In a flashback to the early 1930s, during Mank’s days as a screenwriter for Paramount, Fincher shows us around the writer’s room — a chummy, smoky boys’ club where figures like Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht were yet to fulfill what was arguably their greatest screen achievement: His Girl Friday (1941).
‘Mank’ is a movie made to delight critics and cinephiles. All others, not so much. (Wash Po) by Ann Hornaday
In the 1920s and 1930s, Mankiewicz — played to perfection by Gary Oldman — was a successful, if self-destructive, screenwriter in Hollywood, beckoning former Algonquin Round Tablers from the East Coast with promises of sun, fun and easy money. (“Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots,” he famously telegrammed Ben Hecht.)
In the film, writer Charles Lederer arriving at Paramount Studios, bears an alluring telegram from Mankiewicz, informing him, “There are millions to be made and your only competition is idiots.”
There was such a telegram, although, in truth, it was sent to Ben Hecht. “Mank” does a lot of this—polishing old show-biz myths and rearranging them on the mantelpiece.
Scott Simon discusses Chicago in the ’20s, including Ben Hecht.
Rhonda Flemming starred in Spellbound, written by Ben Hecht.
President Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board (of which Ben Hecht was a part), tasking it to rescue and provide relief for victims of Nazi persecution. Immigration quotas did not change, but the board helped relief agencies provide resources to refugees and supervised projects in Allied countries. The immediate beneficiaries were refugees stranded in newly liberated southern Italy.
‘Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle.” So said Ben Hecht, one of Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters and the studio system’s cynic-in-residence. Much the same thing could be said about writing movie music.
Hecht was “never a writer to tell the truth when a concoction could put life in his prose.” Hecht’s gift for confabulated anecdote suggests one reason that he became so successful as a Hollywood entertainer. What Hecht got out of his ruffian journalistic years shaped his temperament, and that temperament in turn shaped American movies in the thirties.
A radical Zionist Chicago newspaperman, a Belfast-born translator and a literary adapter par exellence. These were the first Jews who won Oscars at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929. This trio included screenwriter, Ben Hecht.