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Shirley MacLaine: The Children’s Hour suffered because director had ‘trepidations’ about lesbian theme

Shirley MacLaine: The Children’s Hour suffered because director had ‘trepidations’ about lesbian theme

It’s been 54 years since Shirley MacLaine starred opposite Audrey Hepburn in the heart-wrenching drama The Children’s Hour about two young women running a girls school who are accused of being lovers.

Director William Wyler ‘had trepidations about the subject matter – it was 1961 and nobody had done that,’ MacLaine said Sunday at a screening of the film during the TCM Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood which was attended by Gay Star News.

MacLaine, 80, believes the film was not as powerful as it could have been because of Wyler’s trepidation.

‘Scenes of brushing each others hair or ironing clothes – he cut some of them out and in doing so I think pared the picture down a little bit.’

The women are the best of friends and their school has just made money for the first time when their dreams are dashed when a malicious child falsely claims the women are lovers.

The rumor spreads, the school is abandoned and the two women’s lives are destroyed.

The film is based on a Lillian Hellman’s play which was banned in some major cities in the 1930s because of its lesbian theme.

‘That kind of same-(sex) love was not tolerated,’ MacLaine said.

Ironically, Wyler had directed an earlier and even more sanitized version of Hellmen’s play in the 1936 film While These Three. In that version, the rumor is about one of the women having had ‘relations’ with the other’s fiance.

The early film has a happy ending while The Children’s Hour ending is quite dark with the last scene a funeral.

MacLaine believes Wyler took on the play again with The Children’s Hour because he felt While These Three had swung so far away from Hellman’s play.

Despite his watering down of some scenes, MacLaine enjoyed being directed by Wyler and especially enjoyed working with Hepburn.

‘I adored Audrey Hepburn,’ she said. ‘We had a wonderful relationship.’