Ben Hecht: “He wrote box office hits that went on to become cinema classics.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of writer Ben Hecht. His books included the novels Erik Dorn and Fantazius Mallare, but he made his fame as a writer for stage and screen.

He ran away from home at 16 to Chicago, where he became a reporter….He used his inside knowledge of the newspaper business as fodder for his play The Front Page, which he co-wrote with Charles MacArthur. The play was later made into a movie by the same name, and adapted again for the screen in His Girl Friday.

He was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood history. He wrote or co-wrote box office hits that went on to become cinema classics, including Nothing Sacred, Wuthering Heights, Spellbound, and Notorious.

He earned a reputation as a talented screenwriter who could turn out a script quickly — he claimed in his autobiography, A Child of the Century, that he never spent more than eight weeks on a screenplay. He would divide his time between coasts, working in Hollywood for a month or two and making enough money to live on for a year, then returning to New York to do his “serious” writing.

Producers sometimes hired him as a script doctor, which meant he would take a few days or weeks to fix the problems in someone else’s screenplay. Hecht was hired to doctor the script for Gone With the Wind, which was much too long. He rewrote it in five days, was paid $10,000 and didn’t receive screen credit. The script went on to win the Oscar for Best Screenplay, beating out Wuthering Heights — which Hecht also wrote, and received credit for.

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