Monday, 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]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice choice for the letter "D." Hammett had a really interesting history that I didn't know much about, so I appreciate learning about him.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

Nice post, Norman, speaking as a life-long (almost) Hammett fan. In some ways, reading your post, he reminds me of Stieg Larsson. Not in all, but some. I posted a link on Friend Feed the other day - the rights of Hammett's work have just reverted to the granddaughter (he left them to Hellman in his will) and the article was about some of her plans.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Thanks for participating Norman. I am finding the range of choices that people are making fascinating, and learning so much. I think I have read one or two Hammett short stories and seen the film The Maltese Falcon.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I was going to put something more in these comments about Hammett's interesting life, but I am a bit shattered because my car has been broken into and a few classical cds stolen.
Mind you my liver scan tonight only found that I was fat which we did not need a very expensive ultra sound machine to discover.

2:05 PM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Interesting stuff. I am learning so many stuff about authors/books I don't know!

Here is my Crime Fiction Alphabet: D post!

1:53 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Gautami, Hammett has always fascinated me, Pinkerton Detective, soldier, crime fiction writer, movie scriptwriter, left wing activist and part author of a book on the Battle for the Aleutians. All this and The Maltese Falcon!

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For a LOT more info, see The Dashiell Hammett Website at

1:52 PM  
Blogger Kiwicraig said...

Nice post. I'm really glad that Hammett got covered for the "D" week... such an important writer in crime fiction history.

11:35 PM  

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