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Ben Hecht papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Hecht

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, works, subject files, personal papers, photographs, scrapbooks, sound recordings, film, video, artifacts, and miscellaneous ephemera documenting the life and literary output of Ben Hecht, his wife Rose, and his daughter Jenny. Hecht's wife Rose, who was an actress and a novelist, was an integral part of Ben's career and life. Many of his works and letters include editions and annotations by Rose, and much of his fan mail and most of his financial and legal dealings were handled by her as well. Because of this inextricable connection, many series in the collection contain both Ben's and Rose's materials, identified and separated where possible. Series where Ben's and Rose's papers are filed together are Works, Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence, Subject Files, Publicity, Legal / Financial Files, Audio and Moving Images, Miscellaneous, and Art and Artifacts. Family Correspondence and Photographs involve all members of Hecht's immediate family and in-laws.

Jenny Hecht's materials, for the most part (except for the aforementioned Family Correspondence and Photographs), are in their own series since she had her own acting career separate from her father's career (although she did act in several of Ben Hecht's plays and movies, such as Concerning a Woman of Sin and Simone). The scrapbooks she kept are with her materials, since they consist of collections of her memorabilia or her artwork. Ben Hecht's scrapbooks are reviews and publicity about his books and plays.

This collection is also rich in artifacts and non-textual items that document the life of the Hecht family. From home movies and sound recordings of plays and interviews to press passes, I.D. cards, recipe books, pipes, reading glasses, writing desks, and an Academy Award, the collection provides a three-dimensional glimpse into the life of a man and a family very active in the literary, political, and popular circles of Chicago, New York, and Hollywood in the first half of the twentieth century.


  • Creation: 1879-1983



Materials are in English (with some correspondence in German).

Conditions Governing Access

The Ben Hecht papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 5 folders at a time maximum (Priority II).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Ben Hecht papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Ben Hecht

Chicago and New York journalist, novelist, playwright, and Hollywood screenwriter.

Ben Hecht was born on Feb. 28, 1893, in New York City, to Russian immigrants. His family moved soon after to Racine, Wisconsin, where Hecht went to school, read voraciously, learned to play violin, and joined a touring circus as an acrobat for a short time. In June of 1910, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, decided after three days that it wasn't for him, and left for Chicago. It was there he met up with his uncle, who introduced him to the publisher of the Chicago Daily Journal, for whom he wrote a poem and was hired immediately as a "picture chaser" (whose job it was to remove photographs from peoples' homes to be later published with scandalous articles of those individuals). In Chicago Hecht became one of the youngest participants in the celebrated Chicago renaissance of literature, befriending other luminaries such as author Sherwood Anderson, poets Carl Sandburg and Maxwell Bodenheim, author and critic H.L. Mencken, and Little Review editor Margaret Anderson.

In 1914, Hecht left the Chicago Daily Journal to work for the Chicago Daily News, and he married Marie Armstrong the next year. He worked for the Daily News for 9 years; in 1918 the newspaper sent him to Berlin for a year to be a post-World War I foreign correspondent, and when he returned he penned the columns entitled "1001 Afternoons in Chicago" for the paper. He was fired from the paper in 1923, due to the scandal he created in writing obscene literature (as his novel Fantazius Mallare was deemed by the U.S. Postal Service). After being let go from the paper, Hecht decided to write a paper of his own, and the short-lived Chicago Literary Times was born. For personal and financial reasons, the paper only lasted just over a year, and in 1924 Hecht left Chicago with Rose Caylor, to live in New York City; Rose became his wife after his divorce from Marie Armstrong Hecht in 1925. In New York Hecht collaborated with his friend, former Chicago Tribune reporter Charles MacArthur. The two had a fruitful partnership, the most famous product of which is the play The Front Page, completed in 1928.

On the encouragement of his friend Herman J. "Mank" Mankiewicz (screenwriter for the movie Citizen Kane), Hecht went to Hollywood and embarked on his next career as a movie screenwriter. In fact, he was the first screenwriter to ever receive an Oscar for original screenplay - the movie Underworld, in 1929. The number of screenplays he wrote or worked on that are now considered classics is astounding: Scarface (1930), A Star is Born (1937), The Goldwyn Follies (1938), Stagecoach, Some Like It Hot, and Gone With the Wind (all 1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), Love Happy (1949), The Thing and Strangers on a Train (both 1951), Roman Holiday (1953), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), A Farewell to Arms (1957), Walk on the Wild Side and Mutiny on the Bounty (both 1962), and Casino Royale (posthumously, in 1967). It is estimated that he wrote from seventy to ninety screenplays, many anonymously during the British boycott of his work in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

The boycott was a response to Hecht's active support of the radical Zionist movement in Palestine. Through his efforts to raise money for the beleaguered Jews of Europe, he won the friendship of Irgun tseva'i le'umi (Irgun Zvai Leumi) founders Menachem Begin, Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), and others. A supply ship for Palestine was renamed the S.S. Ben Hecht, and millions of dollars earned by the proceeds of such pageants penned by Hecht as We Will Never Die(1943) and A Flag is Born (1946) helped to pay for it and its contents.

Hecht died of a heart attack in New York City on April 19, 1964, leaving behind a wife (Rose), two daughters (Edwina "Teddy" Hecht, from his first marriage, and Jenny Hecht, from his second), and many grieving friends and admirers. He also left behind a vast output of plays, novels, essays, more than three hundred short stories, innumerable newspaper articles, and a highly entertaining autobiography, A Child of the Century.


92 Linear Feet (144 boxes and 19 oversize boxes)


Works, correspondence, and papers of novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Ben Hecht, and also papers of his wife Rose Caylor Hecht (novelist) and daughter Jenny Hecht (actress).


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Works, 1908-1983
Boxes 1-54
Series 2: Incoming Correspondence, 1914-1979
Boxes 55-65
Series 3: Outgoing Correspondence, 1931-1977
Boxes 66-70
Series 4: Family Correspondence, 1915-1976
Boxes 71-76
Series 5: Subject Files, 1919-1981
Boxes 77, 106
Series 6: Publicity, 1920-1979
Boxes 78-80, 106
Series 7: Legal / Financial Files, 1929-1979
Boxes 81-91, 106
Series 8: Jenny Hecht Materials, 1943-1973
Boxes 92-102
Series 9: Scrapbooks, 1920-1954
Boxes 103-105
Series 10: Photographs, 1879-1977 (bulk 1893-1977)
Boxes 106, 107-114
Series 11: Audio and Moving Images, 1937-1970
Boxes 115-131
Series 12: Miscellaneous, 1985-1974
Boxes 132-134, 136
Series 13: Art and Artifacts, 1899-1963
Boxes 135-140
Series 14: Rose Hecht Notes and annotations, undated
Boxes 141-163

Collection Stack Location

1 21 1-3, 1 22 1-2, 1 30 2, 1 45 2, 3a 59 13-14


Bequest of Rose Caylor Hecht, 1979.

Existence and Location of Originals

Microfilm reel of correspondence from the H.L. Mencken Papers held in the Manuscript Division of the New York Public Library. (Restricted. Not to be reproduced, quoted, or published without permission of the MS Division, NY Public Library.) Location: Microfilm Storage Room, 4a

Related Archival Materials note

See also the William MacAdams Collection of books and manuscripts at the Newberry for more information about Ben Hecht (Call numbers Case MacAdams and Midwest MS MacAdams). MacAdams wrote the biography of Ben Hecht entitled, Ben Hecht: The Man Behind the Legend.

Separated Materials note

Books from the Hecht family's library accompanied the manuscript material and were separated from the manuscript material and cataloged separately.

Processed by

Molly Green, 1980; Martha Briggs, Alison Hinderliter, Pamela Olson, and Monica Petraglia, 2003.


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Ben Hecht Papers, 1879-1983
Alison Hinderliter
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States