Helene Hanff: Biography

Helene Hanff

15 apr 1916

Becoming a playwright was Helene Hanff’s ambition right from her childhood. Even though her family was not so rich and even though it was the time of depression in Philadelphia, Helen’s father who was a shirt salesman took the family to watch plays every week. Helene loved watching plays and this created the passion for writing inside her.

Owing to the family’s financial situation, Helene was able to study at College only for one year but she never stopped reading books. Helene went to New York and wrote many plays but none of them came out. In order to cope up with her living, she started writing scripts for television and children’s book. It was a long struggle until she met Frank Doel, the chief buyer of the bookshop Marks & Co., after which everything changed in Helene’s life.

Helene’s 1961 memoir, ‘Underfoot in Show Business’ portrays her struggle to become an accomplished writer in New York City. Helene’s book, ’84 Charing Cross Road’ made Helene an author and the book was so well written that it became a play and was also made a film of the same name which brought huge success to Helene.

Helene was forced to stop writing television scripts as most of the production houses shifted from New York to California. Since she was losing her work, Helene started writing books and for magazines. Be it any category of writing, everything made Helene more famous.

Helene Hanff lived till the age of 80 until diabetes took her life on Apr 9, 1997 in her New York apartment. Later to honour Helene, the apartment was named ‘Charing Cross House’.