People will point fingers as to the cause of the slow downfall of cinema. They will blame technology, the relaxing of moral codes and, if you’re like me, Michael Bay. However, Michael Bay not withstanding, one really needs to focus on screenwriters and the fact that there aren’t any more Ben Hecht’s around. Times and tastes change but a gripping story, that keeps you engaged never goes out of style. And for the most part, that has been lost. Hollywood could use more Ben Hechts.
Who the heck is Ben Hecht?
Who is he, you ask?
Writing was in Ben Hecht’s blood. He covered all the creative outlets. Starting as a journalist, Hecht moved to Hollywood and became a very in demand screenwriter. According to Wikpedia, “The Dictionary of Literary Biography – American Screenwriters calls him “one of the most successful screenwriters in the history of motion pictures.” He would garner attention through his lively screenplays as well as script doctoring. Dubbed by film historian Richard Corliss, “…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.”
As a child, Hecht would run away from home and would learn to fend for himself. He would find a life and a job in Chicago in the 1920s. His job as a reporter would serve Hecht well. Drawing from his experience working as a reporter, Hecht would team with Charles MacArthur to produce the Broadway hit The Front Page. It debuted in 1928 to astounding success. The two writers, Hecht and MacArthur, would team together to form one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriting duos.
Hecht & MacArthur
Hecht was the consummate professional, at a time when you wrote first and asked questions later. Fast talking gangsters, sharp tongued dames who could put you in your place, populated the world that Ben Hecht created. Sprinkle in a wicked sense of humor and this was Ben Hecht at his best. As Mike Wallace noted in an interview he conducted with Hecht, “Ben Hecht is a man of words. They’re his weapons and few men in our time wield them with such carefree courage.”
Ben Hecht was a man of words. A Shakespeare for the 1930s. ‘Can you think of a greater compliment?