Leigh Douglass Brackett
(1915-1978)

(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...)

Here's the story...

In 1944, a young writer of pulp detective and science fiction tales from Los Angeles published her first book, No Good from a Corpse. According to Bill Pronzini, in Hardboiled, the novel was "so Chandleresque in style and approach it might have been written by Chandler himself." Pronzini considers Brackett "one of the top hardboiled writers of all time."

It also impressed lots of other folks. 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, 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. Bill Pronzini considers Leigh Brackett "one of the top hardboiled writers of all time." High praise, indeed.

(And, as contributor Todd Mason points out, although Brackett may never have cracked Black Mask, but she did contribute frequently and well to such sci-fi magazines as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories [of the Thrilling Group that also included, ahem, Thrilling Detective and employed the young Leo Margulies], as well as Planet Stories and Astounding, probably the equivalent of Black Mask in that 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. It includes an intro by a young writer she became friends with during the early 1940s (Ray Bradbury--he later made good) 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.. Read an excerpt
  • Stranger at Home (1946; ghost-written for actor George Sanders)
  • 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 short story; science fiction)
  • People of the Talisman (1964; expanded by Edmond Hamilton from 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)

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)

SHORT STORIES

  • "Martian Quest" (1940, Astounding Science Fiction in 1940; science fiction)
  • "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (later expanded by Edmond Hamilton to form novel The Secret of Sinharat,1964; science fiction)
  • "Black Amazon of Mars" (later expanded by Edmond Hamilton to form novel People of the Talisman, 1964; science fiction)
  • "Murder in the Family' (1943)
  • "The Case of the Wandering Redhead" (1943; AKA Red-Headed Poison)
  • "The Death Dealer" (1943; AKA The Misfortune Teller)
  • "Design For Dying" (1944)
  • "No Star is Lost" (1944)
  • "I Feel Bad Killing You" (November 1944, New Detective)
  • "Murder Is Bigamy" (July 1945, Thrilling Detective)
  • "So Pale, So Cold, So Fair" (July 1957, Argosy)
  • 'The True Death of Juanito Rodriguez" (February 1965, Cosmopolitan; July 1965, Argosy [UK])

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.


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