Helene Hanff was an American author of semi-biographical stories. She was born and raised in Philadelphia. The family regularly attended the theatre, and as a result, Helene grew up wanting to become a playwright. During the Great Depression, she was forced to drop out of college and attend business school. While at college and business school, Helene was acquiring a literary knowledge by reading the books of an Oxford Professor named Arthur Quiller-Couch.
She later won a play-writing competition and the prize was an internship to work for the Theatre Guild, which worked to bring scripts to the Stage. The only successful play that Helene was involved with was Oklahoma which began its celebrated lengthy Broadway run in 1943.
Helene continued writing plays during and after the war years while working, but none of these plays were ever considered good enough to be produced. After World War 2 ended, Television took over as the main entertainment, and Helene managed to get herself a job as a script reader (I assume this was like a proof reader and fact checker combined) for Paramount, a job she could do at home. She wrote a book about her life in the theatre which was eventually published in 1962 and called "Underfoot in Show Business."
In October 1949 Helene spotted an advert from a second hand book shop in London, England, in the Saturday Review of Literature Magazine, and wrote to them asking for books she could not find in New York City. if they had nice clean copies, could they consider this first letter as a purchase order and send them to her?
Thus began a Literary relationship that continued for 19 years (1949-1968) between Helene and the Manager of Marks and Co, Frank Doel. Since England was still under rationing rule at that time, Helene arranged for hard-to-get food items to be sent to the shop from Denmark. This probably endeared her to the shop staff. She sent regular book orders as well.
During this time of correspondence with Frank, Helene continued working as a script reader, but was also writing screen plays for TV shows and movies.
In 1969, Helene was told that Frank Doel had died suddenly, and she felt driven to write their story. She had kept copies of all her letters to Frank, as well as his letters to her. Eventually she found an editor at Harpers called Genevieve Young, who edited and published most of Helene's books.
The most famous book was 84 Charing Cross road - the epistolary book that tells the story of Helene and Frank. This book was turned into a stage play around 1975 and later a movie in 1987.
Helene never married and had no children.
Helenes' Family Tree.
The Hanff and Levy families are of course Jewish. Helene grew up with 2 brothers, and we know this because in her book, 84 Charing Cross road she makes a rather loud reference to having a Catholic sister-in-law, a Methodist sister-in-law and a whole raft of Presbyterian cousins through her Great Uncle Abraham who converted. Helene's brothers and sisters-in-law are on the tree, but I still cannot find Great Uncle Abraham!!
In Q's Legacy Helene mentions her Uncle Al who lived with the family. This was Miriam's older half-brother Alfred who used to run a timber business. While he was married, he apparently had no children.
My most favourite books written by Helene are 84 Charing Cross Road, Underfoot in Show Business, and Q's Legacy.
I have just found that Helene was counted twice in the 1940 census. She was clearly in New York city, staying at the [Allerton Hotel for women], see 1940 NYC census link below. On, what I assume was, the same day, her parents, Miriam and Arthur, also added her to their home back in Philadelphia. See 1940 Penn census link below, and they still got her age wrong.
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Helene is 26 degrees from George Bush, 28 degrees from Rick San Soucie and 28 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.