|Who is it?||Writer, Actor, Producer|
|Birth Day||February 28, 1894|
|Birth Place||New York City, New York, United States|
|Age||125 YEARS OLD|
|Died On||April 18, 1964(1964-04-18) (aged 70)\nNew York City, New York, United States|
|Occupation||Screenwriter, novelist, playwright, journalist|
|Style||Comedy, newspapers, gangster|
|Spouse(s)||Marie Armstrong (1916–1926; divorced; 1 child) Rose Caylor (1926–1964; his death; 1 child) (1898–1979)|
the idea that just under the edge of the news as commonly understood, the news often flatly unimaginatively told, lay life; that in this urban life there dwelt the stuff of literature, not hidden in remote places, either, but walking the downtown streets, peering from the windows of sky scrapers, sunning itself in parks and boulevards. He was going to be its interpreter. His was to be the lens throwing city life into new colors, his the microscope revealing its contortions in life and death.
After graduating from Racine High School in 1910, at age sixteen Hecht moved to Chicago, running away to live there permanently. He lived with relatives, and started a career in journalism. He found work as a reporter, first for the Chicago Journal, and later with the Chicago Daily News. He was an excellent reporter who worked on several Chicago papers. After World War I, Hecht was sent to cover Berlin for the Daily News. There he wrote his first and most successful novel, Erik Dorn (1921). It was a sensational debut for Hecht as a serious Writer.
Beginning with a series of one-acts in 1914, he began writing plays. His first full-length play was The Egotist, and it was produced in New York in 1922. While living in Chicago, he met fellow reporter Charles MacArthur and together they moved to New York to collaborate on their play The Front Page. It was widely acclaimed and had a successful run on Broadway of 281 performances, beginning August 1928. In 1931, it was turned into a successful film, which was nominated for three Oscars.
From 1918 to 1919, Hecht served as war correspondent in Berlin for the Chicago Daily News. According to Barbara and Scott Siegel, "Besides being a war reporter, he was noted for being a tough crime reporter while also becoming known in Chicago literary circles."
Besides working as reporter in Chicago, "he also contributed to literary magazines including the Little Review. After World War I he was sent by the Chicago Daily News to Berlin to witness the revolutionary movements, which gave him the material for his first novel, Erik Dorn (1921). ... A daily column he wrote, 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, was later collected into a book, and brought Hecht fame." These works enhanced his reputation in the literary scene as a reporter, columnist, short story Writer, and Novelist. After leaving the News in 1923, he started his own newspaper, The Chicago Literary Times.
While living in New York in 1926, he received a telegram from Screenwriter friend Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had recently moved to Los Angeles. "Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots", it read. "Don't let this get around." As a Writer in need of money, he traveled to Hollywood, as Mankiewicz suggested.
"Movies", Hecht was to recall, "were seldom written. In 1927, they were yelled into existence in conferences that kept going in saloons, brothels, and all-night poker games. Movie sets roared with arguments and organ music."
After contributing to the original stories for a number of films, he worked without credit on the first film version of his original 1928 play The Front Page. It was produced by Howard Hughes and directed by Lewis Milestone in 1931. James Harvey writes,
He was best known for two specific and contrasting types of film: crime thrillers and screwball comedies. Among crime thrillers, Hecht was responsible for such films as The Unholy Night (1929), the classic Scarface (1932), and Hitchcock's Notorious. Among his comedies, there were The Front Page, which led to many remakes, Noël Coward's Design for Living (1933), Twentieth Century, Nothing Sacred, and Howard Hawks's Monkey Business (1952).
It is "a fast-paced, witty film that contains the rapid-fire dialogue for which Hecht became famous. It is one of the first, and finest, of the screwball comedies of the 1930s."
The story of how Scarface came to be written represents Hecht's writing style in those days. Film Historian Max Wilk interviewed Leyland Hayward, an independent literary agent, who, in 1931, managed to convince Hecht that a young oil tycoon in Texas named Howard Hughes wanted him to write the screenplay to his first book. Hayward wrote about that period:
For his next film, Twentieth Century, he wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Charles MacArthur as an adaptation of their original play from 1932. It was directed by Howard Hawks, and starred John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. It is a comedy about a Broadway Producer who was losing his leading lady to the seductive Hollywood film industry, and will do anything to win her back.
Nothing Sacred became Hecht's first project after he and Charles MacArthur closed their failing film company, which they started in 1934. The film was adapted from his play, Hazel Flagg, and starred Carole Lombard as a small-town girl diagnosed with radium poisoning. "A reporter makes her case a cause for his newspaper. The story "allowed Hecht to work with one of his favorite themes, hypocrisy (especially among journalists); he took the themes of lying, decadence, and immorality, and made them into a sophisticated screwball comedy".
In a letter [9/25/1939] from Selznick to Hecht, regarding writing introductory sequences and titles, which were used to set the scene and condense the narrative throughout the movie, Selznick wrote,
The D.C. Examiner writes, "Director Howard Hawks' 1940 classic "His Girl Friday" is not just one of the funniest screwball comedies ever made, it is also one of the finest film adaptations of a stage play. "Hawks took Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's Broadway hit "The Front Page", the best play about newspapers ever written, and, by changing the gender of a major character, turned it into a romantic comedy. The new script was by Hecht (uncredited) and Charles Lederer."
Hecht was among a number of signers of a formal statement, issued in July 1941, calling for the "utmost material assistance by our government to England, the Soviet Union, and China". Among those who signed were former Nobel Prize winners in science, and others persons eminent in education, literature, and the arts. It advocated
Also in 1943, "out of frustration over American policy, and outrage at Hollywood's fear of offending its European markets", he organized and wrote a pageant, We Will Never Die, which was produced by Billy Rose and Ernst Lubitsch, and with the help of Composer Kurt Weill and staging by Moss Hart. The pageant was performed at Madison Square Garden for two shows in front of 40,000 people in March 1943. It then traveled nationwide, including a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. Hecht was disappointed nonetheless. As Weill noted afterward, "The pageant has accomplished nothing. Actually, all we have done is make a lot of Jews cry, which is not a unique accomplishment."
Angels Over Broadway was one of only two movies he directed, produced, and wrote originally for film, the other was Specter of the Rose (1946). Angels Over Broadway was considered "one of his most personal works". It starred Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Rita Hayworth and was nominated for an Academy Award. "The dialogue as well as the script's descriptive passages are chock full of brittle Hechtian similes that sparkle on the page, but turn leaden when delivered. Hecht was an endlessly articulate raconteur. In his novels and memoirs, articulation dominates..."
In 1947, he teamed up with Charles Lederer, and co-wrote three films: Her Husband's Affairs, Kiss of Death, and Ride the Pink Horse. In 1950, he co-wrote The Thing without credit. They again teamed up to write the 1952 screwball comedy, Monkey Business, which became Hecht's last true success as a Screenwriter.
The following letter discusses Portrait of Jennie (1948):
In 1954, Hecht published his autobiography, A Child of the Century, which, according to literary critic Robert Schmuhl, "received such extensive critical acclaim that his literary reputation improved markedly during the last decade of his life... Hecht's vibrant and candid memoir of more than six hundred pages restored him to the stature of a serious and significant American Writer." Novelist Saul Bellow commented about the book for the New York Times: "His manners are not always nice, but then nice manners do not always make interesting autobiographies, and this autobiography has the merit of being intensely interesting... If he is occasionally slick, he is also independent, forthright, and original. Among the pussycats who write of social issues today, he roars like an old-fashioned lion."
Among the better-known films he helped write without being credited are Gone with the Wind, The Shop Around the Corner, Foreign Correspondent, His Girl Friday (the second film version of his play The Front Page), The Sun Also Rises, Mutiny on the Bounty, Casino Royale (1967), and The Greatest Show on Earth.
The 1969 movie, Gaily, Gaily, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Beau Bridges as "Ben Harvey", was based on Hecht's life during his early years working as a reporter in Chicago. The film was nominated for three Oscars. The story was taken from a portion of his autobiography, A Child of the Century.
According to his autobiography, he never spent more than eight weeks on a script. In 1983, 19 years after his death, Ben Hecht was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Gunga Din was co-written with Charles MacArthur, and became "one of Hollywood's greatest action-adventure films". The screenplay was based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling, directed by George Stevens and starred Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.. In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress.
Besides working on novels and short stories (see book list), he has been credited with ghostwriting books, including Marilyn Monroe's autobiography My Story. "The reprint of Marilyn Monroe's memoir, My Story, in the year 2000, by Cooper Square Press, correctly credits Ben Hecht as an author, ending a period of almost fifty years in which Hecht's role was denied... Hecht himself, however, kept denying it publicly..."
In a letter from Selznick to film Editor O'Shea [10/19/1939], Selznick discussed how the writing credits should appear, taking into consideration that Sidney Howard died a few months earlier after a farm-tractor accident at his home in Massachusetts:
According to film Historian Virginia Wexman, "David Selznick had a flair for the dramatic, and no one knew that better than Ben Hecht. The two collaborated on some of Hollywood's biggest hits – movies like Gone With the Wind and Notorious and Duel in the Sun – and often enough, the making of those films was as rife with conflict as the films themselves..."
Movie Historian James Harvey notes that in some respects It’s a Wonderful World is an even more accomplished film –the comedy counterpart to the supremely assured and high-spirited work Van Dyke had accomplished with San Francisco (1936). "Ben Hecht, another speed specialist, wrote the screenplay (from a story by Hecht and Herman Mankiewicz); it's in his Front Page vein, with admixtures of It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby, as well as surprising adumbrations of the nineteen-forties private-eye film.