Ben Hecht racked up more than 100 screen credits as a writer in Hollywood, beginning in 1926. His resume included titles like Scarface (1932), His Girl Friday (1940) and Notorious (1946). Hecht is said to have received $1000 per day for his work on Scarface (to a tune of $9000 total). With reason, of course: he understood what worked for the visual medium at a time when so many other writers were still learning its language. He was script doctor on numerous other projects, thanks to his knack for spotting flaws and turning them to good. Hecht was also the author of ten novels, but it’s a passage from his memoir, A Child of the Century, which caught my eye:
Were I able to put down a fraction of the thinking I have done, I would, I am certain, emerge as one of the geniuses of my time.
For we are all geniuses – we who live. In fact, it would be almost impossible to live without being one.
It is as writers that our genius disappears, or at best shrinks to a few stuttering and remembered anecdotes.
There’s a largeheartedness here that reminds me of certain moments in Vonnegut. That’s a dim recollection admittedly; I haven’t read Vonnegut’s novels in a very long time. The truth of the last line in the passage, though, “It is as writers that our genius disappears,” feels true too frequently of late. Woe is me, etc. On the plus side, it might be time to look into Hecht the novelist. Here’s to silver linings.
— John McIntyre