Brackett, Leigh (Douglass)

views updated

BRACKETT, Leigh (Douglass)

Born 7 December 1915; died 1978

Married Edmond Moore Hamilton, 1946

Leigh Brackett is identified with the science fiction, fantasy, and mystery fields, but is less known for her work in films, which is also stellar. Her first science fiction story, "Martian Quest," appeared in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1940, launching a rash of stories in science fiction magazines throughout the decade, including appearances in Thrilling Wonder Stories and Planet Stories. She became known for her swashbuckling adventure stories, usually set on Mars. Unlike Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars series, there was no continuity in most of Brackett's stories until she created Eric John Stark.

The first Stark story appeared as a serial called "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (1949), followed by "Black Amazon of Mars" (1951), both in Planet Stories. They were later expanded into books as The Secret of the Sinharat (1964) and People of the Talisman (1964), respectively, and collected in the Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars (1982) omnibus. Stark would eventually move on to Venus in "Enchantress of Venus" (1949) and then into the galaxy in The Ginger Star (1974), The Hounds of Skaith (1974), and The Reavers of Skaith (1976), the latter three becoming The Book of Skaith: The Adventures of Eric John Stark (1976). Many of the stories were also collected in The Coming of the Terrans (1967) and The Halfling and Other Stories (1973). Other visits to Mars include "Shadow over Mars" (1944), published in book form under the same title in England in 1951, and renamed The Nemesis from Terra (1961) in the United States; and "Ark of Mars" (1953), renamed Alpha Centauri—or Die! (1963). What is arguably Brackett's best story, "Sea-Kings of Mars" (1949), was renamed The Sword of Rhiannon (1953) in its book form and is loosely connected to "Sorcerer of Rhiannon" (1942).

Brackett's first novel was No Good from a Corpse (1944), a mystery, which was followed in that genre by other crime novels such as Stranger at Home (1946, ghostwritten with actor George Sanders); An Eye for an Eye (1957); The Tiger Among Us (1957), which was reprinted as Fear No Evil (1960) and as 13 West Street (1962); and Silent Partner (1969).

In 1946 Brackett married fellow science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton. Critic John Clute contends that Brackett may have influenced Hamilton's writing, which seems to improve noticeably after World War II. Brackett also collaborated with a young Ray Bradbury on a novelette, "Lorelei of the Red Mist," in Planet Stories.

In the 1950s Brackett penned science fiction novels like The Starmen (1952), renamed twice as The Galactic Breed (1955) and The Starmen of Llyrdis (1976); The Big Jump (1955); and The Long Tomorrow (1955), a postapocalyptic novel. Late in the decade she wrote a western novel, Rio Bravo (1959), and then the screenplay, which went on to become a hit film that year directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, Ward Bond, and Claude Akins. This successful western was followed by another novel in the same genre, Follow the Free Wind (1963), a fictional account of James Pierson Beckwourth (1798-1866). Rio Bravo was later remade as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), directed by John Carpenter, and spawned a sequel film, El Dorado (1967), also starring John Wayne, along with Robert Mitchum, James Caan, and Ed Asner. The screenplay was written by Brackett and directed by Hawks. It was not the only time Brackett would work with the legendary director; she also cowrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep (1946) with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, based on the Raymond Chandler character Philip Marlowe and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Hatari (1962), which starred Wayne and Red Buttons; and Hawks' final film, Rio Lobo (1970), again with Wayne, Jennifer O'Neill, and Jack Elam. Brackett also penned the screenplay for The Long Goodbye (1973), Chandler's penultimate novel, starring Elliott Gould and directed by Robert Altman, and a stinker called The Vampire's Ghost (1945).

In the 1970s, the last decade of her life, Brackett edited The Best of Planet Stories #1: Strange Adventures on Other Worlds (1974). She also worked on her last screenplay, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), second in the acclaimed Star Wars series, finished by Lawrence Kasdan, for which she received a posthumous Hugo award. She would also edit The Best of Edmond Hamilton (1977), the same year Hamilton edited The Best of Leigh Brackett, and the same year he passed away. The following year, Brackett was gone too, but her work continues to appear in print in anthologies, as well as in numerous re-releases of her film work on videocassette, laser disc, CD-ROM, and DVD.

Other Works:

The Jewel of Bas (1944).

Works anthologized in: Dozois, G., ed., The Good Old Stuff: Adventure SF in the Grand Tradition (1998). Gorman, E. et al, eds., American Pulp (1997). Pronzini, B., and J. Adrian, eds., Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories (1995). Sargent, P., ed., Women of Wonder: The Classic Years—Science Fiction by Women from the 1940s to the 1970s (1995). Staicar, T., ed., The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It (1982). Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays: Star Wars—A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi (1997). Weinberg, R. et al., eds., Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames (1993).


Arbur, R., Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1982). Benson, G., Jr., Leigh Douglass Brackett and Edmond Hamilton: A Working Bibliography (1986). Carr, J. L., Leigh Brackett: American Writer (1986). Clute, J., and P. Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993). Mallett, D. F., and R. Reginald, Reginald's Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards: A Comprehensive Guide to the Awards and Their Winners, 2nd edition (1991), 3rd edition (1993). Reginald, R., Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991: A Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Fiction Books and Nonfiction Monographs (1992).


About this article

Brackett, Leigh (Douglass)

Updated About content Print Article