Archive for October 26, 2009

D is for Dashiell Hammett, a mini biography.

Here in his own words is a biographical statement which appeared in the Black Mask magazine in November 1924 before Hammett became well known.

‘I was born in Maryland, between the Potomac and Paxtuxent rivers, on May 27, 1894, and was raised in Baltimore.
After a fraction of a year in high school-Baltimore Polytechnic Institute-I became an unsatisfactory and unsatisfied employee of various railroads, stock brokers, machine manufacturers, canners and the like.
Usually I was fired.

An enigmatic want -ad took me into the employ of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, and I stuck at that until early 1922, when I chucked it to see what I could do with fiction writing.’

When in 1927 Joseph Shaw became the new editor of Black Mask magazine he boasted that Herbert Hoover and J.P.Morgan read the magazine. Hammett was one of Black Mask’s most celebrated writers with reviewers comparing him with Ernest Hemingway.

His reputation is based on the five novels and his short stories:

The Maltese Falcon [1930] in which he introduced his famous private detective, Sam Spade.
The Thin Man [1932] which introduced detectives Nick and Nora Charles.

Hammett had a very eventful life with service in both World Wars, periods of ill health, alcoholism, a volatile relationship with author and lover Lillian Hellman, time as a movie scriptwriter, and a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership of the Communist Party.

In 1941 the movie The Maltese Falcon, directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, and Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy was released. It had probably the greatest supporting cast ever with the superb Sydney Greenstreet as Casper Gutman and the villainous Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. It is not surprising that author James Agee called this third cinematic adaptation of the novel “the best private eye melodrama ever made.”

On the 10 February 2005 the United States Senate approved a resolution introduced by Senator Dianne Fienstien commemorating the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon and recognizing it as a “great American crime novel.”

I think Dashiell Hammett could be said to have done pretty well with fiction writing.

[Information gleaned from Wikpedia, Discovering The Maltese Falcon and Sam Spade edited by Richard Layman, preface to The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, Hammett’s Moral Vision by George Thompson]