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10 Lessons We Learned From Filmmaking in the 1920s


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Dialogue Needs Writers
The demise of silent films meant dialogue writers were in demand in Hollywood. enriqueayuso/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock
The demise of silent films meant dialogue writers were in demand in Hollywood. enriqueayuso/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock

Talkies need dialogue, and dialogue requires writers. Hollywood sent out its siren call, and East Coast writers went west. In 1926 the celebrated journalist Herman Mankiewicz arrived in Tinseltown and established himself as one of the most important screenwriters of the 20th century. In a now-famous telegram, he recruited his friend Ben Hecht to join him, stating that "millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around."

While some writers made out well, studio executives commonly viewed writers as hacks and gave them little recognition and even less pay. In 1920 an informal club of writers formed, calling itself the Screenwriters Guild. The Guild would eventually become an influential union, which today exists as the powerful Writers Guild of America.

As for "Manky," he did indeed make a lot of money, penning more than 40 scripts including his famous collaboration with Orson Wells on "Citizen Kane." But in the obituary he wrote for Mankiewicz, Hecht lamented his friend's success, believing that it had driven him to an early death [source: Rothman].