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Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett
Born Samuel Dashiell Hammett
May 27, 1894(1894-05-27)
Saint Mary's County, Maryland,
United States
Died January 10, 1961 (aged 66)
New York City, New York,
United States
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Writing period 1929–1951
Genres Hardboiled crime fiction,
detective fiction

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (pronounced [dəˈʃiːl]; May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), the newspaper comic strip Secret Agent X-9 and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse). In addition to the significant influence his novels and stories had on film, Hammett "is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time"[1] and was called, in his obituary in The New York Times, "the dean of the... 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction".[2]

Contents

Early life

Hammett was born on a farm called "Hopewell and Aim" off Great Mills Road, St. Mary's County, in southern Maryland, United States.[3] His parents were Richard Thomas Hammett and Anne Bond Dashiell. (The Dashiells are an old Maryland family, the name being an Anglicization of the French De Chiel) He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. "Sam", as he was known before he began writing, left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency (this later became his influence for most his books). He served as an operative for the Pinkerton Agency from 1915 to 1921, with time off to serve in World War I. However, the agency's role in union strike-breaking eventually disillusioned him.[4]

During World War I, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Motor Ambulance Corps. However, he became ill with the Spanish flu and later contracted tuberculosis. He spent the war as a patient in Cushman Hospital, Tacoma, Washington. While hospitalized he met and married a nurse, Josephine Dolan, and had two daughters, Mary Jane (1921-10-15) and Josephine (1926).[5] Shortly after the birth of their second child, Health Services nurses informed Josephine that due to Hammett's tuberculosis, she and the children should not live with him. So they rented a place in San Francisco. Hammett would visit on weekends, but the marriage soon fell apart. Hammett still supported his wife and daughters financially with the income he made from his writing.

Hammett turned to drinking, advertising, and, eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.

Early work

He was first published in 1922 and his first "The Continental Op" story was published in the Black Mask magazine the following year. The Continental Op served as the hero in many of Hammett's early short detective stories. His style of short sentences and a steady accumulation of detail was similar to what Hemingway was also beginning to write. These stories culminated in the two Continental Op novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse. In Red Harvest, Hammett achieved a "poetry of violence" as the Op took a hand in the purging a corrupt mining town. The Dain Curse was a more straightforward murder mystery as everyone close to a young woman is murdered.

Later novels

As Hammett's literary style matured, he relied less and less on the super-criminal and turned more to the kind of realistic, hardboiled fiction seen in The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man. In The Simple Art of Murder, Hammett's successor in the field, Raymond Chandler, summarized Hammett's accomplishments:

Hammett was the ace performer... He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of [The Glass Key] is the record of a man's devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.

Later years

From 1929 to 1930 Dashiell was romantically involved with Nell Martin, an author of short stories and several novels. He dedicated The Glass Key to her, and in turn, she dedicated her novel Lovers Should Marry to Hammett.

In 1931, Hammett embarked on a 30-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. This relationship was portrayed in the film Julia, in which Hammett was portrayed by Jason Robards and Hellman by Jane Fonda, in Oscar winning and nominated performances respectively.

He wrote his final novel in 1934, and devoted much of the rest of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong anti-fascist throughout the 1930s and in 1937 he joined the American Communist Party.[6] As a member of the League of American Writers, he served on its Keep America Out of War Committee in January 1940 during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact.[7]

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Service in World War II

In 1942, after Pearl Harbor, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army. Though he was a disabled veteran of World War I, and a victim of tuberculosis, he pulled strings in order to be admitted to the service. He spent most of World War II as an Army sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper. He came out of the war suffering from emphysema. As a corporal in 1943, he co-authored The Battle of the Aleutians with Cpl. Robert Colodny under the direction of Infantry Intelligence Officer Major Henry W. Hall.

Post-war political activity

After the war, Hammett returned to political activism, "but he played that role with less fervor than before."[8] He was elected President of the Civil Rights Congress of New York on June 5, 1946 at a meeting held at the Hotel Diplomat in New York City, and "devoted the largest portion of his working time to CRC activities."[8] In 1946, a bail fund was created by the CRC "to be used at the discretion of three trustees to gain the release of defendants arrested for political reasons."[9] Those three trustees were Hammett, who was chairman, Robert W. Dunn, and Frederick Vanderbilt Field, "millionaire Communist supporter."[9] On April 3, 1947, the CRC was designated a Communist front group on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations, as directed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9835.[10]

Imprisonment and the blacklist

The CRC's bail fund gained national attention on November 4, 1949, when bail in the amount of "$260,000 in negotiable government bonds" was posted "to free eleven men appealing their convictions under the Smith Act for criminal conspiracy to teach and advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence."[9] On July 2, 1951, their appeals exhausted, four of the convicted men fled rather than surrender themselves to Federal agents and begin serving their sentences. At that time, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued subpoenas to the trustees of the CRC bail fund in an attempt to learn the whereabouts of the fugitives.[9] Hammett testified on July 9, 1951 in front of United States District Court Judge Sylvester Ryan, facing questioning by Irving Saypol, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described by Time as "the nation's number one legal hunter of top Communists".[9] During the hearing Hammett refused to provide the information the government wanted, specifically, the list of contributors to the bail fund, "people who might be sympathetic enough to harbor the fugitives."[9] Instead, on every question regarding the CRC or the bail fund, Hammett took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to even identify his signature or initials on CRC documents the government had subpoenaed. As soon as his testimony concluded, Hammett was immediately found guilty of contempt of court.[9][11][12][13]

During the 1950s he was investigated by Congress (see McCarthyism), and testified on March 26, 1953 before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although he testified to his own activities, he refused to cooperate with the committee and was blacklisted.

Death

Grave of Samuel Dashiell Hammett in Arlington National Cemetery

On January 10, 1961, Hammett died in New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, of lung cancer, diagnosed just two months before. As a veteran of two World Wars, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In literature

Fellow crime writer and former San Francisco detective Joe Gores wrote a novel in 1975 entitled Hammett, which imagines Hammett himself being drawn back to the work of a private eye in order to honor a debt with a mentor and friend. The novel was adapted into a film, Hammett (1982), which was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Wim Wenders. In the film, Frederic Forrest plays Hammett. Frederic Forrest also plays Hammett in the TV film, Citizen Cohn (1992).

Gores also recently wrote Spade & Archer (2009), a prequel to The Maltese Falcon. The novel investigates in richer detail the back stories of Sam Spade, his partner Miles Archer, and other characters from the original story. Gores was able to secure permission from Jo Marshall, Hammett's daughter, and Julie Rivett, Marshall's daughter and Hammett's granddaughter, to write the book. Although Marshall first refused, the Hammett family later changed their mind because they felt that Gores was the right person to tell the story, primarily because he was a crime writer and a former San Francisco private investigator, just like Hammett. According to Rivett, "[Gores] walked the walk as well as he talked the talk. He knows as well as anyone where those characters came from."[14]

Works

Novels

Collected Short fiction

  • $106,000 Blood Money (Bestseller Mystery, 1943) A paperback digest that collects two connected Op stories, The Big Knockover and $106,000 Blood Money.
  • Blood Money (Tower, 1943) The hardcover edition of the Bestseller Mystery title.
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (Bestseller Mystery, 1944). Paperback digest that collects the three Spade stories and four others. This and the following eight digest collections were compiled and edited by Fred Dannay (one-half of Ellery Queen) with Hammett's permission. All of these were reprinted as dell map-back paperbacks).
  • The Continental Op (Bestseller Mystery, 1945) Paperback digest that collects four Op stories.
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade (Tower, 1945). The hardcover edition of the digest of the same title--this was the last time the digests were reprinted in hardcover.
  • The Return of the Continental Op (The Jonathan Press, 1945). Paperback digest that collects five further Op stories).
  • Hammett Homicides (Bestseller Mysteries, 1946). Paperback digest that collects six stories, including four that feature the Op.
  • Dead Yellow Woman (The Jonathan Press, 1947). Paperback digest that collects six stories, including four that feature the Op.
  • Nightmare Town (American Mercury, 1948). Paperback digest that collects four stories, two of which feature the Op.
  • The Creeping Siamese (American Mercury, 1950). Paperback digest that collects six stories, three of which feature the Op.
  • Woman in the Dark (The Jonathan Press, 1951). Paperback digest that collects six stories, including three that feature the Op, and the three-part novelette Woman in the Dark.
  • A Man Named Thin (Mercury Mystery, 1962). The last paperback digest, collects eight stories, including one Op story.
  • The Big Knockover (Random House, 1966; an important collection, edited by Lillian Hellman, that helped revive Hammett's literary reputation; includes the unfinished novel Tulip.
  • The Continental Op (Random House, 1974; edited by Steven Marcus).
  • Woman in the Dark (Knopf, 1988; hardcover edition that collects the three parts of the title novelette; introduction by Robert B. Parker).
  • Nightmare Town (Knopf, 1999; hardcover collection, contents different from the digest title of the same name).
  • Lost Stories (Vince Emery Productions, 2005; collects 21 stories that have not been collected previously in hardcover or, in several cases, ever. Emery provides several long commentaries on Hammett's career that provide context for the stories; introduction by Joe Gores).

Uncollected Stories

  • The Diamond Wager (Detective Fiction Weekly, October 19, 1929).
  • On the Way (Harper's Bazaar, March 1932).

Other Publications

  • Creeps by Night; Chills and Thrills (John Day, 1931; Anthology edited by Hammett)[15]
  • Secret Agent X-9 Book 1 (David McKay, 1934; collection of the comic strip written by Hammett and illustrated by Alex Raymond)
  • Secret Agent X-9 Book 2 (David McKay, 1934; a second collection of the comic strip).
  • The Battle of the Aleutians (Field Force Headquarters, Adak, Alaska, 1944; text written by Hammett, with illustrations by Robert Colodny).
  • Watch on the Rhine (screenplay of Hellman's play, in Best Film Plays 1943-44, Crown, 1945; also includes the screenplay for Casablanca).

Published as

  • Complete Novels (Steven Marcus, ed.) (Library of America, 1999) ISBN 978-1-88301167-3.
  • Crime Stories and Other Writings (Steven Marcus, ed.) (Library of America, 2001) ISBN 978-1-93108200-6.

Quotes

[Hammett] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley... [He] gave murder back to the kind of people who do it for a reason, not just to provide a corpse; and with means at hand, not with hand wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish.
 
I have been asked many times over the years why he did not write another novel after The Thin Man. I do not know. I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do a new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker. But he kept his work, and his plans for work, in angry privacy and even I would not have been answered if I had ever asked, and maybe because I never asked is why I was with him until the last day of his life.
 
Lillian Hellman, in an introduction to a compilation of Hammett's five novels

See also

References

  1. ^ Layman, Richard (1981). Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 239. ISBN 0-15-181459-7.  
  2. ^ Layman, Richard & Bruccoli, Matthew J. (2002). Hardboiled Mystery Writers: A Literary Reference. Carroll & Graf. pp. 225. ISBN 0-7867-1029-2.  
  3. ^ Shoemaker, Sandy, Tobacco to Tomcats: St. Mary's County since the Revolution, StreamLine Enterprises, Leonardtown, Maryland, pp. 160, http://www.somd.lib.md.us/tobacco_to_tomcats/, retrieved 2008-01-01  
  4. ^ Thomas Heise, "'Going blood-simple like the natives': Contagious Urban Spaces and Modern Power in Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest", Modern Fiction Studies 51, no. 3 (Fall 2005) 506
  5. ^ Layman, Richard with Rivett, Julie M. (2001). Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921-1960. Retrieved on 2009-06-02 from http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/hammett-01letters.html.
  6. ^ FAQ at the CPUSA site
  7. ^ Franklin Folsom, Days of Anger, Days of Hope, University Press of Colorado, 1994, ISBN 0870813323
  8. ^ a b Layman, Richard (1981). Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 206. ISBN 0-15-181459-7.  
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, pp. 219-223
  10. ^ Enid Nemy. "Frederick Vanderbilt Field, Wealthy Leftist, Dies at 94". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04E0D9163EF934A35751C0A9669C8B63&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/People/N/Nemy,%20Enid. Retrieved 2007-11-27.  
  11. ^ Metress, Christopher (1994). The Critical Response to Dashiell Hammett. Greenwood Press.  
  12. ^ Johnson, Diane (1983). Dashiell Hammett, a Life. Random House.  
  13. ^ Petri Liukkonen. "Dashiell Hammett". Books and Writers. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dhammett.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-27.  
  14. ^ Kara Platoni, Stanford Magazine, "Sleuth or Dare: How Joe Gores recreated Sam Spade", [1]
  15. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 140.  

Bibliography

  • Mundell, EH, A List of the Original Appearances of Dashiell Hammett's Magazine Work, 1968, The Kent State University, Ohio.
  • Layman, Richard Dashiell Hammett: A Descriptive Bibliography", 1979 Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography, University of Pittsburgh Press

Biography/Criticism/Reference

  • Nolan, William F. Dashiell Hammett: A Casebook, 1969, McNally & Lofin, Santa Barbara.
  • Layman, Richard. Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, 1981, Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, New York
  • Nolan, William F. Hammett: A Life at the Edge, 1983, Congdon & Weed, New York.
  • Johnson, Diane. Dashiell Hammett: A Life, 1983, Random House, New York.
  • Symons, Julian. Dashiell Hammett, 1985, Harcourt, Brace & Javonovich, New York.
  • Mellon, Joan. Hellman and Hammett, 1996, Harper Collins, New York.
  • Hammett, Jo, A Daughter Remembers, 2001, Carroll and Graf Publishers.
  • Lillian Hellman's three volumes of memoir, An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time contain much Hammett-related material.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (1894-05-271961-01-10) was an American author of hardboiled detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest, The Dain Curse).

Contents

Sourced

The Thin Man (1929)

  • "Tall-over six feet-and one of the thinnest men I’ve ever seen. He must be about fifty now and his hair was almost white when I knew him.Usually needs a haircut, ragged brindle mustache, bites his fingernails." I pushed the dog away to reach for my drink.
    • Nick Charles
  • "You got types?"
    "Only you, darling-lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."
    • Nora & Nick
  • "A lot of fancier yarns come from people trying to tell the truth. It’s not easy once you’re out of the habit."
    • Nick Charles
  • "How do you feel?"
    "Terrible. I must have gone to bed sober."
    • Nora & Nick
  • "That’s why I don’t very often drink, or even smoke. I want to try cocaine, though because that’s suppose to sharpen the brain, isn’t it?"
    • Gilbert Wynant
  • "She keeps trying and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll find yourself believing her, not because she seems to be telling the truth, but simply because you’re tired of disbelieving her."
    • Nick Charles

The Maltese Falcon (1930)

  • Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-from high flat temples-in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blonde Satan.
  • She was tall and pleasantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow. She wore two shades of blue that had been selected because of her eyes. The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made.
    • Description of Brigid O'Shaughnessy
  • His features were small, in keeping with his stature, and regular. His skin was very fair. The whiteness of his cheeks was as little blurred by any considerable growth of beard as by the glow of blood. His clothing was neither new nor of more than ordinary quality, but it, and his manner of wearing it was marked by a hard masculine neatness.
    • Description of Wilmer, the gunsel
  • Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care, sitting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into curved paper, spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper’s inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder’s ends to hold it even while tongue licked the flap, left and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam, right forefinger and thumb twisting their end and lifting the other to Spade’s mouth.
  • "I’ve thrown myself on your mercy, told you that without your help I’m utterly lost.

    What else is there?" She suddenly moved close to him on the settee and cried angrily: "Can I buy you with my body?"

    • Bridgit
  • "Our conversations have not been such that I am anxious to continue them in private."
    • Cairo
  • "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter."
    • Spade
  • "You’re a damn good man, sister," he said and went out.
    • Spade
  • "We begin well, sir," the fat man purred ... "I distrust a man that says when. If he's got to be careful not to drink too much it's because he's not to be trusted when he does. ... Well, sir, here's to plain speaking and clear understanding. ... You're a close-mouthed man?"
    Spade shook his head. "I like to talk."
    "Better and better!" the fat man exclaimed. "I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking's something you can't do judiciously unless you keep in practice."
    • Chap. 11, "The Fat Man"
    • Dialogue between the characters Kasper Gutman (the "fat man") and Sam Spade.
  • "If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? If I know you can't afford to kill me till you have it, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?"
    Gutman cocked his head to the left and considered these questions. His eyes twinkled between puckered lids. Presently he gave his genial answer: "Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill."
    "Sure," Spade agreed, "but they're not much good unless the threat of death is behind them to hold the victim down. See what I mean? If you try anything I don't like I won't stand for it. I'll make it a matter of your having to call it off or kill me, knowing you can't afford to kill me."
    "I see what you mean." Gutman chuckled. "That is an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides, because, as you know, sir, men are likely to forget in the heat of action where their best interest lies, and let their emotions carry them away."
    Spade too was all smiling blandness. "That's the trick, from my side," he said, "to make my play strong enough that it ties you up, but yet not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment."
    Gutman said fondly: "By Gad, sir, you are a character!"
    • Chap. 18, "The Fall-Guy"
    • dialogue between the characters "Sam Spade" and "Kasper Gutman"
  • Spade pulled his hand out of hers. He no longer either smiled or grimaced. His wet yellow face was set hard and deeply lined. His eyes burned madly. He said: "Listen. This isn't a damned bit of good. You'll never understand me, but I'll try once more and then we'll give it up. Listen. When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around – bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere. Third, I'm a detective and expecting me to run criminals down and then let them go free is like asking a dog to catch a rabbit and let it go. It can be done, all right, and sometimes it is done, but it's not the natural thing. The only way I could have let you go was by letting Gutman and Cairo and the kid go. ... Fourth, no matter what I wanted to do now it would be absolutely impossible for me to let you go without having myself dragged to the gallows with the others. Next, I've no reason in God's world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you'd have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to. That's five of them. The sixth would be that, since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure you wouldn't decide to shoot a hole in *me* some day. Seventh, I don't even like the idea of thinking that there might be one chance in a hundred that you'd played me for a sucker. And eighth – but that's enough. All those on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won't argue about that. But look at the number of them. Now on the other side we've got what? All we've got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you." ... "But suppose I do? What of it? Maybe next month I won't. I've been through it before – when it lasted that long. Then what? Then I'll think I played the sap. And if I did it and got sent over then I'd be sure I was the sap. Well, if I send you over I'll be sorry as hell – I'll have some rotten nights – but that'll pass. Listen." He took her by the shoulders and bent her back, leaning over her. "If that doesn't mean anything to you forget it and we'll make it this: I won't because all of me wants to – wants to say to hell with the consequences and do it -- and because – God damn you – you've counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with the others. ... Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be. That kind of reputation might be good business – bringing in high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy. ... Well, a lot of money would have been at least one more item on the other side of the scales." ... Spade set the edges of his teeth together and said through them: "I won't play the sap for you."
    • Chap. 20, "If They Hang You"
    • spoken by the character "Sam Spade" to "Brigid O'Shaughnessy."

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