Ben Hecht— A brash poet of Chicago’s underbelly

December 15, 2009

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“Hecht was a reporter, a newspaper man in America’s hottest crime city during American journalism’s golden age.” So begins Richard Rayner’s review of the University of Chicago Press’s republication of Ben Hecht’s writing for the Chicago Daily News in A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago.
Though he is perhaps best known for his work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist, Ben Hecht began his career on the gritty streets of Chicago, chronicling the city as a reporter with a knack for penetrating through the city’s layers of dust and ice to capture a rarely seen vision of the life it contained, as Rayner writes:

“I have lived in other cities but been inside only one,” Hecht said, and 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago, originally published in 1922 and recently re-issued in a gorgeous paperback facsimile of the first edition, records that intimacy.
“I ran everywhere in the city like a fly buzzing in the works of a clock,” Hecht notes. He haunted “streets, studios, whore houses, police stations, courtrooms, theater stages, jails, saloons, slums, mad houses, fires, murders, banquets, and bookshops.” He earned his early glamour as a brash poet of Chicago’s underbelly.

And indeed from the story of a judge “trying to winkle out the story of a young prostitute on the stand,” to the dark ruminations of an escaped convict, to the captains of industry, to immigrant day laborers, in 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago Hecht captures 1920s Chicago in all its furor, intensity, and absurdity.
Read Rayner’s full review on the LA Times website.

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