From the Daily Telegraph, Friday 11th April, 1997 - Page 29

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By the late 1930s she had still had no success as a playwright. Most of her jobs were part time (to enable her to write) and she remained poverty-stricken. "I never had two cents to my name", she said later. "The rent to my room was usually $10 a week, and after paying that I'd be left with about 75 cents a day for food and cigarettes." She would sneak into theatres after the show had started to avoid paying for tickets. "I saw every play on Broadway. Of course, I never saw any of the first acts, but then nothings happens in the first act anyway." She outfitted herself by taking home clothes on approval from department stores and returning them the following day. Even flowers were provided free by the undertakers next door. "I never went anywhere without a corsage. They were always lilies, but I wasn't complaining."

In 1942 Helene Hanff found a job as a press agent as a press agent to Joe Heidt of the Theatre Guild. There was one show which was doing badly in the provinces, a musical called Away We Go. A talent scout working for the critic Walter Winchell saw it in New Haven and sent a telegram to him which read: "No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance!" Helene Hanff's job was to type and copy the 10,000 press releases needed for the show. Twenty-four hours before the show was due to arrive in New York, the title was changed to Yessirree, and she had to type the press releases again. The producers were still not happy and before the opening night they told Helene Hanff to copy the releases a third time. The name they finally chose was Oklahoma!

With success as a playwright still eluding her, Helene Hanff found a job in 1948 as a reader for a film studio. She had to pick up a novel or a screenplay from the studio offices at 4pm, take it home, read it, write a synopsis and return the manuscript to the studio at four the following day. She was paid $6 per synopsis, a figure which eventually rose to $10, and continued to work as a reader for the next five years. She later remembered her horror when asked to write a synopsis of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. "I read the opening sentence of the first volume and phoned around several friends to say goodbye, because suicide seemed to obviously preferable to 500 more pages of the same." When she handed in her invoice for reading the three volumes she added an extra $40 for "mental torture".
After 15 years in New York, Helene Hanff had still not been able to sell any of her plays. She worked for a period for Irving Caesar (author of No, No, Nanette) writing press presentations for his new musical My Dear Public, but had no more success selling Caesar's work than her own.

Still working as a reader, she was spotted by a story editor for Warner Brothers, Jacob Wilk, who moonlighted as a theatrical producer. Wilk believed she should write a script for Broadway. He tried to sell a play by her to every producer in New York (including Leland Hayward, who was out of the country on his honeymoon, and Irene Selznick, who was in hospital). He persuaded Helene Hanff to rewrite it twice but still could not find anyone to produce it. She returned to her life as a reader.

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Please select and click an article name to read the piece...
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".
The Guardian - April 11, 1997

Full obituary - again split into parts ONE and TWO.
The Independent - April 14, 1997

Short obit notice.
Daily Telegraph - April 11, 1997

Full obituary - long article which I've split into parts ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR and FIVE