Ben Hecht Papers, 1919-1963 (majority within circa 1940s-1960)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Hecht, Ben
- This collection covers writing and correspondence from prominent journalist and screenwriter Ben Hecht, as well as materials related to his daughter, Jenny, and wife, Rose.
- 1 Linear Foot (1 record center box)
- Written by Christine Di Bella, encoded for Archives Space by Jackson Huang
- Scope and Content:
The Ben Hecht collection includes materials from the 1940s through 1963 and is divided into five series: Writing, Correspondence, Jenny Hecht, Rose Hecht, and Miscellaneous.
The Writing series, which comprises three-quarters of the collection, contains original manuscripts and notes authored by Hecht. The series is divided by genre into eight subseries: books, essays and articles, notes and treatments, poetry, published writing, scripts, short stories and miscellaneous. As most pieces are undated, materials within each subseries are arranged alphabetically by title as it appears on the piece. While the manuscripts included in the collection are generally for lesser-known or unpublished material, this collection provides a wealth of insight into Hecht's creative process. Particularly in the Scripts subseries, many works contain multiple drafts or include handwritten corrections.
The Books subseries contains a draft manuscript for Hecht's Perfidy (here titled Perfidy in Israel). Published in 1961, this controversial work reflected Hecht's growing anti-Zionism toward the end of his life, a stance that went against his earlier activism for Jewish causes. The Essays and Articles subseries holds five non-fiction pieces, including a letter criticizing the movie of The Diary of Anne Frank, for which Hecht's daughter Jenny was passed over for the title role.
Notes and Treatments includes a number of materials from Hecht's film and television work. Notable among these is a treatment for Miracle in the Rain, which was later produced as a film in 1956. Poetry consists of two poems that reflect some of Hecht's political views. Published Writing features an article Hecht wrote about Marilyn Monroe's death.
The largest collection of writing is contained in the Scripts subseries. It includes draft and final versions of nine separate projects, many with handwritten corrections. Not all were produced as films or plays, so these folders provide insight into some of Hecht's lesser-known work. Particularly interesting items in this subseries are the script for a musical version of Underworld, the screenplay for which Hecht won the first Academy Award for Best Original Story in 1927, and multiple drafts of Hecht's play Winkelberg, based on the life of his friend Maxwell Bodenheim.
Short Stories includes five examples of Hecht's fiction work, including handwritten pages for "Some Slightly Crazy People," which was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959. The final subseries in the Writings series , Miscellaneous, has untitled writings and jottings, including one written on a torn piece of cardboard and another on the back of an envelope.
The Correspondence series features materials reflecting Hecht's professional and personal life. Materials within the collection are divided in two subseries, Business Correspondence and Personal Correspondence, and arranged chronologically within each subseries. Spanning the years 1946 to 1963, with the bulk of material from 1958 to 1959, the relatively small Business Correspondence subseries contains a number of letters describing negotiations for projects involving people ranging from Orson Welles to Marilyn Monroe. Several are from Hecht's agent Albert Lewis. This series also includes a letter from the American Broadcasting System announcing the cancellation of Hecht's short-lived television talk show The Ben Hecht Show, which ran from September 1958 to February 1959.
Personal Correspondence spans 1946 to 1963 and is further divided into three subseries. The largest, Fan Letters, includes over 40 letters from fans written between 1956 and 1961. Most were written in support of Hecht's appearance on The Mike Wallace Show in February 1958. Two smaller subseries, Letters to Ben Hecht and Letters to Ben and Rose Hecht, include letters and telegrams from acquaintances, relatives, and family friends.
The Jenny Hecht series includes material related to Hecht's daughter's appearance in stagings of the theatrical version of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Palm Springs Playhouse and the Tappan Zee Playhouse in 1959. The folder includes Jenny Hecht's contracts for the appearances, programs for the productions, newspaper clippings, congratulatory telegrams from family friends, and a card which accompanied flowers from her father. The folder also includes photographs from the productions.
The Rose Hecht series features correspondence to and from Hecht's wife spanning from 1945 to 1959 and arranged chronologically. Several of the letters written by Rose indicate her involvement in her husband's business affairs, including a plea to a congressman petitioning for changes to the tax laws which "unfairly" burden artists.
The Miscellaneous series is comprised of two folders. The first folder contains a list of Hecht's visitors from 1950, featuring such Hollywood personalities such as Kirk Douglas, Otto Preminger, David O. Selznick, and Harpo Marx. The second folder includes publicity materials for several of Hecht's publications, a posthumously awarded certificate for induction to the Chicago Journalists Hall of Fame, two untitled hand-drawn floorplans, and a photograph of a children's band marked "Rhythm Band 1947."
- Biographical / Historical:
Ben Hecht was born in New York City on February 28, 1894. He was a prominent writer, journalist, and social commentator in the first half of the twentieth century. His greatest fame came as a Hollywood screenwriter and script doctor for many of the most well known films of the studio era.
Hecht began his writing career as a journalist for the Chicago Journal from 1910 to 1914. He later moved to the Chicago Daily News, where he worked as a columnist until 1923. Hecht founded and served as the publisher of the short-lived Chicago Literary Times from 1923 to 1924. Hecht's years in Chicago coincided with the Chicago Literary Renaissance, and his friends and colleagues included Carl Sandburg, Sherwood Anderson, and Maxwell Bodenheim.
Hecht published short stories, essays, and novels beginning in 1914. Many of his early works were published in H.L. Mencken's Smart Set. Hecht also began writing plays in 1915. The greatest success of his career was 1928's The Front Page, a play which drew on his journalism background to tell the comedic story of two dueling newspaperman. It was later adapted into a film several times, including one incarnation as the Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell vehicle His Girl Friday.
Playwriting led Hecht to a career as a screenwriter and script doctor for over fifty Hollywood productions, beginning in the late 1920s. At one point, Hecht was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. Hecht received the first Academy Award for best story for the movie Underworld in 1927. He won a second Oscar for Scoundrel in 1935. Hecht's most well known screenplays include Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, and Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century. In addition to his credited work, Hecht performed uncredited work on many successful films, including Gone With the Wind, Roman Holiday, Strangers on a Train, and Gilda. He also directed several films, including Specter of the Rose (1946). Hecht's work in television included The Bum, broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1946.
In his later years Hecht's success as a screenwriter tapered off, though he continued publishing short stories and books, including a biography of his screenwriting partner, Charles MacArthur. He also began to take a greater role as a social commentator. During and after World War II, Hecht was a vocal advocate of Jewish causes and a harsh critic of the Nazi government, writing some of the earliest news articles about the Holocaust. Hecht's harsh criticism of the British government's involvement in Palestine led to their blacklisting of his films from 1948 to 1951. Hecht's social conscience was also on display when he hosted one of the earliest television talk shows, The Ben Hecht Show, from 1958 to 1959.
Hecht was married to Rose Caylor Hecht (??-1978) from 1925 until his death. Rose was also a writer and journalist, and very involved in Hecht's career, including serving as his writing partner for several projects. Hecht's daughter Jenny (1943-1971) received minor fame as an actress in several films and as the star of several stagings of the theatrical version of The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959.
Hecht died on April 18, 1964 of a heart attack at the age of seventy.
- Acquisition Information:
- These papers were purchased from Charles Apfelbaum in 1999.
- Processing information:
Processed by Christine Di Bella in February 2000.
The collection is arranged in five series, by material type and person: Series 1: Writing, Series 2: Correspondence, Series 3: Jenny Hecht, Series 4: Rose Hecht, and Series 5: Miscellaneous.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Ben Hecht papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)