Mark Hellinger

Active - 1938 - 1948  |   Born - Mar 21, 1903   |   Died - Dec 21, 1947   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Comedy, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Most New Yorkers born after 1945 know "Mark Hellinger" only as the name of the Broadway theatre where My Fair Lady premiered. Those with longer memories recall Hellinger as a two-fisted, hard-driving, hard-drinking journalist of the Damon Runyon/Walter Winchell school. In both his newspaper pieces and short stories, Hellinger had a genius for accurately conveying the street-smart jargon and self-centered sentiments of New York's less savory citizens. Unlike Runyon, whose gangsters, race-track touts and sharpsters leaned towards the mythological, Hellinger's lowlifes were three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood creations (most were composites of actual people, which is why so many of Hellinger's film works are preceded with an "only the names have been changed" disclaimer). Hellinger's movie career began with his uncompromising screenplay for 1932's Night Court. Two years later, one of his short stories formed the basis of Frank Capra's racetrack fable Broadway Bill (1934). In 1939, Hellinger scripted Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties (1939), a fictionalized pageant of the Prohibition era in which every "fictional" character was instantly recognizable to contemporary audiences as being based on a genuine person, living or dead (mostly dead). Warners was so pleased with the box-office take of Roaring Twenties that the studio engaged Hellinger's service as an associate producer on such films as High Sierra (1941) and Strawberry Blonde (1941). He became a full producer when he moved to 20th Century-Fox in 1941 for a brace of melodramas, Rise and Shine (1941) and Moontide (1942). Then it was back to Warners for a few years, where his output ranged from the ethereal goings-on in Between Two Worlds (1944) to the low-comedy hijinks of Jack Benny's The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945). In 1946, Hellinger began his association with Universal, where he produced three top-rank crime films: The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947) and The Naked City (1948). In addition to his production chores, Hellinger appeared on-camera in Warners' Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and served as off-screen narrator (reciting the opening credits and the famous "eight million stories" palaver) for Naked City. Never one to look after his own health, Mark Hellinger died suddenly at the age of 44; his biography, written by Jim Bishop, was published in 1952, while producer/director/writer Richard Brooks, a Hellinger protégé, used his mentor as the basis for his novel The Producer.

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