Ben Hecht  

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"In my youth there was no finer mental sport than could be found in the pages of Huneker, Brandes [...] and their like.."--A Child of the Century (1954) by Ben Hecht

"The writer is a definite human phenomenon. He is almost a type – as pugilists are a type. He may be a bad writer – an insipid one or a clumsy one – but there is a bug in him that keeps spinning yarns; and that bulges his brow a bit, narrows his jaws, weakens his eyes and gives him girl children instead of boys. Nobody but a writer can write. People who hang around writers for years – as producers did – who are much smarter and have much better taste, never learn to write...."--Ben Hecht

"The swaggering monstrosities that swilled on vodka and wept at the stars. The bestial grotesques who delighted in the murder of infants for the sake of the warm blood that bathed their hands. The filthy saints and nonchalant parricides. The Herculean villains, the irritable gargoyles innocently steeped in insatiable perversion and dripping with infamy. The arrogant, sadistic artists of torture, human as children, with their pitifully crippled souls; praying before the prison ikons, stealing their comrade's clothes and washing his feet; hating and loving with the simplicity of Pagan gods and the ramified cunning of continental diplomats. The nerveless flagellants, the heartbreaking humorists, the fierce, fanciful executioners. There's company for you! A putrefying company in the very dregs of its depravities."--Ben Hecht in a review of The House of the Dead

Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath (1922) and its sequel, The Kingdom of Evil (1924), are Hecht's main contributions to the bibliography of decadent literature."--Decadence and the Making of Modernism (1995) by David Weir

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Ben Hecht (February 28, 1894 – April 18, 1964) was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist. A successful journalist in his youth, he went on to write 35 books and some of the most enjoyed screenplays and plays in America. He received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some seventy films.

After graduating from high school in 1910, Hecht ran away to Chicago, where, in his own words, he "haunted streets, whorehouses, police stations, courtrooms, theater stages, jails, saloons, slums, madhouses, fires, murders, riots, banquet halls, and bookshops." In the 1910s and 1920s, Hecht became a noted journalist, foreign correspondent, and literary figure. In the late 1920s, his co-authored, reporter-themed play, The Front Page, became a Broadway hit.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography – American Screenwriters calls him "one of the most successful screenwriters in the history of motion pictures". Hecht received the first Academy Award for Best Story for Underworld (1927). Many of the screenplays he worked on are now considered classics. He also provided story ideas for such films as Stagecoach (1939). Film historian Richard Corliss called him "the Hollywood screenwriter", someone who "personified Hollywood itself". In 1940, he wrote, produced, and directed Angels Over Broadway, which was nominated for Best Screenplay. In total, six of his movie screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards, with two winning.

Hecht became an active Zionist (supporter of a Jewish "national home" in Palestine) after meeting Peter Bergson, who came to the United States near the start of World War II. Motivated by what became the Holocaust—the mass-murder of Jews in Europe—Hecht wrote articles and plays, such as We Will Never Die in 1943 and A Flag is Born in 1946. Thereafter, he wrote many screenplays anonymously to avoid a British boycott of his work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The boycott was a response to Hecht's active support of paramilitary action against British Mandate for Palestine forces, during which time, a Zionist force's supply ship to Palestine was named the S. S. Ben Hecht.

In 1954, Hecht published his highly regarded autobiography, A Child of the Century. According to it, unlike journalism, he did not hold screenwriting in high esteem, and never spent more than eight weeks on a script.


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