Ben Hecht:

A Timeline

An Aviva Kempner Film. Currently in Production

“Among the most disturbing and colorful characters of his time”
– Mike Wallace

The Early Years

  • 1894 – Ben Hecht is born in New York City to Russian-Jewish immigrants Sarah Swernofsky and Joseph Hecht
  • 1910 – Hecht graduates high school in Wisconsin at 16 and runs away to Chicago and becomes a journalist 
  • 1914 – 1925 – Hecht worked for the Chicago Daily News, and was the author of a daily column on the world war. After the armistice he was in charge of the paper’s Berlin office.
  • 1915 – Marries Marie Armstrong when he is 21 years old
  • 1916 – Edwina Armstrong (Hecht’s eldest daughter) is born  
  • 1918-1919 – Becomes a war correspondent in Berlin for the Chicago Daily News
  • 1921 – Writes first novel, Erik Dorn, in Berlin and lanches column in the Daily News called “One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago”
  • 1924 – Moves to New York City with writer Rose Caylor 
  • 1925 – Hecht is officially divorced from Armstrong. Marries Caylor

Promotional photograph for the 1928 Broadway production of The Front Page. Shown in this scene from Act I are Violet Barney, Vincent York, Allen Jenkins, Tammany Young and Willard Robertson.

The Hollywood Years

Herman Mankiewicz lured Hecht, the boy wonder, to Hollywood with a telegram:

“Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots,” adding, “Don’t let this get around.”

  • 1927 – Hecht wins the first-ever Academy Award for Best Original Story “Underworld
  • 1928 – Hecht and fellow former reporter Charles MacArthur produce “The Front Page
  • 1932 – Writes screen story for “Scarface
  • 1933 – becomes increasingly involved in anti-fascist and anti-Nazi activities
  • 1939 – Hecht is brought in to do script doctoring on “Gone with the Wind” and writes the screenplay for “Wuthering Heights

World War II & Beyond

  • 1941 – Hecht joins Peter Bergson’s “Committee for a Jewish Army,” a group of mostly non-Jewish celebrities whose mission was to expose Hitler on a national tour
  • March 1943 – Hecht writes and organizes “We Will Never Die,” which is performed live at Madison Square Garden. The pageant is dedicated to the 2 million Civilian Jewish Dead of Europe. Broadcast nationwide on NBC.
  • 1943 – Jenny Hecht, Hecht’s second daughter, is born
  • 1944 – Hecht publishes, “A Guide for the Bedevilled,” which examines anti-Semitism
  • 1946 – Produced “A Flag is Born,” and raised over $400,000 to advocate for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine
  • 1954 – Publishes autobiography, “A Child of the Century
  • 1964 – Ben Hecht dies at 70 in New York City

Oh how dreadfully sad – “ Katherine Hepburn, wrote to Hecht’s wife, Rose, “to have Ben disappear – He seemed as permanent as the Statue of Liberty – “

Katherine Hepburn