Leigh Who?!? (Encouragement for Creators)

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Tough-guy actor Humphrey Bogart.

This is the story of a tough cookie named Leigh. No, not Leigh Halfpenny, the rough and tumble rugby player from Wales; Leigh Brackett, one of the best American writers you’ve probably never heard of!

In a career spanning four decades, Brackett banged out over sixty short stories, more than a dozen novels — mostly science fiction and fantasy — as well as scripted several movies now considered to be Hollywood classics. Brackett had a knack for injecting mystery and noir elements into SF, and the writer also penned a few excellent crime novels. The film director Howard Hawks was so impressed with the first of these crime novels, No Good from a Corpse, that he told his secretary to call in “this guy Brackett” to help script the 1946 Humphrey Bogart movie The Big Sleep. That marked the beginning of Brackett’s long association with Hollywood.

The novelist went on to write television scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and several more screenplays for Hawks, including four classic John Wayne movies: Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970). Brackett excelled at writing tough guy cowpokes, big game hunters, and world-weary gumshoes; so when George Lucas decided his second Star Wars movie should focus more on rapscallion space-pirate Han Solo, he asked SF novelist Brackett to write the screenplay.

Men of sagebrush and rawhide.

Sounds like Brackett could do no wrong, right? Well, not in the eyes of Bogart — at least, not initially. Bogie definitely had to go through a period of adjustment once Brackett started co-writing with the great American novelist William Faulkner on Howard Hawks’ detective movie The Big Sleep. The actor had played both hard-nosed gumshoes and ruthless gansters, and he knew exactly how his character’s dialogue should sound. But suddenly he was getting pages of a shooting script  with lines that made his character, tough P.I. Phillip Marlowe, sound more like a prim school marm. He wasted no time confronting Brackett, the novice screenwriter, with his concerns.

But Bogie had to back up. The rotten lines he’d been given to read were not the work of Brackett; they’d been penned by Faulkner! Why did Bogie immediately assume Brackett was to blame? The answer had absolutely nothing to do with Brackett’s inexperience as a screenwriter. No, Bogie figured all the mamby pamby lines just had to have come from Brackett’s typewriter, because — oh, the indignity — Leigh Brackett was, to borrow a word from Philip Marlowe, a dame!

This “dame” understood dialogue!

What? You thought Leigh was a guy? Because he — er, SHE — wrote scripts and novels about tough guys? Hey, we never said Leigh was a guy. But yeah, there are both men and women with the name Leigh, so we’ll let you slide. Bogie, on the other hand, was guilty of a little literary male chauvinism! Turns out all the good lines he’d been getting, the snappy smart-guy patter that nailed Bogie’s character, were the work of a 21 year-old female. To the actor’s credit Bogart acknowledged his silly stereotyping, and then demanded that Brackett write ALL of his dialogue!

Regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, or experience, if you’re a savvy creator, you can create whatever the job requires. So go for it! “My heart is stirred by a noble theme … my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.” (Psalm 45:1 NIV)

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