Ben Hecht

Writer / Screenwriter

Born: 28 February 1894
Died: 18 April 1964
Birthplace: New York, New York
Best known as: The prolific Hollywood screenwriter who did The Front Page
Ben Hecht was a jack-of-all-trades writer who became famous as the go-to script guy in Hollywood during the 1930s and '40s, from The Front Page (1931) and Scarface (1932), to Wuthering Heights (1939), Notorious (1946) and Kiss of Death (1947). Born in New York City to Russian immigrants, Hecht spent his boyhood in Racine, Wisconsin and began his career as a journalist in Chicago. A celebrity reporter, he was also foreign correspondent (Berlin in 1919), columnist, short story writer, novelist, playwright and a co-founder of The Chicago Literary Times (1923-25). He went to New York City in 1925 to pursue literary ambitions, but was lured to Hollywood the next year by his pal Herman Mankiewicz (later the Oscar-winning writer of Citizen Kane). Hecht had a gift for plots and witty dialogue, and he famously cranked out successful scripts with ease, making a lot of money along the way -- and publicly hating himself for it. Credited with over 70 films, it's widely known Hecht was uncredited on just as many. He won the first-ever Oscar for writing 1927's Undercover, and he won another Oscar for 1934's The Scoundrel, a film he made as director and producer with long-time collaborator Charles MacArthur. (MacArthur was also Hecht's collaborator on the play The Front Page, now a standard of the American stage and screen.) Other films Hecht worked on include Gone With the Wind (1939), Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Spellbound (1945), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), Monkey Business (1952), A Farewell to Arms (1957) and the early drafts of Casino Royale (1967). Hecht took his name off several films, sometimes because of artistic differences, but also because in the late 1940s he was aware his films would be banned in Britain because of his support of the creation of a Jewish state in British-controlled Palestine. His 1954 memoir is A Child of the Century.
Extra credit: Marilyn Monroe's memoir, My Story, was actually written by Ben Hecht, something that wasn't publicly acknowledged for four decades after his death... As a child in Wisconsin, Hecht was a violin prodigy and trapeze acrobat with his circus-owning landlords... The story on his first Oscar is that Hecht used it as a doorstop as a measure of its importance... The screenplay that earned him his first Oscar was written in a week (1926) and Hecht was paid $10,000.

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