28 MARCH 1981, Page 32

High life



New York Whenever I read something about Lillian Hellman I think of George Orwell's description, or rather detestation, of his fellow middle-class socialists: beard-sprouting freaks, vegetarian cranks, sandal-wearing creeps and poets of the pansy-left. More to the point. I think about what she did and what she preached even after she knew about the Gulag, and what Orwell said about his fellow intellectuals who knew: 'Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.'

Well, I can only say that her pachydermatism has stood her in good stead until now. It even had a Hellman-hater like me dragging myself down to Hollywood-by-the-Potomac to see one of her plays, The Little Foxes, last week. It all came about because a friend of mine's father is married to Elizabeth Taylor (now Mrs John Warner) who takes the part of Regina in the Hellman play. Warner is the junior Senator from Virginia, and his daughter Virginia is my friend.

The night before, my friend Clay Felker, now an editor of the Daily News, gave a party for the producer of Raging Bull, Irwin Winkler. As I knew that Washington and The Little Foxes were next on the agenda, I attended the party with alacrity. I wanted to prepare myself for hyperbole, histrionics, even hysteria. But it was not to be. The trouble with Winkler is that he is normal. Having got very rich with the two 'Rocky' films, Winkler has refused to 'go Hollywood'. He has even kept his original wife, and will talk about the days he was broke. Worst of all, he listens when other people talk about subjects not related to himself — strictly unacceptable behaviour for a big Hollywood producer.

There were other elements of the party that didn't help me to get acclimatised to Washington and Miss Hellman. For instance, there was Tom Wolfe and his wife. Tom needs no introduction, as he is the best writer in America today. His trouble is that, like Winkler, he does not act like a success. Worse, he did something very few creative writers have been known to do: he wrote a letter to an editcg of mine praising my writing behind my back. It would have been more in keeping with successful American stars of literature today, if Tom had sent me a xerox copy of the letters, but he didn't.

However, the party was a great success. I had rarely seen Clay Felker in such good humour, and I spent the night talking with Tom and Irwin, and forgot all about two Hollywood actresses who were present. But I didn't forget to drink far too much, so that the next day I felt like hell and suddenly realised that I had to fly to Washington. In fact, I didn't leave until the afternoon, and by then the only chance of making the play was to fly down in my dinner jacket on the six o'clock shuttle. Although I got a few stares from people who thought I was a head-waiter going to Washington to serve a meal I don't mind, most Greeks used to do that before they discovered ships — I reached the Kennedy Centre just in time — one minute before the President, Nancy, and the George Bushes arrived in the Presidential box where John Warner was host. I sat between two Senators' daughters and hoped that I wouldn't snore too loudly. The Little Foxes, as all of you who have seen the film must know, is a bad play written 40 years ago. That is just about the time that Stalin was ending his marriage with Nazi Germany. At that time, however, Miss Hellman thought it appropriate to write how crooked, malicious, venal and thoroughly unscrupulous small-town south erners are. Hellman has always portrayed small-town people as red-necks, the milit ary as Nazis, and priests as sex maniacs. The trouble with the revival was that Miss Taylor, and Maureen Stapleton as Birdie, do bring it off. In fact the whole cast and staging were, perfect. And I didn't go to sleep because' suddenly saw the awful-looking Hellman being escorted through the theatre by tw° young courtiers. That got my blood boiling and I enjoyed the play.