Leigh Douglass Brackett

(1915-1978)

Here's the story...

In 1944, a young writer of detective and science fiction tales from Los Angeles published her first novel, No Good from a Corpse.

It was good stuff. According to Bill Pronzini, the novel was "so Chandleresque in style and approach it might have been written by Chandler himself."

It impressed lots of other folks, as well. In fact, her dialogue so impressed one of her readers, the Hollywood director Howard Hawks, that he had his secretary call in "this guy Brackett--he'd be good to write the screenplay of The Big Sleep with Bill Faulkner." When "this guy Brackett" turned out to be a young woman, he shrugged off his surprise and hired her anyway. The rest is film history, as Hawks' 1946 version of The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and written by Leigh Brackett, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman, is considered one of the best movies ever made in the genre.

Prior to the appearance of No Good from a Corpse, though, Brackett had already written several short stories, novellas, and even a short novel (The Misfortune Teller) for various pulp magazines of the pre-war era--the most usual forum and proving grounds for aspiring writers of genre fiction at that time. She was a life-long fan of science fiction, and much of her fiction reflected her love of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter Martian stories. Her first published short story, in fact, was called "Martian Quest", which appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1940. She also published a handful of crime stories in the pulps, and although she never quite cracked the Black Mask market, it certainly wasn't for lack of quality. Pronzini considers Leigh Brackett "one of the top hardboiled writers of all time." High praise, indeed.

And, as contributor Todd Mason is quick to point out, although Brackett may never have cracked Black Mask, she did contribute frequently and well to such prestigious sci-fi magazines as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, as well as Planet Stories and Astounding, probably the equivalent of Black Mask in the science fiction field.

Alas, after the forties, Leigh rarely returned to writing short crime fiction, although she did treat us to two superb suspense novels, powerful noir stories set in the American midwest, The Tiger Among Us and An Eye for An Eye, in 1957.

A recent reprint of No Good From a Corpse finally also collects all Brackett's crime shorts from the pulps in one fat volume, and includes an intro by Ray Bradbury, a young writer she befriended in the early 1940s and his reminiscence of that period is fascinating. In an equally interesting afterword, Michael Connelly recounts how Leigh put him on the tortuous road to mystery writerdom via another of her screen re-workings of a Chandler masterpiece, The Long Goodbye, and saved him from a life in the building trades.

Leigh Brackett was born in Los Angeles, California, on December 7, 1915. She grew up in her grandfather's house in the (then) small beach community of Santa Monica--by her own admission a "tomboy," constantly at odds with her mother and maiden aunt (her father had died in the influenza epidemic of 1918). She spent her time either in vigorous outdoor activity or reading and dreaming of far lands and distant galaxies. Her mother forced her to attend an all-girls high school, and she developed an interest in the theatre, but early on decided she stood a better chance of becoming a professional writer than an actress.

Her grandfather supported her efforts at selling to top-of-the-line pulp magazines of the day (Argosy and Adventure), but she soon gave up trying to compete with the pros and gambled on Laurence D'Orsay and his agency-cum-writing-course, where her efforts fell into the hands of his reader Henry Kuttner. The rest, as they say, is history: Kuttner criticized her work, introduced her to the science fiction and fantasy literateurs of 1940s L.A., and even got her an agent--his own, Julius Schwartz. Schwartz sold her first story in 1939 and her first novel, No Good from a Corpse, in 1943.

Brackett married fellow science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton in 1946, and they maintained houses in both Southern California and rural Ohio for the rest of their lives. She wrote many screenplays for Howard Hawks, and novels in every genre, most notably science fiction, but also in the Western genre (1963's Follow the Free Wind won the Golden Spur for Best Western). She also found time to write for television, including one episode of the ill-fated Archer show, based on Ross Macdonald's private eye character. Her last work was the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, and the film was dedicated to her posthumously. She died in Lancaster, California, on March 17, 1978.

NOVELS

(All crime fiction, unless otherwise denoted)

  • No Good From a Corpse (1944; Edmond Clive)
    Buy this book .. Kindle it!.. Read an excerpt
  • Stranger at Home (1946; ghost-written for actor George Sanders)...Buy this book..Kindle it!
  • Shadow over Mars (1951; aka "The Nemesis from Terra"; science fiction)
  • The Starmen (1952; aka "The Galactic Breed" [abridged]; The Starmen of Llyrdis; science fiction)
  • The Sword of Rhiannon (1953; science fiction)
  • The Big Jump (1955; science fiction)
  • The Long Tomorrow (1955; science fiction)
  • An Eye for An Eye (1957)
  • The Tiger Among Us (1957; aka "13 West Street") .. Buy this book
  • Rio Bravo (1959; western, novelisation of film)
  • Alpha Centauri or Die! (1963; science fiction)
  • Follow the Free Wind (1963; western)
  • The Secret of Sinharat (1964; expanded by Edmond Hamilton, from a short story; science fiction)
  • People of the Talisman (1964; expanded by Edmond Hamilton from a short story; science fiction)

The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman were published together as an Ace Double Novel, and later reprinted together as Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars (1982)

  • Silent Partner (1969)*
  • The Ginger Star: Reintroducing Eric John Stark,1 (1974; science fiction)
  • The Hounds of Skaith: Further Adventures of Eric John Stark,2 (1974; science fiction)
  • The Reavers of Skaith: Further Adventures of Eric John Stark,3 (1976; science fiction)
  • The Ark of Mars (n.d.; science fiction)
  • The Jewel of Bas (1990; novella, science fiction)

SHORT STORIES

  • "Martian Quest" (February 1940, Astounding; science fiction)
  • "The Treasure of Ptakuth" (April 1940, Astounding; science fiction)
  • "Child of the Green Light" (February 1942, Super Science Stories; science fiction)
  • "The Sorcerer of Rhiannon" (February 1942, Astounding; science fiction)
  • "Citadel of Lost Ships" (March 1943, Planet Stories; science fiction)
  • "The Death Dealer" (March 1943, Flynn's Detective Fiction; aka "The Misfortune Teller")
  • "Murder in the Family" (March 1943, Mammoth Detective)
  • "The Case of the Wandering Red Head" (April 1943, Flynn's Detective Fiction; aka "Red-Headed Poison")
  • "Design for Dying" (June 1944, Flynn's Detective Fiction)
  • "No Star Is Lost" (July 1944, Thrilling Detective)
  • "Shadow Over Mars" (Fall 1944, Startling Stories; science fiction)
  • "I Feel Bad Killing You" (November 1944, New Detective)
  • "Murder Is Bigamy" (July 1945, Thrilling Detective)
  • "Lorelei of the Red Mist" (Summer 1946, Planet Stories; with Ray Bradbury; science fiction)
  • "The Moon That Vanished" (October 1948, Thrilling Wonder Stories; science fiction)
  • "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (Summer 1949, Planet Stories; Eric John Stark; science fiction)

Later expanded by Edmond Hamilton to form the 1964 novel The Secret of Sinharat.

  • "Enchantress of Venus" (Fall 1949, Planet Stories; Eric John Stark; science fiction)
  • "The Lake of the Gone Forever" (October 1949, Thrilling Wonder Stories; science fiction)
  • "The Dancing Girl of Ganymede" (February 1950, Thrilling Wonder Stories; science fiction)
  • "Black Amazon of Mars" (March 1951, Planet Stories; science fiction)

Later expanded by Edmond Hamilton to form the 1964 novel People of the Talisman.

  • "The Woman from Altair" (July 1951, Startling Stories; science fiction)
  • "The Last Days of Shandakor" (April 1952, Startling Stories; science fiction)
  • "Shannach--the Last" (November 1952, Planet Stories; science fiction)
  • "The Queer Ones" (March 1957, Venture; aka "The Strange Ones"; science fiction)
  • "So Pale, So Cold, So Fair" (July 1957, Argosy)
  • "The True Death of Juanito Rodriguez" (February 1965, Cosmopolitan)
  • "Toutes les couleurs de líarc-en-ciel" (1968, Fiction [France]; tr. by Bruno Martin)

NON-FICTION ARTICLES & ESSAYS

  • "The Science-Fiction Field" (July 1944, Writer's Digest)
  • "And As to the Admixture of Cultures on Imaginary Worlds..." (1965, Amrav2 #33)
  • "Barsoom and Myself" (1966, ERBania#19)

COLLECTIONS

  • The Coming of the Terrans (1967; 5 novelettes, science fiction)
  • The Halfling and Other Stories (1973; science fiction)
  • The Book of Skaith (1976; omnibus collection of the three Skaith novels; science fiction)
  • The Best of Leigh Brackett (1977; edited by Edmond Hamilton; science fiction)
  • No Good from a Corpse (1999) .. Buy this book

Collects the novel and all her short scrime fiction, as well as an introduc tion by Ray Bradbury.

SCREENPLAYS

  • THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST
    (1945)
    Directed by Lesley Selander
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and John K. Butler
    Based on a story by Leigh Brackett
    Minor horror flick, strictly Grade B, co-written by two pulpsters
    .
  • THE BIG SLEEP...Buy this video ...Buy this DVD
    (1946, Warner Brothers)
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman
    Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
    Starring Humphrey Bogart as PHILIP MARLOWE
    Also starring
    Lauren Bacall
    .
  • THE CRIME DOCTOR'S MAN HUNT
    (1946)
    Directed by William Castle
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
    Based on a story by Eric Taylor
    Another B, this time in the crime genre, based on popular radio show of the time.
    .
  • RIO BRAVO
    (1959)
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman
    Starring John Wayne
    .
  • GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS
    (1961)
    Directed by Gordon Douglas
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Steve Frazee
    .
  • HATARI!
    (1961)
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Harry Kurnitz
    Starring John Wayne
    .
  • 13 WEST STREET
    (1962)
    Directed by Philip Leacock
    Screenplay by Robert Presnell, Jr.
    Based on the novel The Tiger Among Us by Leigh Brackett
    Starring Alan Ladd, Rod Steiger
    Early vigilante tale, supposedly based on Brackett's own novel. A forerunner of Death Wish.
    .
  • MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT
    (1962, Universal)
    Screenplay by Steve McNeil and John Fenton Murray
    Based on the story "The Girl Who Almost Got Away" by Pat Frank
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Brackett worked for 4 months on the final version of this screenplay, but got no on-screen credit. (The Screen Writer's Guild classified it as a "polish," not original work.)
    .
  • EL DORADO
    (1967)
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Screenplay by Harry Brown and Leigh Brackett
    Based on the novel by Harry Joe Brown
    Starring John Wayne
    .
  • RIO LOBO
    (1970)
    Directed by Howard Hawks
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Burton Wohl
    Starring John Wayne
    .
  • THE LONG GOODBYE... Buy the DVD... Buy the video
    (1973, United Artists)
    Directed by Robert Altman
    Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
    Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler
    Starring Elliott Gould as PHILIP MARLOWE
    .
  • STAR WARS: EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
    (1980)
    Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
    Screenplay by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
    Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
    Her last screenplay. The film was dedicated to her posthumously. She died in Lancaster, California, on March 17, 1978.

TELEVISION

  • ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR
  • "Death of a Cop"
    (May 24, 1963)
    Teleplay by Leigh Brackett
    Story by Douglas Warner
    .
  • "Terror at Northfield"
    (November 11, 1963)
    Teleplay by Leigh Brackett
    Story by Ellery Queen
  • ARCHER
    (January-March 1975, NBC)
    A Paramount Television Production
    Based on the character created by Ross Macdonald
  • "The Body Beautiful"
    (
    February 13, 1975)
    Teleplay by Leigh Brackett
    Directed by Edward M. Abrams
  • "The Four Pound Brick"
    (
    February 21, 1975)
    Teleplay by Juanita Barlett and Leigh Brackett
    Story by Leigh Brackett
    Directed by Lawrence Doheny

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Special thanks to Dennis McMillan and Bob Briney for their help with this page. Portions of this bio are adapted from the flap copy for the 1999 Dennis McMillan edition of No Good From a Corpse, originally published in 1944. Grateful acknowledgement goes to Dennis for letting letting us use it. There's also an excerpt you can read...


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