In the autumn of 1930, she met Dashiell Hammett with whom she would remain intimate until his death in 1961. Hammett reportedly suggested that she write a stage adaptation of 'The Great Drumsheugh Case,' an episode from William Roughead's Bad Companions which detailed the scandal at a Scottish boarding school when a pupil accused two teachers of having a lesbain affair. Hellman's adaptation, The Children's Hour (1934), shocked Broadway audiences with its frank treatment of lesbianism.
Hellman's next stage success, Little Foxes (1939), has become perhaps her most well-known play. It is a chilling study of the financial and psychological conflicts within a wealthy Southern family. Already hailed as one of the greatest playwrights of her time, Hellman was a curiosity in the largely male-dominated world of American theatre.
Throughout her career, Hellman openly held left-wing political views and was active in the campaign against the growth of fascism in Europe. As a result of her well-known political views, she was subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. When pressed to reveal names of associates in the theatre who might have Communist associations, she replied:
"To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group."As a result of her defiance, Hellman's name was added to Hollywood's blacklist and she was slapped with an unexpected and unexplainable tax bill. Even worse, her partner, Dashiell Hammett, was sentenced to prison for six months. Alone and cut off from her only source of income, Hellman was soon forced to sell her home. Fortunately, she managed to stage a revival of The Children's Hour and used the proceeds to relocate to New York.
Hellman continued to write, adapting several works for the stage including Anouilh's The Lark. However, almost a decade would pass before Hellman would write another completely original work. Toys in the Attic opened in February 1960 and would be her last work for the stage.
In her later years, she focused on several autobiographical works including An Unfinished Woman (1969), Pentimento (1973), and Scoundrel Time (1976). She died of cardiac arrest on June 30, 1984, at her home in Martha's Vineyard.
Hellman received numerous awards during her lifetime including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Watch on the Rhine (1941) and Toys in the Attic (1960), Academy Award nominations for the screenplays The Little Foxes (1941) and The North Star (1943), and numerous honorary degrees from various universities.