John Wilcock Talks to Ben Hecht


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December 18, 1957, Vol. III, No. 8

On A Late Bohemian

By John Wilcock

“When I first met him,” says Ben Hecht, “he was the grubbiest, most miserable-looking bastard you ever saw. He was just out of the Army, and malnutrition and dirt were only two of his problems. And yet through all this he had an incredibly lacy vocabulary and a most delicate way of expressing things.”

Hecht, a tubby, florid-faced man wearing a red-velvet smoking jacket, was reminiscing about Maxwell Bodenheim, his former friend and the subject of his play “Winkelberg,” which opens on January 14 at the Renata Theatre, on Bleecker Street. Despite the success of an earlier play (“The Front Page,” 1928) Hecht doesn’t regard himself as a playwright and explains that he wrote “Winkelberg” as “a relaxation” between other work. He has rewritten it three times since Bodenheim’s death at 73 in 1954.

If the play is a hit, he would like to divert some of the profits toward the erection of a Bodenheim memorial in the Village. “He deserves a memorial as near as possible to his favorite bars,” Hecht says, “because he was the only bum I ever knew who really proved he could write.”

Hecht recalls: “I was working on a paper in Chicago at the time — this wasn’t long after the first World War — but between us we started a weekly, something like The Voice is now. The Chicago Literary Review, it was called, and in it we attacked everybody, including our advertisers.

“We got our ads in two ways. We used to write about our advertisers in rhyme. It was amazing how pleased a guy would be if you printed a verse about his crummy store. Another way we raised money was by visiting the theatres and promising not to cover their plays. We had every theatre advertising and we hardly ever ran a review.”

[Hecht’s “The Front Page” was adapted numerous times for television and film, including 1940’s His Girl Friday. Hecht got writing credit for many films, including Notorious, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din and Scarface.]

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]