Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ben Hecht: The Shakespeare of Hollywood

On this date in 1894, one of my favorite screenwriters of all time was born. Ben Hecht was also a director, producer, playwright and a novelist.

Ben was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Original Screenplay, for the movie Underworld (1927).

The screenplays he wrote or worked on (many times uncredited) include the following:

Scarface (1932), The Front Page, Twentieth Century (1934), Barbary Coast (1935), Nothing Sacred (1937), Some Like It Hot, Gone with the Wind, Gunga Din, Wuthering Heights (all 1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Monkey Business, A Farewell to Arms (1957), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Casino Royale (1967; released after Hecht's death in 1964).

He also provided story ideas for such films as Stagecoach (1939). In 1940, he wrote, produced, and directed Angels Over Broadway.

Six of his movie screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards; two won.

My personal favorite is His Girl Friday. If you've never seen it, try to get it from your library (or watch it online at IMDb). The rapid-fire dialogue is extraordinary. As a police officer, I worked with the media for 16 years, so this movie is even more endearing to me. It's quite evident in this film that Mr. Hecht had an extensive background in journalism.

When Hecht was living in New York in 1926, he received a telegram from a screenwriter friend who had recently moved to L.A. "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around." He traveled to Hollywood, and began his career by writing the screenplay for Underworld, as the sound era had ended.

We know where that landed him!