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Ben Hecht, a writer of wide-ranging accomplishments and great fame and influence who became especially active in American Zionist efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust, died at 70 on this date in 1964. Hecht’s screenplays included The Front Page (1931), Scarface (1932), Gunga Din (1939), Angels Over Broadway (which he also directed, in 1940), several Hitchcock films, and dozens of other Hollywood classics, including Gone with the Wind, for which he was an uncredited screenwriter. Hecht also wrote some thirty-five books and a couple of Broadway plays. He was an anti-racist activist, active in campaigns against lynching and the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s. In the 1940s he collaborated with Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson) to raise funds for the Irgun in Palestine and to agitate for the rescue of European Jews from the Nazis’ predations. Their activism included a widely read article in Reader’s Digest testifying to the slaughter, and a Madison Square Garden pageant, “We Will Never Die,” produced by Billy Rose and Ernst Lubitsch. To hear Hecht interviewing Jack Kerouac in 1958, look below.
“Prejudice is a raft onto which the shipwrecked mind clambers and paddles to safety.” --Ben Hecht
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.