Leigh Brackett

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Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett 1941.JPG
in 1941
Born Leigh Douglass Brackett
(1915-12-07)December 7, 1915
Los Angeles, California, USA
Died March 18, 1978(1978-03-18) (aged 62)
Lancaster, California
Occupation Novelist, screenwriter
Nationality American
Genres Science fiction, crime fiction
Notable work(s) Eric John Stark series
Spouse(s) Edmond Hamilton (m. 1946–77) (until his death)

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Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978) was an American writer, particularly of science fiction. She was also a screenwriter, known for her work on such films as The Big Sleep (1945), Rio Bravo (1959), The Long Goodbye (1973) and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Life[edit]

Leigh Brackett was born December 7, 1915 in Los Angeles, California and grew up there. On December 31, 1946, at age 31, she married Edmond Hamilton in San Gabriel, California, and moved with him to Kinsman, Ohio. She died of cancer in 1978 in Lancaster, California.[1]

Career[edit]

Fiction writer[edit]

Brackett was first published in her mid-twenties. Her first published science fiction story was "Martian Quest", which appeared in the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Her earliest years as a writer (1940–42) were her most productive in numbers of stories written. Occasional stories have social themes, such as "The Citadel of Lost Ships" (1943), which considers the effects on the native cultures of alien worlds of Earth's expanding trade empire.

Brackett's first novel, No Good from a Corpse, published in 1944, was a hard-boiled mystery novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. This led to her first major screenwriting assignment. At the same time, though, Brackett's science fiction stories were becoming more ambitious. Shadow Over Mars (1944) was her first novel-length science fiction story, and though still somewhat rough-edged, marked the beginning of a new style, strongly influenced by the characterization of the 1940s detective story and film noir.

In 1946, the same year that Brackett married science fiction author Edmond Hamilton, Planet Stories published the novella "Lorelei of the Red Mist". Brackett only finished the first half before turning it over to Ray Bradbury, so that she could leave to work on The Big Sleep. The story's main character is a thief called Hugh Starke.

Brackett returned from her break from science-fiction writing, caused by her cinematic endeavors, in 1948. From then on to 1951, she produced a series of science fiction adventure stories that were longer than her previous work. To this period belong such classic representations of her planetary settings as "The Moon that Vanished" and the novel-length Sea-Kings of Mars (1949), later published as The Sword of Rhiannon, a vivid description of Mars before its oceans evaporated.

With "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (1949), Brackett created a character that she later returned to, Eric John Stark. Stark, an orphan from Earth, is raised by the semi-sentient aboriginals of Mercury, who are later killed by Earthmen. He is saved from the same fate by a Terran official, who adopts Stark and becomes his mentor. When threatened, however, Stark frequently reverts to the primitive N'Chaka, the "man without a tribe" that he was on Mercury. From 1949 to 1951, Stark (whose name echoes that of the hero in "Lorelei") appeared in three tales, all published in Planet Stories; the aforementioned "Queen", "Enchantress of Venus", and finally "Black Amazon of Mars". With this last story, Brackett's period of writing high adventure ended.

Brackett's stories thereafter adopted a more elegiac tone. They no longer celebrated the conflicts of frontier worlds, but lamented the passing away of civilizations. The stories now concentrated more upon mood than on plot. The reflective, retrospective nature of these stories is indicated in the titles: "The Last Days of Shandakor"; "Shannach — the Last"; "Last Call from Sector 9G".

This last story was published in the very last issue (Summer 1955) of Planet Stories, always Brackett's most reliable market for science fiction. With the disappearance of Planet Stories and, later in 1955, of Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, the market for Brackett's brand of story dried up, and the first phase of her career as a science fiction author ended. A few other stories trickled out over the next decade, and old stories were revised and published as novels. A new production of this period was one of Brackett's most critically acclaimed science fiction novels, The Long Tomorrow (1955). This novel describes an agrarian, deeply technophobic society that develops after a nuclear war.

But most of Brackett's writing after 1955 was for the more lucrative film and television markets. In 1963 and 1964, she briefly returned to her old Martian milieu with a pair of stories; "The Road to Sinharat" can be regarded as an affectionate farewell to the world of "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", while the other – with the intentionally ridiculous title of "Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon" – borders on parody. She and her husband shared Guest of Honor duties at the 22nd World Science Fiction Convention in Oakland, California.[2]

After another hiatus of nearly a decade, Brackett returned to science fiction in the seventies with the publication of The Ginger Star (1974), The Hounds of Skaith (1974), and The Reavers of Skaith (1976), collected as The Book of Skaith in 1976. This trilogy brought Eric John Stark back for adventures upon the extrasolar planet of Skaith (rather than his old haunts of Mars and Venus).

Brackett's Solar System[edit]

Often referred to as the Queen of Space Opera, Brackett also wrote planetary romance. Almost all of her planetary romances take place within a common invented universe, the Leigh Brackett Solar System, which contains richly detailed fictional versions of the consensus Mars and Venus of science fiction in the 1930s–1950s. Mars thus appears as a marginally habitable desert world, populated by ancient, decadent, and mostly humanoid races; Venus as a primitive, wet jungle planet, occupied by vigorous, primitive tribes and reptilian monsters. Brackett's Skaith combines elements of Brackett's other worlds with fantasy elements.

Though the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs is apparent in Brackett's Mars stories, the differences between their versions of Mars are great. Brackett's Mars is set firmly in a world of interplanetary commerce and competition, and one of the most prominent themes of Brackett's stories is the clash of planetary civilizations; the stories both illustrate and criticize the effects of colonialism on civilizations which are either older or younger than those of the colonizers, and thus they have relevance to this day. Burroughs' heroes set out to remake entire worlds according to their own codes; Brackett's heroes (often antiheroes) are at the mercy of trends and movements far bigger than they are.[3]

Screenwriter[edit]

Shortly after Brackett broke into science fiction writing, she also wrote her first screenplays. Hollywood director Howard Hawks was so impressed by her novel No Good from a Corpse that he had his secretary call in "this guy Brackett" to help William Faulkner write the script for The Big Sleep (1946).[4] The film, written by Brackett, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman, and starring Humphrey Bogart, is considered one of the best movies ever made in the genre. However, after her marriage, Brackett took a long break from screenwriting.

When she returned to screenwriting in the mid-1950s, she wrote for both TV and movies. Howard Hawks hired her to write or co-write several John Wayne pictures, including Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1966) and Rio Lobo (1970). Because of her background with The Big Sleep, Robert Altman hired her to adapt Raymond Chandler's novel The Long Goodbye for the screen.

The Empire Strikes Back[edit]

Brackett worked on the screenplay for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. The film won the Hugo Award in 1981. This script was a departure for Brackett, since until then, all of her science fiction had been in the form of novels and short stories.

The exact role which Brackett played in writing the script for Empire is the subject of some dispute. What is agreed on by all is that George Lucas asked Brackett to write the screenplay based on his story outline. It is also known that Brackett wrote a finished first draft which was delivered to Lucas shortly before Brackett's death from cancer on March 18, 1978. Two drafts of a new screenplay were written by Lucas and, following the delivery of the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, turned over to Lawrence Kasdan for a new approach. Both Brackett and Kasdan (though not Lucas) were given credit for the final script.

Brackett's screenplay has never been officially or legally published. According to Stephen Haffner, it can be read at one of two locations: the Jack Williamson Special Collections library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico (but may not be copied or checked out); and the archives at Lucasfilm, Ltd. in California.

Bibliography[edit]

Short science fiction[edit]

1940–1941[edit]

1942–1944[edit]

1945–1950[edit]

1951–1955[edit]

After 1955[edit]

  • "The Other People" (novelette; Venture Science Fiction Magazine March 1957) – also published as "The Queer Ones"
  • "All the Colors of the Rainbow" (novelette; Venture Science Fiction Magazine November 1957)
  • "The Road to Sinharat" (novelette; Amazing Stories May 1963)
  • "Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction October 1964)
  • "Come Sing the Moons of Moravenn" (The Other Side of Tomorrow, 1973)
  • "How Bright the Stars" (Flame Tree Planet: An Anthology of Religious Science-Fantasy, 1973)
  • "Mommies and Daddies" (Crisis, 1974)
  • "Stark and the Star Kings" (2005), with Edmond Hamilton (in the collection of the same name)

Science fiction novels[edit]

Science fiction collections[edit]

  • The Coming of the Terrans (1967)
  • The Halfling and Other Stories (1973)
  • The Book of Skaith (1976) – omnibus edition of the three Skaith novels
  • The Best of Leigh Brackett (1977), ed. Edmond Hamilton
  • Martian Quest: The Early Brackett (2000) – Haffner Press
  • Stark and the Star Kings (2005), with Edmond Hamilton
  • Sea-Kings of Mars and Otherworldly Stories (2005) – #46 in the Fantasy Masterworks series.
  • Lorelei of the Red Mist: Planetary Romances (2007) – Haffner Press
  • Shannach–the Last: Farewell to Mars (forthcoming) – Haffner Press

Science fiction, as editor[edit]

  • The Best of Planet Stories No. 1 (anthology; 1975)
  • The Best of Edmond Hamilton (collection; 1977)

Screenwriter[edit]

Other genres[edit]

  • No Good from a Corpse (crime novel; 1944)
  • Stranger at Home (crime novel; 1946) – ghost-writer for the actor George Sanders
  • An Eye for an Eye (crime novel; 1957) – adapted for television as Markham (1959–60; CBS)
  • The Tiger Among Us (crime novel; 1957; UK 1960 as Fear No Evil), filmed as 13 West Street (1962; dir. Philip Leacock)
  • Follow the Free Wind (western novel; 1963) – received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America
  • Rio Bravo (western novel; 1959) – novelization based on the screenplay by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett
  • Silent Partner (crime novel; 1969)
  • No Good from a Corpse (mystery collection; Dennis McMillan Publications, 1999) – reprints the titular novel and eight shorter crime stories.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Screewriter Leigh Brackett Succumbs to Cancer at 60". The Los Angeles Times (obituary). March 24, 1978. Retrieved May 24, 2010.  Quoted at Willick, George C, Spacelight .
  2. ^ "They Call Her for Salty Dialogue". Los Angeles Times. December 28, 1965. p. D10. Retrieved March 7, 2011. "[Leigh Brackett] has been a pal of Ray Bradbury's for years, and with her husband was guest of honor at last year's World Science-Fiction Convention in Oakland" 
  3. ^ Valdron, Den. "Colonial Barsoom: Leigh Brackett". ERBzine. 
  4. ^ Howard Hawks (subject) Richard Schickel (director/writer) Sydney Pollack (narrator) (1973). "Howard Hawks". The Men Who Made The Movies. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070199/.

External links[edit]