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Just WordsLillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America$
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Alan Ackerman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780300167122

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300167122.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
Just Words

Alan Ackerman

Yale University Press

This chapter presents an introduction to the libel suit that author Lillian Hellman filed in 1980 against critic Mary McCarthy, who said on The Dick Cavett Show that every word Hellman wrote was a lie. The lawsuit became a cause célèbre that illuminated the arguments—and the passion for argument—of their generation. The chapter discusses how new media, including “talking pictures” and broadcast television, changed the way people understood private life and what was “newsworthy.” It reveals that in conjunction with the rise of mass media and celebrity culture, along with the increased presence of “personal” issues in public conversation, Hellman and McCarthy's generation shaped and was shaped by the reformulation of notions of the public and the private. One area in which these ideas underwent significant revision was the law of libel or defamation.

Keywords:   Dick Cavett Show, Mary McCarthy, mass media, celebrity culture

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