Helene Hanff

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Helene Hanff
Helene Hanff.jpg
Helene Hanff, 1990s
Born(1916-04-15)April 15, 1916
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
DiedApril 9, 1997(1997-04-09) (aged 80)
New York City, United States
OccupationScreenwriter, writer

Helene Hanff (April 15, 1916 April 9, 1997) was an American writer born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is best known as the author of the book 84, Charing Cross Road , which became the basis for a stage play, [1] television play, and film of the same name.

Philadelphia Largest city in Pennsylvania, United States

Philadelphia, sometimes known colloquially as Philly, is the largest city in the U.S. state and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the sixth-most populous U.S. city, with a 2017 census-estimated population of 1,580,863. Since 1854, the city has been coterminous with Philadelphia County, the most populous county in Pennsylvania and the urban core of the eighth-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical area, with over 6 million residents as of 2017. Philadelphia is also the economic and cultural anchor of the greater Delaware Valley, located along the lower Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, within the Northeast megalopolis. The Delaware Valley's population of 7.2 million ranks it as the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States.

<i>84, Charing Cross Road</i> 1970 book by Helene Hanff, later made into a stage play, television play and film, about the twenty-year correspondence between her and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks & Co, antiquarian booksellers located at the eponymous address in London, England

84, Charing Cross Road is a 1970 book by Helene Hanff, later made into a stage play, television play, and film, about the twenty-year correspondence between the author and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks & Co antiquarian booksellers, located at the eponymous address in London, England.

<i>84 Charing Cross Road</i> (film) 1987 film by David Hugh Jones

84 Charing Cross Road is a 1987 British-American drama film directed by David Jones. The screenplay by Hugh Whitemore is based on a play by James Roose-Evans, which itself was an adaptation of the 1970 epistolary memoir of the same name by Helene Hanff, a compilation of letters between herself and Frank Doel dating from 1949 to 1968. The play has only two characters, but the dramatis personae for the film were expanded to include Hanff's Manhattan friends, the bookshop staff and Doel's wife Nora.



Helene Hanff's career saw her move from unproduced playwright to writer of some of the earliest television dramas to becoming a noted writer and personality in her own right, as a quintessential New Yorker. She wrote a memoir in 1961 called Underfoot in Show Business [2] that chronicled her struggles as an ambitious young playwright trying to make it in the world of New York theatre in the 1940s and 1950s. She worked in publicists' offices and spent summers on the "straw hat circuit" along the East Coast, all the while writing one play after another. Her plays were admired by some of Broadway's leading producers but somehow none of them ever made it to the stage.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States and in the U.S. state of New York. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

East Coast of the United States Coastline in the United States

The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, the Atlantic Coast, and the Atlantic Seaboard, is the coastline along which the Eastern United States meets the North Atlantic Ocean. The coastal states that have shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean are, from north to south, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Broadway theatre class of professional theater presented in New York City, New York, USA

Broadway theatre, commonly known as Broadway, refers to the theatrical performances presented in the 41 professional theatres, each with 500 or more seats located in the Theater District and Lincoln Center along Broadway, in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Along with London's West End theatre, Broadway theatre is widely considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world.

When network television production geared up in New York City in the early 1950s, Hanff found a new career writing and editing scripts for many early television dramas. Chief among these was the Dumont Network series The Adventures of Ellery Queen . At the same time, she continued to try to get one of her plays produced on Broadway and not just be "one of the 999 out of 1,000 who didn't become Moss Hart." (In later editions of Underfoot, this reference was changed to Noël Coward.) The bulk of television production eventually moved to California, but Hanff chose to remain in New York. As her TV work dried up, she turned to writing for magazines and, eventually, to the books that made her reputation.

<i>The Adventures of Ellery Queen</i> multiple radio and TV adaptations of Ellery Queen mystery fiction

The Adventures of Ellery Queen is the title of a radio series and four separate television series made from the 1950s through the 1970s. They were based on the fictional detective and pseudonymous writer Ellery Queen and the cases he solved with his father, Inspector Richard Queen.

Moss Hart Playwright, screenwriter, theatrical director and memoirist

Moss Hart was an American playwright and theatre director.

84, Charing Cross Road

The epistolary work 84, Charing Cross Road [3] was first published in 1970. It chronicles Hanff's 20 years of correspondence with Frank Doel, the chief buyer for Marks & Co, a London bookshop. She depended on the bookshop—and on Doel—for the obscure classics and British literature titles that fueled her passion for self-education. She became intimately involved in the lives of the shop's staff, sending them food parcels during Britain's postwar shortages and sharing with them details of her life in Manhattan.

Frank Percy Doel was a British antiquarian bookseller for Marks & Co in London who achieved posthumous fame as the recipient of a series of humorous letters from American author Helene Hanff, to which he scrupulously and, at first, very formally replied. The shop where he worked was at 84 Charing Cross Road, the title of a bestselling 1970 novel written by Hanff which became a cult classic, a 1981 stage play, and a 1987 film starring Anthony Hopkins as Doel and Anne Bancroft as Hanff.

Marks & Co, also incorrectly referred to as "Marks & Company" or colloquially as "84", was a well-known antiquarian bookseller located at Cambridge Circus - 84, Charing Cross Road, London.

Due to financial difficulties and an aversion to travel, she put off visiting her English friends until too late; Doel died in December 1968 from peritonitis from a burst appendix, and the bookshop eventually closed. Hanff did finally visit Charing Cross Road and the empty but still-standing shop in the summer of 1971, a trip recorded in her 1973 book The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. [4] In Duchess, Hanff describes her visits with friends and fans to various locations and places of literary and historical interest in London and Southern England. This trip was a highlight of her life – her modesty and sense of humor are evident as she talks about her love of London and the friends who were so devoted to her because of 84, Charing Cross Road, including Frank Doel's wife Nora and their daughter Sheila.

Peritonitis inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the inner wall of the abdomen

Peritonitis is inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the inner wall of the abdomen and cover of the abdominal organs. Symptoms may include severe pain, swelling of the abdomen, fever, or weight loss. One part or the entire abdomen may be tender. Complications may include shock and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Charing Cross Road street in central London

Charing Cross Road is a street in central London running immediately north of St Martin-in-the-Fields to St Giles Circus and then becomes Tottenham Court Road. It is so called because it leads from the north in the direction of Charing Cross at the south side of Trafalgar Square, which it connects via St Martin's Place and the motorised east side of the square.

In the 1987 film adaptation 84 Charing Cross Road , Hanff was played by Anne Bancroft, while Anthony Hopkins took the part of Frank Doel. Anne Jackson had earlier played Hanff and Frank Finlay had played Doel in a 1975 adaptation of the book for British television. Ellen Burstyn recreated the role on Broadway in 1982 at the Nederlander Theater in New York City. Elaine Stritch also played Helene Hanff in a television adaptation of 84, Charing Cross Road. [ citation needed ]

Anne Bancroft American actress

Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, known professionally as Anne Bancroft, was an American actress, director, screenwriter and singer associated with the method acting school, having studied under Lee Strasberg. Respected for her acting prowess and versatility, Bancroft was acknowledged for her work in film, theatre, and television. She won one Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globes, two Tony Awards, and two Emmy Awards, and several other awards and nominations.

Anthony Hopkins Welsh actor

Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins is a Welsh actor, director, and producer. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1992, and was nominated three additional times. Hopkins has also won three BAFTAs, two Emmys, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award. In 1993, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts. Hopkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003, and in 2008, he received the BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Anne Jackson American actress

Anna Jane Jackson was an American actress of stage, screen, and television. She was the wife of actor Eli Wallach, with whom she often co-starred. In 1956, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in Paddy Chayefsky's Middle of the Night. In 1963, she won an Obie Award for Best Actress for her performance in two Off-Broadway plays, The Typists and The Tiger.

Additional books

Hanff later put to good use her obsession with British scholar Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in a book called Q's Legacy (1985). The book serves as background to 84 and also recounts the aftermath of Duchess. Other books include The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973); Apple of My Eye (1977 and updated in 1988), an idiosyncratic guide to New York City; Letter from New York (1992), which reprinted the five-minute talks that she gave each month on the BBC's Woman's Hour radio broadcasts between 1978 and 1984; and Underfoot in Show Business (1961, reissued 1989). Underfoot in Show Business was adapted as a stage play by Charles Leipart and premiered in 2008 at the Devonshire Theatre in Eastbourne, UK, directed by David Giles.

Personal life

Hanff never married. In the 1987 84 Charing Cross Road movie, a photo of a US serviceman is shown in her apartment during the period of World War II, a portrait at which she smiles fondly, suggesting to the viewer that Hanff remained unmarried due to this naval officer's death. No such person is mentioned in her autobiographical Underfoot, and none of her writings suggests that she ever had any lasting or even short-term romantic relationship with any person. However, writer Al Senter claimed that she mentioned a long affair with an unnamed 'prominent American' during a conversation with one of the co-founders of Marks and Co, [5] and one obituary of her asserted that 'there were romances'. [6]


Stephen R. Pastore published a biography of Hanff in 2011 based on interviews that he had conducted with her. [7]


Hanff died from diabetes six days before her 81st birthday in 1997 in New York City. The apartment building where she lived at 305 E. 72nd Street has been named "Charing Cross House" in her honor. A bronze plaque next to the front door commemorates her residence and authorship of the book. In London, a bronze plaque on the site of the original building commemorates the bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road.

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  1. Play for Today: Season 6, Episode 484, Charing Cross Road. IMDb. Retrieved December 25, 2014
  2. Underfoot in Show Business. Harper and Row, 1962. ISBN   0-316-34319-6
  3. 84 Charing Cross Road. André Deutsch, 1971. ISBN   0-233-96330-8
  4. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1973. ISBN   0-397-00976-3.
  5. Senter, Al (2015). 'Yours Faithfully', essay in '84 Charing Cross Road Programme'. The Salisbury Playhouse.
  6. Roose-Evans, James (April 14, 1997). "Obituary: Helene Hanff". The Independent newspaper, UK.
  7. Helene Hanff: A Life. Stephen R. Pastore, Grandoak Books, Philadelphia, 2011. ISBN   0-9829579-3-9.