Ben Hecht back in print
In 1921 Ben Hecht began writing a column for the Chicago Daily News called “One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago.” In it, Hecht famously explored city life beyond the usual dry, factual, reportage; extracting, as his editor Henry Justin Smith once wrote, “the stuff of literature” from the grit and grime of Chicago’s city streets. And though Hecht would eventually become better known as one of the most prolific Hollywood screenwriters of all time, his groundbreaking work for the Chicago Daily News still endears him to the city as well as demonstrates one of the greatest literary achievements of his career.
In an article appearing in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune cultural critic Julia Keller sings the praises of Hecht’s journalism and the Press’s newly reprinted collection of his work in A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago, illustrated by Herman Rosse and with a new introduction by William Savage. Keller writes:
The columns in [A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago] are scruffy time capsules of an earlier Chicago, an era that is long gone but still recognizable to readers’ imaginations. Michigan Avenue, Lake Michigan, street names such as Dearborn and Adams and LaSalle and Wabansia, places such as the Art Institute of Chicago—they’re all here, sprinkled amid Hecht’s nervous little haikus of urban life. He calls Chicago “a razzle-dazzle of dreams, tragedies, fantasies,” and his tales capture gorgeous scraps of it, vivid vignettes starring businessmen and hobos and cops and socialites and janitors.…
Thanks to Hecht, the Chicago of 1922 and the Chicago of 2009 bump into each other, shake hands, exchange greetings. Then, this being Chicago, they go for a drink and talk about old times. New ones too.