret to the last. Leo Marks, the son of the owner of the antiquarian
bookshop to whom she wrote, said she had never written what he believed would have
been an even better book, about her love affair with a famous American.
Mr Marks, a wartime code-master with the Special Operations Executive, who became a
close friend of Miss Hanff, said: "She had something better than 84 Charing Cross Road to
write, but she was afraid of doing it. "She had a relationship with a very famous
American, whom she had to share with two other ladies, and she was never sure whether
she was the senior or the junior."
Her account of this relationship was, he said, even more amusing and touching that her
letters to Charing Cross Road. She tried to write it but always destroyed her attempts.
Mr Marks said he could not reveal the name of her lover but she had told him of the
affair some years ago. "She was an unusual human being, with great humour and
incisiveness, and very, very intelligent." When he urged her to write her account, she
had always put him off by saying that she would finish her book when he finished his
book about the SOE. She had carried with her the poem he had written for the agent
Violet Szabo, he said, which begins: "The life that I have is all that I have - and the life
that I have is yours."
Miss Hanff said in one interview that she had been trying to write a book since 1963, but
had repeatedly thrown it in the incinerator. "Is it autobiographical? Of course it is," she
said. She had contacts in television, for which she wrote scripts, among actors and,
during the Sixties, in Democratic politics.
Miss Hanff first wrote to the Marks bookshop in London in 1949, seeking out-of-print
titles. It was the beginning of a 20-year correspondence with its manager, Frank Doel.
When she finally compiled their letters in a book she was in her fifties and at a low ebb,
her scripts and plays rejected. One rejection slip arrived in the same post which told her
Doel was dead. In 1971 the book was published, captivating readers, and then a
successful film, starring Anne Bancroft in Helene Hanff's character and Anthony Hopkins
as Frank Doel.
By the time she arrived in London to publicise her book, the shop had closed. She
climbed its stairs and looked at the empty shelves and said out loud, "Frank, I finally
made it." She hoped he heard, she said later. Michael Reddington, who produced the
stage adaptation of the book, said: "She was opinionated and strong, like the character in
the book. Her book is unique."
She had suffered from diabetes for some years and Mr Marks said that towards the end
she had been unable to write.
Obituary Articles from UK Newspapers
The Definitive Helene Hanff Website
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Daily Telegraph - April 11 1997
Article on Helene's death and revealing the
tantalising information that Helene had a secret love
affair with "a very famous American".