Helene Hanff (Helene Marjorie Hanff)
BiographyPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Growing up during the depression in Philadelphia, she was in a family that lived for the theater - her father was a shirt salesman who took the family to plays every week. All she ever wanted to do was to be a playwright. She could only afford a year of college, but all her life continued to learn as an avid reader. She left Philadelphia for New York, and through the 1940s wrote over 20 plays, none ever produced. She supported herself precariously by writing television scripts and children's books. Read more... with books, almost all from the London antiquarian bookshop Marks & Co. It was that bookshop and her connection with it that brought her fame. She started a correspondence with the shop, and in particular with Frank Doel, the shop's chief buyer. This correspondence, carried on for 20 years from 1949 to 1969, was published in 1970, and was the basis for a British play, then Broadway, and the movie 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) with Anne Bancroft, as Helene and Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel. Twenty years of hand-to-mouth writing, with an overflowing ashtray and a near-by gin bottle - repeated pleas from Marks & Co. and Frank to visit them in London could only be realised after the success of the book. By then it was too late - the bookshop was boarded up and Frank was dead of peritonitis. There is a brass plaque on the site of the former shop, in memorial to a remarkable correspondence between two remarkable people.