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Brackett in 1941
|Born||Leigh Douglass Brackett|
December 7, 1915
Los Angeles, California, US
|Died||March 18, 1978 (aged 62)|
|Genre||Science fiction, crime fiction|
|Notable works||Eric John Stark series|
Edmond Hamilton (m. 1946–1977)(until his death)
Leigh Douglass Brackett (December 7, 1915 – March 18, 1978) was an American writer, particularly of science fiction, and has been referred to as the Queen of Space Opera. She was also a screenwriter, known for her work on such films as The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), The Long Goodbye (1973) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). She was the first woman shortlisted for the Hugo Award.
Leigh Brackett was born December 7, 1915 in Los Angeles, California, and grew up there. On December 31, 1946, at age 31, she married Edmond Hamilton in San Gabriel, California, and moved with him to Kinsman, Ohio. She died of cancer in 1978 in Lancaster, California.
Brackett first published in her mid-20s; the science fiction story "Martian Quest" appeared in the February 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Her earliest years as a writer (1940–42) were her most productive. Some of her stories have social themes, such as "The Citadel of Lost Ships" (1943), which considers the effects on the native cultures of alien worlds of Earth's expanding trade empire. During this period, she was also an active member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), and participated in local science fiction fandom in other ways, including contributing to the second issue of Pogo's STF-ETTE, an all-female science fiction fanzine (probably the first such).
Brackett's first novel, No Good from a Corpse (1944), was a hard-boiled mystery novel in the tradition of Raymond Chandler (The book resulted in her getting her first big screenwriting assignment.) After this, Brackett's science fiction stories became more ambitious. Shadow Over Mars (1944) was her first novel-length science fiction story; though somewhat rough-edged, it marked the beginning of a new style. This was strongly influenced by the characterization of the 1940s detective story and film noir.
In 1946, Brackett married fellow science fiction author Edmond Hamilton (fellow LASFS member Ray Bradbury served as best man). Planet Stories published the novella "Lorelei of the Red Mist", in which the protagonist is a thief called Hugh Starke. Brackett finished the first half before turning it over to Ray Bradbury, so that she could leave to work on the screenplay of the movie The Big Sleep, based on a Chandler novel.
Brackett returned to science fiction writing after her movie work, in 1948. From then on to 1951, she produced a series of science fiction adventure stories that were longer than her previous work, including such classic representations of her planetary settings as "The Moon that Vanished" and the novel Sea-Kings of Mars (1949). The latter was later published as The Sword of Rhiannon, a vivid description of Mars before its oceans evaporated.
In "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" (1949), Brackett created the character of Eric John Stark. Stark, an orphan from Earth, is raised by the semi-sentient aboriginals of Mercury, who are later killed by Earthmen. He is saved by a Terran official, who adopts Stark and becomes his mentor. When threatened, Stark reverts to the primitive N'Chaka, the "man without a tribe", who he was on Mercury. From 1949 to 1951, Brackett featured Stark (whose name echoes that of the hero in "Lorelei of the Red Mist") in three stories published in Planet Stories: "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", "Enchantress of Venus", and "Black Amazon of Mars". With this last story, Brackett's high adventure period of writing ended.
Brackett adopted an elegiac tone in her stories, no longer celebrating the conflicts of frontier worlds but lamenting the passing of civilizations, and concentrating more on mood than plot. The reflective, introspective nature of these stories is indicated in the titles: "The Last Days of Shandakor", "Shannach — the Last", and "Last Call from Sector 9G".
"Last Call" was published in the final issue (Summer 1955) of Planet Stories, which had been her most reliable publisher. After Planet Stories folded, and later in 1955, Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, Brackett had lost all of her magazine market. The first phase of her career as a science fiction author ended. She did produce other stories over the next decade, and revised and published some as novels.
A new production of this period was The Long Tomorrow (1955), one of Brackett's more critically acclaimed science fiction novels. This novel describes an agrarian, technophobic society that develops after a nuclear war.
After 1955, Brackett concentrated writing for the more lucrative film and television markets. In 1963 and 1964, she briefly returned to her old Martian milieu with a pair of stories. "The Road to Sinharat" can be regarded as an affectionate farewell to the world of "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", and the other – with the intentionally ridiculous title of "Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon" – borders on parody.
After another hiatus of nearly a decade, Brackett returned to science fiction in the 1970s with the publication of The Ginger Star (1974), The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976), collected as The Book of Skaith in 1976. This trilogy brought Eric John Stark back for adventures upon the extra-solar planet of Skaith (rather than his old haunts of Mars and Venus).
Often referred to as the "Queen of Space Opera", Brackett also wrote planetary romance. Almost all of her planetary romances take place in the Leigh Brackett Solar System, which contains richly detailed fictional versions of the consensus Mars and Venus of science fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. Mars appears as a marginally habitable desert world, populated by ancient, decadent and mostly humanoid races; Venus as a primitive, wet jungle planet, occupied by vigorous, primitive tribes and reptilian monsters. Brackett's Skaith combines elements of her other worlds with fantasy elements.
Though the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs is apparent in Brackett's Mars stories, her Mars is set firmly in a world of interplanetary commerce and competition. A prominent theme of her stories is the clash of planetary civilizations; the stories illustrate and criticize the effects of colonialism on civilizations that are either older or younger than those of the colonizers. These stories have remained relevant for their colonial critique. Burroughs' heroes set out to remake entire worlds according to their own codes; Brackett's heroes (often antiheroes) are at the mercy of trends and movements far bigger than they are.
After the Mariner missions proved there was no life on Mars, she never returned to her solar system. When she started to write planetary romance again in the 70s, she invented a new solar system outside our own.
Shortly after Brackett broke into science fiction writing, she wrote her first screenplays. Hollywood director Howard Hawks was so impressed by her novel No Good from a Corpse that he had his secretary call in "this guy Brackett" to help William Faulkner write the script for The Big Sleep (1946). The film was written by Brackett, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman, and starred Humphrey Bogart. It is considered one of the best movies ever made in the genre.
After getting married, Brackett took a long break from screenwriting. When she returned to screenwriting in the mid-1950s, she wrote for TV and movies. Howard Hawks hired her to write or co-write several John Wayne pictures, including Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1966), and Rio Lobo (1970). Because of her background with The Big Sleep, she later adapted Raymond Chandler's novel The Long Goodbye for the screen.
Brackett worked on the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, the first Star Wars sequel. The film won the Hugo Award in 1981. This script was a departure for Brackett, as until then, all of her science fiction had been in the form of novels and short stories. Brackett's role in writing the script is disputed. George Lucas said that he asked Brackett to write the screenplay based on his story outline. Brackett wrote a finished first draft, which was delivered to Lucas shortly before her death from cancer on March 18, 1978. Two drafts of a new screenplay were written by Lucas and, following the delivery of the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, turned over to Lawrence Kasdan for a new approach. Both Brackett and Kasdan (though not Lucas) were given credit for the final script.
Laurent Bouzereau, in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, said that Lucas disliked the direction of Brackett's screenplay, discarded it, and produced two more screenplays before turning the results over to Kasdan. Some fans, however, believe that they can detect traces of Brackett's influence in the dialogue and the treatment of the space opera genre in Empire. io9's co-founder Charlie Jane Anders has written that while "It's fashionable to disparage Brackett's contributions to Empire", "it's not true that none of Brackett's storyline winds up in the final movie — the basic story beats are the same."
Similarly John Saavedra of Den of Geek website says:
Most importantly, you see that Brackett's draft, while definitely in need of a rewrite and several tweaks, holds all of the big moments we'd eventually see on screen. We still get a version of the Battle of Hoth (a much more ridiculous one), the wise words of an old Jedi Master, the excitement of zooming through a deadly asteroid field, a love triangle (a MUCH more overt one), a majestic city in the clouds, unexpected betrayals, and the climactic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader that we would reenact on playgrounds for years to come.
Brackett's screenplay has never been officially or legally published. According to Stephen Haffner, it can be read at the Jack Williamson Special Collections library at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico (but may not be copied or checked out) and the archives at Lucasfilm in California.
|Library resources about |
|By Leigh Brackett|
[Leigh Brackett] has been a pal of Ray Bradbury for years, and with her husband was guest of honor at last year's World Science-Fiction Convention in Oakland
A review of Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays written and compiled by Laurent Bouzereau
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