A Leigh Brackett Renaissance?

Leigh Brackett, circa 1930

Today is Leigh Brackett’s birthday.  She was born December 7, 1915 in California.  I posted yesterday that I would try to get a review of her novel Alpha Centauri or Die.  Obviously that didn’t happen, although I did get all my exams written.  That review will go up next week after the smoke from the semester clears and all the tears have dried.

What’s that, you say?  You don’t know who Leigh Brackett is?  Well, Pilgrim, you’ve come to the right place.  (You are a pilgrim, right, searching for pulp enlightenment?)

Brackett has a literary resume that puts most people to shame.  She wrote great space opera for the pulps, penning some of the most beautiful and sad tales of a dying Mars.  Her solar system is one I revisit every year.  One of the first black heroes in science fiction was Brackett’s Eric John Stark.

Brackett also mentored an aspiring young writer by the name of Ray Bradbury.  Her husband was Edmond Hamilton, a veteran pulpster.  In addition to science fiction, Brackett also wrote detective stories.  This shows up in her science fiction works; many Brackett stories have a noir sensibility with hard boiled protagonists.

Brackett wrote little science fiction and fantasy for much of her career.  Movie produced Howard Hawks read one of her detective novels and hired her to work on the screenplay of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.  Her coauthor on the screenplay was William Faulkner.  Yes, that William Faulkner.

The photo on the right shows a story session on the set of The Big Sleep.  Brackett is on the sofa next to Lauren Bacall.  Howard Hawks is in the chair on the left.  I think the woman between Hawks and Brackett is Martha Vickers and the man on the right is John Ridgely, but I’m not certain.  (If anyone can confirm that guess, please do.)  Bogey, of course, needs no introduction.

Brackett went on to write other screenplays, many for Hawks, including several that starred John Wayne.  She returned from time to time to writing prose fiction, with the Skaith books, resurrecting Eric John Stark for a 1970s audience.  Her final screen credit before her death was the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.  (There was something important related to that film franchise that was supposed to be happening soon.  Now what could it have been…)

That’s not too shabby a resume, especially for a woman when women supposedly weren’t able to break into science fiction markets or screenwriting.

Now, to prove that I haven’t forgotten the title of this post and that it wasn’t just clickbait, I really do think there is a Brackett renaissance going on.  I’ve seen more links to posts about Brackett come across my feeds this year than I ever have before.  I’m not going to try to post links, because I’ll miss some  and don’t have the time at the moment to hunt for them.  Feel free to provide links to any Brackett related posts or websites in the comments.  Her popularity seems to be on the rise.  That’s a good thing.  Brackett was (IMO) one of the best writers the field has produced.  If you haven’t read her, check her out.

13 thoughts on “A Leigh Brackett Renaissance?

  1. Matthew

    I’m curious about the first photo. Why is Brackett wearing what looks like a Civil War uniform?

    I’ve seen the picture of her with Hawks, Bacall, and Bogart before. It always made me think that I would like if someone wrote a biography of her. She seems to have known a lot of famous people.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I don’t know what’s going on in that picture. She may have been involved in drama in high school. She was a teenager when the picture was take, 15 give or take a year.

      I’d buy that biography.

        1. Keith West Post author

          I thought so. I’ve never seen a photo of Brackett in which she wasn’t dressed like everyone else in the room. I’ve never seen any other picture in which she was wearing any sort of costume or period style clothing. I suspect, but can’t prove, she may have been dressed for a stage production. I do like the picture.

  2. H.P.

    If only Faulkner was in that picture!

    I wrote a review of an Eric John Stark Ace Double over the summer. Brackett really, really impressed me.

    I was a big fan of the Brackett short story Rusch featured in Women of Futures Past as well.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’ve never seen a picture of her with Faulkner, but it would have been awesome to have in that shot.

      Your review was one of the ones I was thinking of. I haven’t read Rusch’s anthology yet, although I have it. I’m going to review it as a followup on the post about the patriarchy I did a couple of years ago.

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