Brackett, Leigh

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Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Leigh Douglass Brackett in Los Angeles, California, 7 December 1915. Family: Married the writer Edmond Hamilton, 1946 (died 1977). Career: Freelance writer; first novel published, No Good from a Corpse, 1944; 1945—first film as writer, The Vampire's Ghost; 1946—first of several films for Howard Hawks, The Big Sleep; also worked for TV series Checkmate, Suspense, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Died: In Lancaster, California, 18 March 1978.

Films as Writer:


The Vampire's Ghost (Selander)


The Big Sleep (Hawks); Crime Doctor's Manhunt (Castle)


Rio Bravo (Hawks)


Gold of the Seven Saints (Douglas)


Hatari! (Hawks)


El Dorado (Hawks)


Rio Lobo (Hawks)


The Long Goodbye (Altman)


The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner)


By BRACKETT: fiction—

No Good from a Corpse, New York, 1944.

Stranger at Home (ghost-written for George Sanders), New York, 1946.

Shadow over Mars, New York, 1951, as The Nemesis from Terra, New York, 1961.

The Starman, New York, 1952, as The Galactic Breed, New York, 1955, as The Starman of Llyrdis, New York, 1976.

The Sword of Rhiannon, New York, 1953.

The Big Jump, New York, 1955.

The Long Tomorrow, New York, 1955.

The Tiger among Us, New York, 1957, as Fear No Evil, London, 1960, as 13 West Street, New York, 1962.

An Eye for an Eye, New York, 1957.

Rio Bravo (novelization of screenplay), New York, 1959.

Alpha Centauri—or Die!, New York, 1963.

Follow the Free Wind, New York, 1963.

People of the Talisman, the Secret of Sinharat, New York, 1964.

The Coming of the Terrans (stories), New York, 1967.

Silent Partner, New York, 1969.

The Halflings and Other Stories, New York, 1973.

The Ginger Star, New York, 1974.

The Best of Leigh Brackett (stories), New York, 1977.

Eric John Stark, Outlaw of Mars, New York, 1982.

By BRACKETT: other books—

With William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, The Big Sleep (screenplay), in Film Scripts One, edited by George P. Garrett, O. B. Harrison, Jr., and Jane Gelfmann, 1971.

(Editor) The Best of Planet Stories 1, New York, 1975.

The Book of Skaith (includes The Hound of Skaith and The Reavers of Skaith), New York, 1976.

(Editor) The Best of Edmond Hamilton, New York, 1977.

(Editor) Strange Adventures in Other Worlds, New York, 1975.

With Lawrence Kasdan, The Empire Strikes Back (screenplay), in The Empire Strikes Back Notebook, edited by Diane Attias and Lindsay Smith, New York, 1980.

By BRACKETT: articles—

Take One (Montreal), September-October 1972.

Films in Review (New York), August-September 1976.

On BRACKETT: book—

Arbur, Rosemarie, Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography, Boston, Massachusetts, 1982.

Carr, John L., Leigh Brackett: American Writer, Polk City, 1986.

Benson, Gordon; Jr., Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton: The Enchantress & the World Wrecker: A Working Bibliography, San Bernardino, 1988.

On BRACKETT: articles—

Biografären, October 1966.

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

Cinéma (Paris), July 1977.

Take One (Montreal), November 1978.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), July 1980.

Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert M. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan 1984.

* * *

Upon being asked about Leigh Brackett's work on El Dorado in the book Hawks on Hawks, director Howard Hawks replied: "She wrote that like a man. She writes good." Therein lies not only Hawks's opinion of Brackett but also his screen heroes' reaction to a person who comes through in a tight spot. "You were good back there" (Big Sleep), "You were good in there tonight" (Rio Bravo), were the best compliments that a Hawks character could pay. And Brackett did come through for Hawks, writing screenplays for five of his films, beginning with The Big Sleep.

By the time that Brackett began working with Hawks, the director already had a definite style. The "Hawksian woman" as she is now known—a strong-willed character who gambles, drinks, can use a gun, and still remains feminine—had made appearances in previous films. Hawks normally shaped his action around two or more men and their reaction to pressure and to the Hawksian woman. Brackett's contribution as one of Hawks's screenwriters was to hone the male-female relationships, and to connect scenes and action that Hawks gave her. Hawks preferred his writers to be present on the set, and there was constant rewriting as dialogue was changed and then changed again. During their period together, Brackett and Hawks produced ensemble films in which the hero is helped by a group of oddball characters who surround him and aid him in a life or death situation. In four of the five films that they did together (Rio Bravo, Hatari!, El Dorado, Rio Lobo), John Wayne was that hero.

Brackett believed, as Hawks did, that the usual Hollywood leading ladies were not very strong or interesting, and the Hawksian woman was a necessary character in their films. The screenwriter and the director also agreed that you had to depend on yourself because others can fail you in any situation—especially love. And while the characters of their films reject help in a tight situation, they receive it from unexpected places. On the subject of love, the characters usually have an unlucky past record with someone who left them, and they are wary of new relationships. Both the hero and the heroine tentatively approach a possible relationship by sarcastic bantering back and forth, testing the waters, aware that it might not last. Even the first kiss is a test: "I'm glad we tried it a second time. It's better when two people do it," Feathers tells Chance in Rio Bravo. But once started, the relationship is strong.

Without Hawks, Brackett wrote the script for The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman and, like The Big Sleep, based on a Raymond Chandler story. This script, however, was more brutal than anything that Brackett wrote for Hawks, and it portrayed a modern-day Marlowe who, like the 1940s detective, has definite values of honor and trust and downplays danger with a flippant attitude. This Marlowe reacts to events with "O.K. with me," but, unlike his '40s counterpart, he is truly alone. He is betrayed by everyone, including his cat, and in the end he shoots a friend, Terry, who has deceived him. Brackett admitted that she changed the ending of the Chandler story because she felt Marlowe could not walk away from such a betrayal. Later, in Take One, she explained, in typically graphic terms, "It seemed that the only satisfactory ending was for the cruelly-diddled Marlowe to blow Terry's guts out . . . something the old Marlowe would never have done."

Shortly before she died Brackett wrote a draft for The Empire Strikes Back. Concerned for the most part with Luke Skywalker's battle against evil (in others and in himself), the film has Brackett touches—most obviously the strong sarcastic Leia, the daring Han Solo, and their relationship. When Solo attempts to kiss her, Leia says, "Being held by you isn't quite enough to get me excited." But the attraction was there, and like Vivian and Marlowe, and Feathers and Chance, it is only a matter of time.

—Alexa L. Foreman

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Brackett, Leigh

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