My friend Daniel Greenfield included some of Ben Hecht’s broadcasts in his weekly roundup today. Who was Ben Hecht born in 1884- died in 1964?
For starters, he was called the Shakespeare of his time. He started as a newspaper reporter, writing columns for the Chicago Daily News. At the urging of Herman Mankiewicz he relocated to Hollywood where he became a screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. He worked on over seventy films, wrote over thirty books and was the recipient of the first Oscar for Original Screenplay for the movie “Underworld.” Among his hits were “Scarface”, “The Front Page”, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Notorious”, “Spellbound” and “Some Like it Hot.” Six of his movies were nominated for Oscars and two won.
That was his paying day job. In 1943, plagued with concern and fear for the plight of European Jewry, and offended by government indifference, he organized a rally in Madison Square Garden with the help of Billy Rose, Ernst Lubitsch, Kurt Weill and Moss Hart. The production named “We Will Never Die” drew over 40,000 people to Madison Square Garden. Although the pageant made a national tour, Hecht was disappointed in its outcome. Weill is quoted as saying “The pageant has accomplished nothing. Actually, all we have done is make a lot of Jews cry, which is not a unique accomplishment.”
Hecht turned to active militant Zionism. He wrote “Perfidy” a plea to save the Jews and began his collaboration with Peter Bergson to help create independence for Jews in Palestine. When the war ended he wrote the screenplay for the Bergson Group’s production of” A Flag is Born” which opened on September 5, 1946 in New York, starring Marlon Brando and Paul Muni. Hecht became the most effective spokesman for the Irgun. After the bombing of the military headquarters in the King David Hotel, Hecht said ” Every time you blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns at the British betrayers and invaders of your homeland, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts. ”
His work was blacklisted in Great Britain.
When Israel was established, the Bergson group was disbanded and Hecht turned his effort to raising funds. The speaker of honor at the first dinner in 1948 was Menachem Begin who also deliverd a eulogy at Hecht’s funeral in 1964.
The first flagship of Israel’s nascent Navy was the S.S. Ben Hecht.