Did you know that Ben Hecht thought that movies crippled the mind of the American people and destroyed cultured thought…

I wonder what he would have made of the Internet?

Let’s roll it back a little. Mr. Hecht started as a Chicago journalist, he was lured to Hollywood by easy money, as related in his autobiography:

The telegram he delivered on this spring day in 1925 came from the unknown Scythian wastes of Hollywood, Calif. It read, ‘Will you accept three hundred per week to work for Paramount Pictures. All expenses paid. The three hundred is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

Herman Mankiewicz

And another tidbit from his book, “A Child of the Century.”

The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century. Of the many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them—as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people.

Ben Hecht

Coming from a guy who wrote “Scarface” and “The Front Page” I find this a little hard to swallow, especially considering he wrote his autobiography shortly after the end of WWII, and the corruption of the century was much more malignant than—at times, granted—mindless entertainment.

Maybe he and Selznick hit a point where their disillusionment fed on each others notions about a dying art form… Or maybe they just turned into grumpy old men. Dunno. Here they are, looking pretty damn happy to be corrupting the minds of millions on the set of A Farewell to Arms, in 1957:

1957 Hecht and Selznick on location A Farewell to Arms


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  1. April 17, 2014

    Never underestimate the competition of idiots.

    • April 18, 2014

      They could be idiot savants 😉 .

  2. April 17, 2014

    Now you’ve got me thinking about the malignancy of the Internet on the 21st Century brain. It MUST be contributing to on-set ADD, all these flashing pop-ups and links just get you so far off track that the original task is easily forgotten.

    • April 18, 2014

      It does make you wonder, just how much multitasking is the human brain capable of!

  3. April 17, 2014

    Well, with literature as well as films and internet, one’s choice of what to consume has much to do with the end influence on a person’s mind!

    • April 18, 2014

      It’s the passive viewers I worry about, the kids. Me? I’m so hardwired I can barely find enough hours in the day, and I stopped watching television about two years ago!

  4. April 17, 2014

    Of course movies can be damaging. They can also be beneficial. It all depends on the movie and what movies you decide to watch. I’m not an expert on Mr. Hecht, but I wonder if he was just in a bad mood when he said some of these things. I can’t imagine the war would’ve helped matters.

    • April 18, 2014

      I think you might enjoy his autobiography, mostly it deals with his life pre-Hollywood, and I get the impression he might have been cynical (and blessedly witty) from birth.

      • April 18, 2014

        I think I might enjoy it, too. The bit you excerpted seemed really good.

  5. April 17, 2014

    All the movies except his, most likely, is what he means.

    • April 18, 2014

      Yes, that would account for it!

  6. April 20, 2014

    Dearest V
    How interesting you should mention Mr Hecht. Richard Hoggart just died here recently. He thought something similar about some elements of the mass media, but set up the discipline of of cultural studies to investigate rigorously the effect of popular culture and meanwhile persuaded the BBC to become more highbrow in its mainstream television output and lobbied government furiously for better funding for the arts to make them accessible to all… as opposed to just sounding off that is!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  7. April 23, 2014

    That’s what you get for watching Adam Sandler flicks instead of TCM, Mr. Hecht…

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