Brackett, Charles

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Writer and Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Saratoga Springs, New York, 26 November 1892. Education: Attended Williamstown College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, B.A. 1915; Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, LL.B., 1920. Family: Married 1) Elizabeth Barrows Fletcher, 1920 (died 1948); two daughters; 2) Lillian Fletcher, 1953. Career: Served in the United States Army in World War I: 2nd lieutenant, and vice-consul in St. Nazaire, France (Medal of Honor, France); 1920–25—practicing lawyer, and also writer: first novel, The Counsel of the Ungodly, 1920; 1926–29—drama critic, The New Yorker; 1930—joined father's law firm (also board member, Adirondacks Trust Company): retained these positions throughout his career; 1934—first film as writer, Enter Madam!; 1937–50—collaborator with Billy Wilder; 1943—first film as producer, Five Graves to Cairo; 1949–55—president, Motion Picture Academy; 1954—worked mainly as producer; 1962—retired. Awards: Academy Award (producer and writer) for The Lost Weekend, 1945; Sunset Boulevard, 1950; Titanic, 1953; Writers Guild Award for Sunset Boulevard, 1950; Writers Guild Laurel Award, 1956, and Founders Award, 1966; Special Academy Award, 1957. Died: In Beverly Hills, California, 9 March 1969.

Films as Writer:


Enter Madam! (Nugent)


College Scandal (The Clock Strikes Eight) (Nugent); The Crusades (De Mille); The Lost Outpost (The Last Outpost) (Gasnier and Barton); Without Regret (Young)


Woman Trap (Young); Rose of The Rancho (Gering)


Live, Love, and Learn (Fitzmaurice)


Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Lubitsch)


Midnight (Leisen); Ninotchka (Lubitsch)


Arise, My Love (Leisen)


Hold Back the Dawn (Leisen); Ball of Fire (Hawks)


The Major and the Minor (Wilder)


Skirmish on the Home Front (Short)

Films as Writer and Producer:


Five Graves to Cairo (Wilder)


The Lost Weekend (Wilder)


To Each His Own (Leisen)


The Emperor Waltz (Wilder); A Foreign Affair (Wilder); Miss Tatlock's Millions (Haydn)


Sunset Boulevard (Wilder)


The Mating Season (Leisen); The Model and the Marriage Broker (Cukor)


Niagara (Hathaway); Titanic (Negulesco)

Films as Producer:


The Uninvited (Allen)


Garden of Evil (Hathaway); Woman's World (Negulesco)


The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (Fleischer) (+ co-sc); The Virgin Queen (Koster)


Teenage Rebel (Goulding) (+ co-sc); The King and I (Walter Lang); D-Day, the Sixth of June (Koster)


The Wayward Bus (Vicas)


The Gift of Love (Negulesco); Ten North Frederick (Dunne); The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (Levin)


Journey to the Center of the Earth (Levin) (+ co-sc); Blue Denim (Blue Jeans) (Dunne)


High Time (Edwards)


State Fair (J. Ferrer)


By BRACKETT: fiction—

The Counsel of the Ungodly, New York, 1920.

Week-End, New York, 1925.

That Last Infirmity, New York, 1926.

American Colony, New York, 1929.

Entirely Surrounded, New York, 1934.

By BRACKETT: other books—

With Billy Wilder, The Lost Weekend in The Best Film Plays of 1945 (screenplay), edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, 1946.

With Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch, Ninotchka (screenplay), 1966.

By BRACKETT: articles—

"Putting the Picture on Paper," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1951.

In Writing on Life, by Lincoln Barnett, New York, 1951.

On Lubitsch, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no 198.

On BRACKETT: articles—

Films in Review (New York), March 1960.

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

Corliss, Richard, in Talking Pictures, New York, 1974.

Film Comment (New York), May-June 1982.

Frank, Sam, in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

* * *

Who was Charles Brackett? Just a secretary to Billy Wilder? That premise has been proferred numerous times and when one looks at Brackett's work outside the 14 pictures he did with Wilder, there appears to be some truth in it. Yet in all fairness, Brackett was, like many of his screenwriting colleagues, a chameleon who adapted to the influence exerted by his collaborators at the time.

Brackett was a graduate of Harvard Law School and a practicing lawyer for some six years before his second novel, Week-End, landed him a job as drama critic on The New Yorker. In 1932, he signed a writing contract with Paramount and the ten or so pictures he worked on before joining forces with Billy Wilder are mostly forgettable. His first collaboration with Wilder was the screenplay for Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. This sophisticated, witty story of greed on the French Riviera owed much to Wilder's dark humor, but Brackett's contribution should not be diminished. Wilder's films all have a streak of cruelty running through them, and Brackett's chief talent was his ability to be a mellowing buffer to this characteristic, to "Americanize" Wilder's Viennese idiom and to provide the "bridging dialogue" between Wilder's perceptive but sarcastic ideas.

They continued this extremely successful collaboration through 1950—frequently being joined by two other writers—Walter Reisch and Richard Breen—and their combined filmographies include some of Hollywood's most memorable and sophisticated films: Midnight, Ninotchka, Ball of Fire, A Foreign Affair, The Lost Weekend, and Sunset Boulevard, the last two winning Academy Awards. Brackett's reaction to Wilder's dark side is revealed in a comment he made about Sunset Boulevard in 1952: "[Norma Desmond] was also tragic. Perhaps we should have told about her with a more audible lump in our throats. We thought it effective to suppress the pitying sounds and let the audience find the pity for themselves." It is obvious that Wilder is not of the "lump in our throats" school of filmmaking, and his treatment of Sunset Boulevard as a real horror story is what makes it the greatest film about Hollywood.

Brackett, on the other hand, was very definitely of a more sentimental nature and the work he wrote and produced without Wilder proves this. His best work without Wilder was the extremely romantic women's picture To Each His Own, the sensuous marital suspenser Niagara, and the melodramatic Titanic, which earned him, and Reisch, Academy Awards. And as a producer he proved extremely successful with middle-of-the-road sentimental entertainments such as The Virgin Queen, The King and I, The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker, and State Fair.

While Wilder is the dominant force behind Brackett's best films, the contribution to the collaborative art of the motion picture by such writers as Brackett must not be underestimated. Without the leveling force of a Brackett, Wilder's films would probably never have found the wide audience they did.

—Ronald Bowers

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Brackett, Charles

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