Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leigh Brackett

Ed here: I've been asked to write a brief piece on Leigh Brackett. In the course of my Googling I came across the following from Books and Writers. Since my love for her work knows no bounds this really irritates me. (And for a great appreciation of her by James Sallis go here http://www.grasslimb.com/sallis/GlobeColumns/globe.09.brackett.html

Books and Writers:

In 1946 Brackett ghost-wrote STRANGER AT HOME for the film actor George Sanders. THE TIGER AMONG US (1957) was a story of a citizen-turned-vigilante, who seeks to revenge himself on a gang of juvenile delinquents; it was filmed as 13 West Street starring Alan Ladd. No Good from a Corpse told of a hard-boiled detective who is determined to clear an innocent man of the murder of his girlfriend. When Hawks read the book, he decided to get Brackett to write the screenplay of Chandler's The Big Sleep with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman. However, the director was surprised when he learned that Brackett was a woman writer. And at the age of 28 she also appeared young - Furthman was nearly 60. But Hawks especially loved - at least in his films - tough-talking dames, and Brackett has hired.

After 1955 Brackett generally preferred to work in films and tv, notably contributing screenplays for several Howard Hawks productions. They both shared the same literary taste, she was sophisticated, dressed in somewhat outdoorsy manner, which the director liked, and she had spent much of her childhood in Pasadena, not far from the Hawks home. In 1957 Brackett started to write in Santa Monica Rio Bravo with Jules Furthmann, who was now seventy. She did most of the actual writing, but got only §600 weekly. Furthman, who hated to put anything down on paper, received §2,500 a week. Brackett considered her original script for El Dorado the best she had ever written, but Hawks found it too tragic; from 1930s he had generally avoided killing off his leading characters.

For Hatari! Brackett worked at §750 a week in the beginning, but Hawks also hired the brothers Waldman to write separately from her with a §35,000 fee. In MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (1964) Brackett worked uncredited, but she was with the crew throughout the filming, writing and rewriting scenes. However, she was denied screen credit by the Writers Guild of America, although Hawks and the initial writers, John Fenton Murray and Steven McNeil, were on her side. In RED LINE 7000 (1965) Brackett again worked uncredited. When Hawks tried to hire her to write the script for RIO LOBO (1970) in 1969, Brackett refused because she was just about to leave on a trip around the world. Brackett returned from her travels in December, and continued the work of Burton Wohl. "Most of what I did on Rio Lobo was to try and patch over the holes," she later revealed. "I was unhappy that he went back to the same old ending of the trade, because it was done beautifully in Rio Bravo and done over again in El Dorado."

Ed here: Man, who was her agent?

7 comments:

Fred Blosser said...

I think I had read that she was paid less on BIG SLEEP than Faulkner or Furthman. In that case, probably not surprising as a newcomer without Furthman's track record or Faulkner's snob cachet. But the comparisons on the later pictures are pretty grim. The pay was probably pretty good in relation to whatever she got from PLANET STORIES or Ace Books during the same periods, but that's beside the point, isn't it? I wonder what she got from Lucas for her EMPIRE STRIKES BACK treatment?

Todd Mason said...

Or from whoever produced THE LONG GOODBYE.

Judi Rohrig said...

It was my understanding that Larry Kasdan actually finished most of the work on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, but insisted that Brackett's estate get the money and Leigh get the screen credit.

And wasn't Koontz's nom de plume Leigh Nichols paying homage to one fine writer?

Best
Judi

Chap O'Keefe said...

You are right to feel irritated, Ed, maybe even indignant. Money and credit(s) do not necessarily go to the hard-working or talented. It has always been so, and probably always will be. The classic equation is: Writing success is made up of 2% inspiration, 49% perspiration and 49% luck. Brackett's biggest reward might have been that she enjoyed doing the work and in seeing its results.

Shelley said...

I have long been discouraged and pissed off by the lack of credit given to all writers in Hollywood, let alone the ones who have been really abused. As a copywriter I know that often it isn't just about the writing, it's about the concept, the whole fricking idea. I stopped watching the Oscars years ago but was always irritated that the writer awards showed up early and with less respect and ado than the costume designer.

Chap O'Keefe said...

It's not just Hollywood, Shelley. Fiction writers have been at the bottom of the food chain in lots of places for years. It's why good fiction writers -- many of them, and of stories and novels as well as scripts -- have had to put promising careers on hold and their way with words to use in the likes of advertising, PR and journalism. That allows them to put roofs over their families, food on their tables.

At least one British book line has been paying its writers at the same rate for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, it has raised its cover prices by around 60%. This has been necessary to meet the increased costs of all the elements that go into the production and sale of the books. These elements do not, of course, include the mere words. Indeed, the argument is "if we had to pay the writer more, we couldn't publish these books". But clearly, when they have to pay the printer, the warehouseman, or even the office cleaner more, the same argument doesn't apply.

Kate Stine said...

Yes, Hollywood does treat writers poorly but Brackett got the double whammy of being a writer and of being a career woman during the harsh decades of the 40s through the 70s.

I guess it's a good thing Hawks liked her, otherwise he might have REALLY screwed her over.

It would be interesting to know what Furthman, et al thought about the fairness of her compensation but I can make a good guess...