(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.
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