Listen: Adina Hoffman: Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures
"I'm Michael Silver Blah this bookworm arm and today I'm very pleased to have as my guest. Adina Hoffman the Dina has written a life of the great almost mind boggling screenwriter Ben. Hecht the book has the Subtitle Fighting Words moving pictures this Ben Hecht had his. Oh would you say finger in so many tries He starts out now having moved with his family to the mid West as soon as he graduates from high school. He realizes this is. The college is not for him and he high tails it to Chicago where he becomes a very well-known newspaper this paper Man Song well known that his adventures in the newspaper business but come perhaps the most is famous play ever to be written about newspapers that he wrote with Charles MacArthur. Yes called the front page. The the front page becomes his girl Friday with cary grant and Rosalind Russell and thereby hangs a tale every the time Ben Hecht turns around. There's a revision of something. He's done a new who've version of it by someone else that he in turn revise right even his own memoirs has multiple versions of what happened to him in his own life life. He's kind of astonishing. This came from the days when face at a writer wrote right. These were people who wrote all the time there's also literary life that Hecht has in Chicago and actually this was one of the fascinating things for me is where his kind of the big city You know newspaper world met the world of the Chicago Renaissance and a lot of the people who were in that newspaper world. People like Carl Sandberg. who was a really good friend of Heck's you know he was also a reporter and they were sort of Newspaperman by day and then by night they were writing their poems in their novels and Hecht was not only hanging around with people like Sherwood Anderson Jason and he was also publishing in the little review which is unbelievable magazine? Push some of the first chapters of James Joyce's ulysses and they felt. What was her name? Margaret Anderson Anderson felt that Ben Heck was every bit as much a member of of the little review says dream straight. And he's there on almost every single issue. He was a kind of a pet of hers. He was sort of in love with her. She was unfortunately Very distracted by high art and she was also a lesbian was not interested in in that way but she loved him and she published him. Ben Has a great fiction writer. I mean he was. He fancied himself self novelist But he was very devoted to that calling but at the same time that he was writing. These very heavy breathing stories for Margaret Anderson. He was also writing he. He was whipping off these commercials stories for Lincoln at the smart set. HMO MINKIN was one of his heroes. Mencken was a cynic cynic and a sophisticated and he had every bit of hostility toward the dumb aspects of American culture. He was trying to make America smart op. He wrote fascinating essays sason books on the American language as opposed to British. We don't get an American writer per se until until Mark Twain who's writing the Mississippi River. Talk that he learned when he was a boatman. Well by the time you've got the middle of the country Chicago you've got gangsters you've got prohibition you've got flappers you've got an American language wood jr that was invented here and Hecht loved. -actly yeah and I think for me. That was one of the wonderful things about spending time with him. I was reading. This book was spending time with his language. I mean whatever you WANNA say about. Whether his books are wonderful books or not so wonderful books he was a wonderful maker of sentences and paragraphs graphs and just terrific wit on top of it and he and Macarthur wrote the front page. which was kind of Valentine to that newspaper World of Chicago? You go where they've both been cub reporters you see. He comes in to the newspaper office. Writing these things. In Extreme Telegraphy Telegraphy as as you quote them right they are made of twenty three delight phrases. He's putting them together hurling them together and eventually he's going to have some fame as the newspaper Komo's rining calms every every day made up of just what he heard some Hobo say right or what some very wealthy people were saying in a casino no to be a writer then will start out as journalists. That's where Hemingway starts. He proposed this idea of. But this daily column that you've mentioned which would become known as a thousand and one afternoons in Chicago and they're kind of remarkable pieces they're just little snippets and there's a sense that the news is not just test the news of the grant headline it's also all these sort of marginal lives and people. You know the guy who runs the laundromat and the woman who works as a manicurist and has to fend off her lecherous clients. There's a way in which he's tossing this stuff off in a very casual way reading them daily. They're published on the back page of the newspaper next to the to the comic strips and he's not taking them too seriously or taking himself too seriously and there's so much better than the fiction into which he was pouring his all of his artistic ambition. That just is not the effective whereas these things that he was doing kind of on the fly as you say they're wonderful and they're incredibly generous and sympathetic. You feel him identifying with all of the city of Chicago In a way they kind of anticipate the work of later colonists people like beat Hamill and Jimmy Breslin. Who would become more famous in a way for doing doing that? who may also by now have been forgotten but act. was doing that early on. I'm talking to Adina Hoffman about. Don't her book Ben. Hecht its subtitle fighting. Words moving pictures and it's published in the Jewish writers series series published by Yale University. Press you mention that a lot of these people have been forgotten even people more recent Jonathan head so why Ben Hair. Well IT'S A. It's the question that I get all the time. And it's a good question and I mean basically at some level I feel like I've known Ben Hecht before before I knew Ben Hecht if you grow up watching American movies. He's his words are in your head even if you've never heard his name and so and I used to watch a lot of old movies as a kid but it was only when I became more conscious conscious and started to read about film history I actually worked as a film critic throughout most of the ninety s Then I was very aware of who Ben Hecht was and I I read his wonderful memoir child trial of the century. And I thought wow you know okay the movies he's known as you know. Pauline Kale called him the greatest American screenwriter Gianluca Dard said he invented eighty percent percent. Of what is used in Hollywood movies today called him a genius and all of that is true but the fact is that for heck the movies were really just a piece of it and in some ways they were actually may be one of the smaller pieces pieces of it in that memoir is full of all these other lives that we've just been talking about so I was first of all fascinated by that multiplicity of his the fact that he could contain multitudes dude but I also was drawn to heck in terms of his relationship to Jewish things. And here's a place where he basically an American Jew who claims not to have really paid much attention to the fact of his Jewishness until his consciousness was sort of raised by the Holocaust there. He's been in Chicago. He knows the woman. Editing the little review he knows call Sandberg. He knows Sherwood Anderson he moves to New York becomes friends with Herman Mankiewicz Herman Mankiewicz and also the roundtable tape Dorothy Parker and Benchley and S J Perelman and the Algonquin New Yorker Gang. He he moves to Los Angeles. He does what's so many do he has nothing but contempt damned for the people who started the motion picture industry. You say that you're interested in Hicks. Judaism with those were hits Jews. He didn't like them. There are a lot of Jews in heck's life he was actually born on the lower east side and he spent the first few years of his life. There and I don't actually think that that's Unimportant I mean. He grew up in Racine Wisconsin. which is this pastoral American American place etc but there is a way in which those tenements were in him in a very deep"