Nora Ephron's theory of Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman.
In some way, McCarthy was blaming Hellman for qualities she knew herself to be guilty of. She saw her own lapses in integrity mirrored in Hellman, in an exaggerated and distorted form. Hellman, for her part, thought of McCarthy as being frivolous in her politics, taking them up at cocktail parties for whimsical reasons. Hellman herself desperately wanted to be seen as a serious political figure, but she was often accused of taking her stubborn unreconstructed Stalinism from Dashiell Hammett. So, perhaps McCarthy and Hellman despised each other not because they were different, but because they saw some glimmer of themselves in each other.
In the end, some of the conflicts at work in this dusty, literary dispute may have affected the production itself. I can see Ephron, writer of Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, identifying with both the desire for commercial success and the yearning for literary cachet; I can see her trying to be both McCarthy and Hellman at the same time, and in the end creating something of a noble and interesting mess.
Katie Roiphe, professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, is the author most recently of Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages, and the forthcoming In Praise of Messy Lives.
Photograph from Imaginary Friends by Joan Marcus.