From the Daily Telegraph, Friday 11th April, 1997 - Page 29
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In 1952, Helene Hanff was offered her first paid scriptwriting job. Jacob Wilk's assistant
Gene Burr had left Warner Brothers for television and on Wilk's recommendation offered
her work for a new series, The Adventures of Ellery Queen. "I was always very scornful of
television," she said, "and I only took the job because I had to have major dental work
which cost $2,500."
The Adventures of Ellery Queen paid for the teeth but did not extend to financing a
proposed trip to London to visit Frank Doel. "In a way I wasn't too upset to cancel my trip
to England," she said later. "I was wary of meeting Frank, I had a feeling we might
disappoint eachother, that it would fatally interfere with our correspondence."
Meanwhile she became what she described as "Ellery Queen's speical write of arty
murders", and wrote plots about a murder at an art gallery, one at the opera, two at the
ballet and one at a Shakespeare festival. "We were just getting round to murder at a rare
book shop when they took the show off the air."
In 1953 she began work on Hallmark Hall of Fame, a television programme devoted to the
lives of "great characters in history". She distinguished herself during her time
withHallmark by devoting an entire script to the Greek slave girl Rhodope (whom she
believed had told Aesop his fables). On the morning of transmission she read a review of a
new book on brothels and discovered that Rhodope was one of the most famous
prostitutes of the ancient world. Aided by the staff of the television station, she concealed
the fact from the show's sponsor, Joyce Hall, who insisted his programmes should always
have a high moral tone. "The show was the last one I needed to do to pay for my teeth, so I
was determined to get it on the air at any cost." It was broadcast as planned and the station
received only two letters, both praising it for "the interesting way in which it explored
After working for Hallmark, Helen Hanff transferred to the Matinee Theatre, where she
became the principal scriptwriter, responsible for producing an hour-long programme
every month. This was followed by a year of freelance writing paid for by a grant from CBS
television. Her brief was to produce a dramatisation of America's history lasting two hours.
The programme was neer aired and Hanff returned to popular television with a period as a
writer for Playhouse 90, a series of 90-minute plays with contemporary themes. By the
late 1950s most television companies left New York for Hollywood. Helene Hanff was
unwilling to leave her home; she was unsuited for a life in California as she had never
learned to drive. "Playhouse 90 was replaced by a game show, and I was unemployed
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Obituary Articles from UK Newspapers
The Definitive Helene Hanff Website
(1980): "Who could
a film about a
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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".