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Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures


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Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures

Ben Hecht.jpg
Ben Hecht.jpg

Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures


By Adina Hoffman
Published February 12, 2019
264 pages

“Electrifying” —Booklist, starred review

A vibrant portrait of one of the most accomplished and prolific American screenwriters, by an award-winning biographer and essayist

He was, according to Pauline Kael, “the greatest American screenwriter.” Jean-Luc Godard called him “a genius” who “invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today.” Besides tossing off dozens of now-classic scripts—including Scarface,Twentieth Century, and Notorious—Ben Hecht was known in his day as ace reporter, celebrated playwright, taboo-busting novelist, and the most quick-witted of provocateurs. During World War II, he also emerged as an outspoken crusader for the imperiled Jews of Europe, and later he became a fierce propagandist for pre-1948 Palestine’s Jewish terrorist underground. Whatever the outrage he stirred, this self-declared “child of the century” came to embody much that defined America—especially Jewish America—in his time.
Hecht's fame has dimmed with the decades, but Adina Hoffman’s vivid portrait brings this charismatic and contradictory figure back to life on the page. Hecht was a renaissance man of dazzling sorts, and Hoffman—critically acclaimed biographer, former film critic, and eloquent commentator on Middle Eastern culture and politics—is uniquely suited to capture him in all his modes.

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About the Author

Adina Hoffman is an award-winning essayist and biographer. The author of four books, including Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, she lives in Jerusalem and New Haven.

Author photograph © Peter Cole


“Adina Hoffman’s superb “Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures” (in the Yale Jewish Lives series) loads Hecht’s staggering contradictions into a compact but abounding two hundred and twenty pages . . . She expertly links Hollywood and New York, American Jewish conundrums and the intricacies of Zionist politics. Immersing herself in Hecht’s novels and tracts (no easy task), she writes with enormous flair about a marginal figure in literature but a major influence on twentieth-century popular culture." —The New Yorker

"Beautifully written . . . a concise but nuanced biography." —LA Review of Books

"Hoffman’s profile of the staggeringly prolific Hecht is written with a dynamism and wit reflective of its subject." —Choice

“Never less than hugely readable, you sense that Hecht — the scriptwriter who best defined the brawny, slangy Hollywood form of the 1930s — would have approved of Hoffman’s quick-heeled biography. His early life was picaresque and then some, his later years shaped by Jewish activism in the wake of the Holocaust.” —Financial Times

“Thoroughly absorbing, compulsively readable, Adina Hoffman’s book gives a critical but sympathetic account of the pugnacious, brilliant Ben Hecht. A highly gifted storyteller, Hoffman shows just how important Hecht was in his day, and why he matters now.” —Noah Isenberg, author of We'll Always Have Casablanca

“Ben Hecht and the American movie business grew up together, trading punches. Adina Hoffman captures this often destructive force of nature in all his cynicism and fervor, and is especially incisive dealing with his long struggle to find a Jewish identity that could fit his cantankerous personality. This book makes you wish you'd known the guy, if only to watch the sparks he threw off.” —John Sayles

“Lively, well-researched . . . A clear-eyed portrait of an impetuous and multi-talented man.” —Kirkus Reviews

"[A] precise and lively portrait . . . Each phase in Hecht's adventures is electrifying . . . Hoffman's concentrated biography is smartly entertaining and revelatory." —Booklist, starred review