Saturday, October 11, 2014

They Should Have Been in Weird Tales: Ben Hecht (1894-1964)-Part 2

Ben Hecht is best known for his work in the movies. He arrived in Hollywood in 1926 at the behest of his friend and fellow screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz. In every year from then until his death in 1964, Hecht wrote for at least one and sometimes as many as half a dozen movies or television shows.

Hecht was known for his rapid-fire dialogue. His typewriter was rapid-fire as well. Spending a few weeks in Hollywood every year, he made enough to support himself in his more serious writing back home in New York City. (With his writing partner Charles MacArthur, he completed the screenplay for The Unholy Garden in twelve hours.) Hecht won an Oscar for his screenplay for Underworld (1927) and soon after became the highest paid writer in Hollywood. Film historian Richard Corliss called him "the Hollywood screenwriter," and for good reason, for Hecht's accomplishments are extraordinary and include stories, scenarios, and uncredited work on:

  • The Front Page (1931)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • Hallelujah I'm a Bum (1933)
  • Twentieth Century (1934)
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
  • Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
  • Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • Gunga Din (1939)
  • Wuthering Heights (1939)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Spellbound (1945)
  • The Miracle of the Bells (1948)
  • Monkey Business (1952)
  • Guys and Dolls (1955)
  • A Farewell to Arms (1957)
  • Cleopatra (1963)
  • Casino Royale (1967)

And many more. Among his genre work, Ben Hecht contributed to The Thing from Another World (1951), Queen from Outer Space (1958), 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), and many more movies of crime, murder, and mystery, including Le spectre vert (1930), a Portuguese release with a French cast and crew.

Ben Hecht left Chicago in 1924 for the city of his birth. From then until the end of his life, he alternated between New York and Hollywood. Hecht died in New York on April 18, 1964. If J.C. Henneberger had hoped to have Hecht in his magazine back in those early days, his hopes would have been dashed even before it went to print, for Ben Hecht became one of the most successful authors of the century and could hardly have written for a penny per word.

It should come as no surprise that Ben Hecht worked on The Thing from Another World (1951). There's plenty of fast talk, snappy patter, and overlapping dialogue. There's even a reporter who turns into a man of action when the situation calls for it. His words close the movie: "Keep watching the skies!"
I can't say whether Queen of Outer Space (1958) lies on the other end of the science fiction spectrum or not. I have never seen it. But the writers--Ben Hecht (outline) and Charles Beaumont (screenplay)--were no slouches. The movie might be worth a look.
Ben Hecht (1894-1964)

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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