An American fiction writer and screenwriter, he is best known for his 1929 crime novel, Little Caesar, which was made into a classic gangster film. His other works include Dark Hazard (novel) and Wake Island (film).
He moved to Chicago in his twenties and worked for a time at a seedy hotel. The experience inspired many of his early novels and screenplays.
He won the 1930 O. Henry Award for his short story, "Dressing-Up."
He grew up in Springfield, Ohio, and later married Patricia Weaver Burnett.
While in Hollywood, he worked with Nicholas Ray.