New book offers rare look into life of legendary screenwriter

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Julien Gorbach, (808) 956-3356
Assistant Professor, Social Sciences, Dean's Office
Lisa Shirota, (808) 956-7352
Communications Director, Social Sciences, Dean's Office
Posted: Mar 25, 2019

Julien Gorbach
Julien Gorbach

A new book offers a rare look at all facets of one of Hollywood’s most legendary screenwriters. Julien Gorbach, an assistant professor in the School of Communications in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Social Sciences, delves into the life of Ben Hecht in his book Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist.

“Ben Hecht was a versatile modern writer, whose sharp wit and flair for storytelling led to lucrative careers as a journalist, foreign correspondent and literary figure. More significantly, he pierced the American media silence about the Holocaust, and soon thereafter became a fierce advocate for Jewish statehood,” said Gorbach. “Hecht’s background as a writer, and his coming of age during the advent of the mass communication era, enabled him to foresee with great clarity the rise of Hitler and the horror of the times.”

Hecht began his career as a crime reporter on the streets of Chicago before rising to fame with his classic newspaper comedy for Broadway, The Front Page. He later helped define the Golden Age of Hollywood with scripts such as Scarface, Gone with the Wind, Angels Over Broadway and Notorious.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Hecht became involved in anti-Nazi activities in the 1930s, using his experience with the press and Hollywood to alert the American public to the rising emergency for the Jews of Europe. Through print advertisements, plays and spectacular pageants, he mobilized pressure on the Roosevelt administration for an Allied rescue plan and, after the war, financed armed struggle for a Jewish state in Palestine.

“Hecht operated in so many genres that one life no matter how colorful, no matter how full–barely seems to have encompassed what he achieved, in journalism, in literature, on the screen and in polemics,” noted historian Stephen Whitfield. “Yet until now–that is, until the publication of Julien Gorbach’s lively biographical study–Hecht has eluded the grasp of scholarship. The Notorious Ben Hecht is thus a welcome corrective.”

Gorbach spent most of 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, San Francisco Bay Guardian and 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.

The School of Communications (COM/JOUR) in the UH Mānoa College of Social Sciences improves the ways in which people talk to each other – in Hawai‘i and beyond – through all mediated channels, from voice-to-voice conversations to dynamic interactions via emerging technologies. The school strives for excellence in all areas of teaching, research and practice while embracing the contemporary challenges of complex and multicultural contexts involving communication and journalism.