Leigh Brackett was born 100 years ago

Leigh Brackett in 1941
Leigh Brackett in 1941

Leigh Douglas Brackett was born on December 7, 1915 in Los Angeles, California.

Leigh Brackett began her career as a writer with the publication of the short story “Martian Quest” in the February 1940 issue of the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction”. For some years she published science fiction stories but her first novel was a mystery, “No Good from a Corpse”, published in 1944. Soon after, she also published her first science fiction novel, “Shadow Over Mars”, initially in the magazine “Startling Stories”.

Accumulating experience as a writer, Leigh Brackett improved the quality of the plots and characters of her stories and started working as a screenwriter for television and especially for cinema. 1946 was a pivotal year for her with the movie “The Big Sleep”, for which she wrote the screenplay with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, and her wedding with her fellow writer Edmond Moore Hamilton.

In the second half of the ’40s, Leigh Brackett wrote especially literature and in 1949 published the novella “Queen of the Martian Catacombs”, in which appears for the first time Eric John Stark. This orphaned human grows up with Mercury’s aboriginals and then gets someway adopted by an Earth’s agent. On Mars, Stark lives various adventures, told also in the 1951 novella “Black Amazon of Mars”. These two stories were revised years later and republished in 1964 as “The Secret of Sinharat” and “The People of the Talisman“.

On Mars are set other stories written by Leigh Brackett between the ’40s and ’50s. In addition to the short fiction, there’s the 1949 novel “Sea-Kings of Mars”, re-published in 1953 and from then on known as “The Sword of Rhiannon”. There are other settings for the novels “The Big Jump” (1955) and “The Long Tomorrow” (1955). The stories “The Ark of Mars” (1953), and “Teleportress of Alpha C” (1954) were revised and fixed-up in the 1963 novel “Alpha Centauri or Die”.

In the late ’50s, Leigh Brackett returned to writing mostly screenplays for television and especially for cinema and among them the most famous are “Rio Bravo” (1959), “Hatari!” (1962) and “The Long Goodbye” (1973).

In the ’70s, Leigh Brackett reprised the character of Eric John Stark but times had changed in a period when space missions were showing the real Mars. For this reason, the author sent his hero/anti-hero on the planet Skaith to live adventures told in the novels “The Ginger Star” (1974), “The Hounds of Skaith” (1974) and “The Reavers of Skaith” (1976).

After her husband’s death, which occurred in 1977, Leigh Brackett worked on the screenplay for “The Empire Strikes Back”. The stories about her contribution are different and contradictory. Unfortunately the author died of cancer on March 18, 1978 and the movie was released only in 1980.

Leigh Brackett was nicknamed the Queen of the space opera but wrote many stories of the planetary romance subgenre, especially those of Eric John Stark. In a time when science fiction stories were often superficial and full of stereotypes, she offered more mature works with complex and multifaceted characters. Her skill made her appreciated in both the field of science fiction and cinema and has her place in the history of both fields.

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