Ben Hecht

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Ben Hecht (February 28, 1894April 18, 1964) was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist. He received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some seventy films. He wrote thirty-five books and created some of the most entertaining screenplays and plays in America.


Quotes[edit]

from "Elegy for Wonderland", by Ben Hecht, Esquire Magazine, March 1959[edit]

  • The factors that laid low so whooping and puissant an empire as the old Hollywood are many. I can think of a score, including the barbarian hordes of Television. But there is one that stands out for me in the post-mortem.... The factor had to do with the basis of movie-making: ‘Who shall be in charge of telling the story.’
  • The answer Hollywood figured out for this question was what doomed it. It figured out that writers were not to be in charge of creating stories. Instead, a curious tribe of inarticulate Pooh-Bahs called Supervisors and , later, Producers were summoned out of literary nowhere and given a thousand scepters. It was like switching the roles of teacher and pupil in the fifth grade. The result is now history. An industry based on writing had to collapse when the writer was given an errand-boy status.
  • Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away.
  • The writer is a definite human phenomenon. He is almost a type – as pugilists are a type. He may be a bad writer – an insipid one or a clumsy one – but there is a bug in him that keeps spinning yarns; and that bulges his brow a bit, narrows his jaws, weakens his eyes and gives him girl children instead of boys. Nobody but a writer can write. People who hang around writers for years – as producers did – who are much smarter and have much better taste, never learn to write.
  • Most of my script-writing friends – I never had more than a handful—took eagerly to the bottle or the analyst’s couch, filled their extravagant ménages with threats of suicide, hurled themselves into hysterical amours. And some of them actually died in their forties and fifties. Among these were the witty Herman Mankiewicz and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the fine novelist.
  • I have known a handful of producers who actually were equal or superior to the writers with whom they worked. These producers were a new kind of nonwriting writer hatched by the movies—as Australia produced wingless birds. They wrote without pencils or even words. Using a sort of mime-like talent, they could make up things like writers.
  • When I come to put down their names, there weren’t many. David O. Selznick, Sam Goldwyn, Darryl Zanuck, Walter Wanger, Irving Thalberg seem to exhaust the list…Ninety per cent of the producers I have known were not bright. They were as slow-witted and unprofessional toward making up a story as stockbrokers might be, or bus drivers. Even after twenty or thirty years of telling writers what and how to write, they were still as ignorant of writing as if they had never encountered the craft.
  • Out of the seventy movies I’ve written some ten of them were not entirely waste product. These were Underworld, The Scoundrel, Wuthering Heights, Viva Villa, Scarface, Specter of the Rose, Actors and Sin, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Nothing Sacred.

Screenplays[edit]

  • "It's gonna be just like war!" an editor exults. "That's it! War! You put that in the lead.
    • 'WAR - GANG WAR!'" Scarface (1932)
  • The actual facts are so simple. I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me. There now! Start to unravel from there.
    • Design for Living (1933)
  • They're a symbol of the whole town, pretending to fight, love, weep, and laugh all the time - and they're phonies, all of them. And I head the list...their phony hearts were dripping with the milk of human kindness.
    • Nothing Sacred (1937)
  • Three years ago, the white hope of the theatre. Today, a mug. That's New York for you. Puts you on a Christmas tree, and then - the alley.
    • Angels Over Broadway (1940)
  • Gibbons is a man full of pain and violence. On this night, there is a Witch's Sabbath in his heart. Storms are blowing his world to bits and great troubles are pounding him on a reef.
    • Angels Over Broadway (1940)
  • The only place I felt at home was in your heart. You were the only light that didn't go out on me.
    • Angels Over Broadway (1940)
  • Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, build them in with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them and, hello, America, hang on to your lights, they're the only lights in the world.
    • Foreign Correspondent (1940)
  • You're such a nice boy, what do you want to go off and get killed in the War for?
    • Miracle in the Rain (1956)

Books[edit]

  • Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle. It gets him, however, more jobs. If his movie is bad it will attract only critical tut-tut for him. The producer, director, and stars are the geniuses who get the hosannas when it's a hit. Theirs are also the heads that are mounted on spears when it's a flop.
    • from Let's Make the Hero a MacArthur
  • In Hollywood, a starlet is the name for any woman under thirty who is not actively employed in a brothel.
  • The honors Hollywood has for the writer are as dubious as tissue-paper cuff links.
  • People's sex habits are as well known in Hollywood as their political opinions, and much less criticized.
  • I was afraid you would think I was bragging.
    • (When asked by his new wife's discomfited parents, "Why didn't you tell us you were a Jew?", Hecht responded)
  • Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.
  • There is nothing as dull as an intellectual ally after a certain age.
    • A Guide for the Bedevilled
  • The only practical way yet discovered by the world for curing its ills is to forget about them.
    • Perfidy
  • Like the actor, authority has faith in its false whiskers. But its deepest faith is in the human illusion. People will hang on to illusion as eagerly as life itself.
    • Perfidy
  • Of the things men give each other the greatest is loyalty.
  • Movies are one of the bad habits that have corrupted our century. They have slipped into the American mind more misinformation in one evening than the Dark Ages could muster in a decade.
  • "A movie is never any better than the stupidest man connected with it."
  • "The movies are an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming cultured people."
  • How My Egoism Died
    • from A Child of the Century
  • A simple fact entered my head one day and put an end to my revolt against the Deity. It occurred to me that God was not engaged in corrupting the mind of man but in creating it. This may sound like no fact at all, or like the most childish of quibbles. But whatever it is, it brought me a sigh of relief, a slightly bitter sigh. I was relieved because instead of beholding a man as a finished and obviously worthless product, unable to bring sanity into human affairs, I looked on him (in my conversion) as a creature in the making. And lo, I was aware that like my stooped and furry brothers, the apes, I am God's incomplete child. My groping brain, no less than my little toe, is a mechanism in His evolution-busy hands.
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