Novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Ben Hecht was born on this day in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants.
Hecht’s family moved to Racine, Wisconsin, where Hecht attended high school. He started studies at the University of Wisconsin but soon quit and took a job chasing down photos of crime victims for the Chicago Journal, which paid him $12.50 a week. Hecht later became a star reporter, known for his sensational and colorful, if not always accurate, stories. Another paper, the Chicago Daily News, sent him to Berlin to cover the aftermath of World War I, which inspired his first novel, Erik Dorn (1921).
Hecht later wrote a column in which he sketched Chicago’s wide variety of characters. His columns were collected in his popular 1922 book, A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago. But his literary work was bringing in little money, and by 1925 he was broke. But an old friend invited him to Hollywood to try his hand at screenwriting, which he did with great success. He wrote more than 70 screenplays, including Underworld (1927), for which he won an Oscar. He collaborated on the screenplay for Gone with the Wind and many others.
In 1928, Hecht turned his madcap newspapering adventures into a hit play called The Front Page, which he wrote with Charles MacArthur, who also collaborated with him on other plays and movie scripts. Hecht died in New York in 1964.