The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist


Product Details

$32.95  $30.31
Purdue University Press
Publish Date
6.0 X 1.2 X 9.0 inches | 1.8 pounds

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

Julien Gorbach spent most of his 10 years as a daily newspaper reporter on the police beat, covering drive-by shootings and murder trials, and publishing an investigative series on killings that remained unsolved because gangs had intimidated witnesses into silence. As a freelancer, he contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Time Out New York, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the New Orleans Gambit, among other publications. He covered Hurricane Katrina for the Boston Globe. Gorbach earned a doctorate in media history at the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2013 and is now an assistant professor in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


"In The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist, Julien Gorbach highlights the character, the motivations, and the involvement of an engaged intellectual, crossing from the world of words into that of assertive advocacy on behalf of a cause deemed too narrow for the milieu in which he was a major element. In focusing on this facet of the life of one who was a borderline American Jew, Gorbach not only details the personal biography of Hecht as Hollywood screenwriter, playwright, and novelist, but in his treatment of Hecht's activities on behalf of the Jewish resistance in Mandate Palestine against the oppressive British rule, he retrieves that period of Israel's history shunted aside due to ideological and political bias, the years of the national liberation struggle prior to the establishment of the state that have been subjected to a campaign of purposeful neglect and which affected Hecht as well."

--Yisrael Medad, Research Fellow: Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Jerusalem
"With storytelling skills equal to his subject's, Julien Gorbach shows the nuance and complexity of Ben Hecht's transformation from secular and cynical Hollywood script doctor to committed Zionist activist attempting first to save the Jews of Europe during World War II, and then to found the state of Israel. Gorbach's deeply researched and vivid depiction of Hecht's work on behalf the Jewish survival and freedom features a compelling cast of characters, from stateside intellectuals and entertainers to American Jewish gangsters and Irgun rebels against British rule. The Notorious Ben Hecht rewards readers as much as Hecht's own films, plays, and novels do."--Bill Savage, Professor of Instruction: Northwestern University

"Julien Gorbach's well-researched and lively biography of Ben Hecht delves into both his remarkable careers: as Hollywood's most prolific and, arguably, most talented screenwriter, and as a participant in and chronicler of some of America's wildest journalism. The book is chockablock with marvelous Hechtian sentences and exuberant Hechtian tales, some of which are actually verifiable. And Gorbach's book also presents readers with a much more serious facet of its subject's life--his desperate and unsuccessful campaign, beginning in 1939, to rescue Europe's Jews."

--Mitchell Stephens, Author of A History of News and The Voice of America and Professor of Journalism: New York University

This meticulously researched biography . . . focuses on two aspects of writer Ben Hecht (1894-1964): his remarkable versatility--he produced journalism, novels, criticism, screenplays, plays, and memoirs--and his vocal support, prior to Israel's founding, for a Jewish homeland. . . . Suggesting that Hecht's self-conscious persona as a "tough Jew" equally shaped his literary output and political ideology, Gorbach leaves readers with a richly provocative and original take on an influential writer.

From the Twenties through the Fifties, Ben Hecht was a force of nature. An award winning playwright (The Front Page), prolific Hollywood screenwriter (The Unholy Night; Scarface; Notorious), journalist, and novelist, he seemed destined for posthumous fame. But ask today how many people recognize his name, or how often his books are read and the answer is few and seldom. Hecht's political views were a litmus of his times. Progressing from cynic to critic of Adolf Hitler and then militant Zionist, he worked in the 1940s with gangster Mickey Cohen raising money to buy guns for the paramilitary organization Irgun in British occupied Jerusalem. Hecht's support for the Irgun could easily be labeled fascist, but labels don't fit well here. Journalist Gorbach (communications, Univ. of Hawaii, Manoa) traces Hecht's views back to an old debate over human nature: are we amenable to reasoned argument (the Enlightenment view) or coerced to change only through force? Mainstream Zionism embraced the Enlightenment perspective. Hecht's outlook was darker. VERDICT This thoughtful and thorough study of a largely forgotten writer will interest literary and film buffs and anyone curious about the debates going on in the Zionist community in the 1930s-40s.