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Ben Hecht/Adina Hoffman

We film critics live in a bubble so I should not be surprised that few outside our world have apparently ever heard of scriptwriter Ben Hecht.

His is a strange craft. Movies are star driven, a few directors are household names, but never a scriptwriter.

Typically on a film there will be a group of scriptwriters not working in unison.

Also an excellent one like Ben Hecht can be parachuted in at the last moment to improve the script.

I was attracted to this biography as I wanted to know more of his life.

Born of Jewish parents in Racine Illinois in 1893, he worked as a newspaperman in Chicago which inspired one of the best works – his The Front Page – on journalism and then at New York.

Herman Mankiewicz in 1926 enticed him to Hollywood and the rest is history.

He wrote the script for Scarface, the founding father of the Hollywood crime film genre.

Add to this What A Wonderful World and Hitchcock’s Notorious and Spellbound, and numerous others like Gone with the Wind on which he was uncredited.

Hecht did not particularly like Hollywood returning at every opportunity to his home at Nyack, New York State to join his beloved wife, not so beloved that he was ever faithful.

Famously he wrote “I am A Jew” in 1939 and became a fervent Zionist thereafter.

He supported the Israeli terrorist wing the Irgun and fell out with the founding fathers of Israel, David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, whom he criticised for their Darwinian preference of youth for the burgeoning state.

He never actually ever visited Israel nor was he a practising Jew.

My God, he could write. He could also draw on his journalistic experience in meeting criminals like mobster Mickey Cohen for Scarface .

This excellent biography is less than 250 pages.

Adina Hoffman gets under the skin of Ben Hecht – not, as some biographers do, in 900 pages which chart every day of their subject’s life.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts