Monday, February 29, 2016

A Hero in Hollywood

Like many of the Jews who found success in the early decades of Hollywood show business, Ben Hecht (1893 - 1964) was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. When Hecht was born, the family lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan but moved to Racine, WI, a decade later.

Hecht was a man of incredible talent and diverse interests. At 10, he appeared to be on his way to a career as a concert violinist. As a teenager, he worked as a circus acrobat. And, as a young man, he moved to Chicago and began a career as a journalist, serving as a war correspondent during World War I for the Chicago Daily News. At this time, Hecht was also working on his own literary pieces, including his first Novel, Erik Dorn (1921). In 1923, he started the Chicago Literary Times. Hecht began his Hollywood screen-writing career in 1927, and proved himself to be astoundingly prolific and successful. His first screenplay, Underworld, won the first Academy Award for best screenplay. His first play, The Front Page (in collaboration with Charles MacArthur), was a Broadway success in 1928.

Jewish Treats, however, wishes to salute the memory of Mr. Hecht for his actions on behalf of the Jewish people. After learning of the dire situation facing the Jews in pre-World War II Europe, he wrote full page newspaper advertisement articles announcing the Nazi actions and created (with Moss Hart) the We Will Never Die pageant.

Following the war, Hecht continued his Jewish activism by supporting the Irgun’s fight for a Jewish state. For this cause, Hecht wrote A Flag Is Born, which was a highly successful Broadway play starring Marlon Brando.

One of the “illegal” immigration ships of the Aliyah Bet movement was named for Hecht. However, his activism on behalf of Israel ended after the Altalena, a ship full of immigrants and weapons that he had assisted in organizing, was sunk (after the immigrants disembarked), along with the weapons, by the new Israeli government when the Irgun refused to turn them over.

When Hecht died in April 1964, Menachem Begin was among those who eulogized him.

Note: This Treat is an extremely abbreviated summary of Ben Hecht.

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