Leigh Brackett: A Terrific Writer Ahead of Her Time just as She Was Ahead of Her Colleagues

Howard Hawks, Leigh Brackett, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart on the set of The Big Sleep (1946)

By Sven Mikulec

The name Leigh Brackett, already surely familiar to every true fan of the literary genre of science fiction, is a name that should be celebrated by every film lover as well. Born exactly 101 years ago and often referred to as The Queen of Space Opera, she started writing and publishing her stories in various science ficiton pulp magazines at the beginning of the 1940s and soon established herself as one of the leading representatives of the space opera subgenre, but continued to work in various different genres with equal skill and success. Her 1944 novel ‘No Good from a Corpse,’ a hard-boiled mystery novel in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, not only introduced her to a wider audience, but steered her career towards the movie business, another field where she would become a prominent figure. Howard Hawks was so impressed by this novel that he asked his assistant to call “this guy Brackett.” In fact, this statement basically sums up the challenges and obstacles Brackett had to face on her way to becoming one of the most important writers of the century. She succeeded at distinguishing herself as a highly competent, original and strong voice in a field practically reserved for men, and in the early stages of her career she had to put up with a lot of skepticism and outright criticism for being a female writer of science fiction. Moreover, the nickname The Queen of Space Opera was mostly used as a degrading term, not a compliment: the subgenre she found most interesting and inspiring was then regarded as a lesser form of writing, some sort of an ugly child of science fiction and fantasy. But she stuck with it, defended it, becoming its champion and claiming science fiction should never be put into drawers and confined with labels.

Her Hollywood dossier consists of a series of classics she either wrote and co-wrote: The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, The Long Goodbye, Hatari!, El Dorado, Rio Lobo and The Empire Strikes Back. For George Lucas’ Star Wars sequel she managed to write a first draft before losing her fight with cancer, and Lawrence Kasdan later took over and changed her material, but her role in the creation of probably the best Star Wars film can’t be ignored, as it was her who carved out the story with Lucas, and the biggest fans of her writing claim to easily notice her spirit and words in both the plot and the dialogues of the movie. But even before George Lucas pushed the genre of space opera into mainstream, Brackett had already been its champion and representative. The mentor to Ray Bradbury, a masterful storyteller of limitless imagination, exquisite writing skills and quite an impressive range, Leigh Brackett was ahead of her time just as she was ahead of most of her colleagues.

What we’ve prepared for you today is a rare conversation Brackett had in 1974 with Starlog Magazine, four years before her death. In this captivating piece, Brackett discusses her beginnings as a writer and a successful Hollywood screenwriter, her collaboration with William Faulkner on the script for The Big Sleep, working with Howard Hawks, as well as huge movie stars like Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne. This copy of the magazine also includes a beautifully detailed account on how she and her husband, renowned science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, met and fell in love. It’s a delightful read and we encourage you to give it a chance. Don’t only read the interview, read Leigh Brackett’s scripts as well. An inspiring woman who opened numerous doors for others and a great writer who used to sit in front of a typewriter and let the story develop itself.


The Solar Sales Service: Remembering Leigh Brackett & Edmond Hamilton.

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