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 history".

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 again."

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Helene Hanff (1980): "Who could have imagined
a film about a business correspondence?"

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