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Robert A. Signer - Ben Hecht research papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Signer

Scope and Content of the Collection

Materials collected by Robert A. Signer during research for a biography on Ben Hecht. Signer began writing drafts in the early 1980s, but never completed the project. Includes many reproductions of book chapters, newspaper and magazine articles, and legal documents. Many copies come from the Newberry's own Ben Hecht Papers. Also contains manuscript drafts of Signer’s biography, correspondence, transcripts and audiocassette recordings of interviews by Signer. The subject files cover Hecht’s life and work along with contextual information about topics such as the Chicago newspaper and literary scenes, Hollywood, New York, Germany, and Palestine. Folder titles are primarily those used by Signer. All audiocassettes have been digitized and are available for use in the Special Collections Reading Room.


  • 1970s-2006
  • Majority of material found within 1981 - 1996



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Robert A. Signer - Ben Hecht research papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Conditions Governing Audiovisual Access

Audiovisual recordings in this collection have been digitized. Researchers may access materials in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Robert A. Signer - Ben Hecht research papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Robert A. Signer

American journalist and writer.

Robert A. Signer worked as a reporter, editor, and correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, the Washington Post, and USA Today. He works as a writer in Virginia.

Biography of Ben Hecht

Chicago and New York journalist, novelist, playwright, and Hollywood screenwriter.

Ben Hecht was born on Feb. 28, 1893, in New York City, to Russian immigrants. His family moved soon after to Racine, Wisconsin, where Hecht went to school, read voraciously, learned to play violin, and joined a touring circus as an acrobat for a short time. In June of 1910, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, decided after three days that it wasn't for him, and left for Chicago. It was there he met up with his uncle, who introduced him to the publisher of the Chicago Daily Journal, for whom he wrote a poem and was hired immediately as a "picture chaser" (whose job it was to remove photographs from peoples' homes to be later published with scandalous articles of those individuals). In Chicago Hecht became one of the youngest participants in the celebrated Chicago renaissance of literature, befriending other luminaries such as author Sherwood Anderson, poets Carl Sandburg and Maxwell Bodenheim, author and critic H.L. Mencken, and Little Review editor Margaret Anderson.

In 1914, Hecht left the Chicago Daily Journal to work for the Chicago Daily News, and he married Marie Armstrong the next year. He worked for the Daily News for 9 years; in 1918 the newspaper sent him to Berlin for a year to be a post-World War I foreign correspondent, and when he returned he penned the columns entitled "1001 Afternoons in Chicago" for the paper. He was fired from the paper in 1923, due to the scandal he created in writing obscene literature (as his novel Fantazius Mallare was deemed by the U.S. Postal Service). After being let go from the paper, Hecht decided to write a paper of his own, and the short-lived Chicago Literary Times was born. For personal and financial reasons, the paper only lasted just over a year, and in 1924 Hecht left Chicago with Rose Caylor, to live in New York City; Rose became his wife after his divorce from Marie Armstrong Hecht in 1925. In New York Hecht collaborated with his friend, former Chicago Tribune reporter Charles MacArthur. The two had a fruitful partnership, the most famous product of which is the play The Front Page, completed in 1928.

On the encouragement of his friend Herman J. "Mank" Mankiewicz (screenwriter for the movie Citizen Kane), Hecht went to Hollywood and embarked on his next career as a movie screenwriter. In fact, he was the first screenwriter to ever receive an Oscar for original screenplay - the movie Underworld, in 1929. The number of screenplays he wrote or worked on that are now considered classics is astounding: Scarface (1930), A Star is Born (1937), The Goldwyn Follies (1938), Stagecoach, Some Like It Hot, and Gone With the Wind (all 1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), Love Happy (1949), The Thing and Strangers on a Train(both 1951), Roman Holiday (1953), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), A Farewell to Arms (1957), Walk on the Wild Side and Mutiny on the Bounty (both 1962), andCasino Royale (posthumously, in 1967). It is estimated that he wrote from seventy to ninety screenplays, many anonymously during the British boycott of his work in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

The boycott was a response to Hecht's active support of the radical Zionist movement in Palestine. Through his efforts to raise money for the beleaguered Jews of Europe, he won the friendship of Irgun tseva'i le'umi (Irgun Zvai Leumi) founders Menachem Begin, Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), and others. A supply ship for Palestine was renamed the S.S. Ben Hecht, and millions of dollars earned by the proceeds of such pageants penned by Hecht as We Will Never Die(1943) and A Flag is Born (1946) helped to pay for it and its contents.

Hecht died of a heart attack in New York City on April 19, 1964, leaving behind a wife (Rose), two daughters (Edwina "Teddy" Hecht, from his first marriage, and Jenny Hecht, from his second), and many grieving friends and admirers. He also left behind a vast output of plays, novels, essays, more than three hundred short stories, innumerable newspaper articles, and a highly entertaining autobiography, A Child of the Century.


4.9 Linear Feet (12 boxes)


Materials collected by Robert A. Signer during research for an unfinished biography on Ben Hecht during the 1980s. Includes many reproductions of book chapters, newspaper and magazine articles, and legal documents. Also contains manuscript drafts of Signer’s biography, correspondence, transcripts and audiocassette recordings of interviews by Signer.


Materials arranged alphabetically with audiocassettes at the end.

Collection Stack Location

1 41 5


Gift, Robert Signer, 2016.

Processed by

Shinjini Chattopadhyay (processing plan), Catherine Grandgeorge, 2019.
Inventory of the Robert A. Signer Ben Hecht research papers, 1970s-2006, bulk 1981-1996
Catherine Grandgeorge
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States