Dashiell Hammett

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

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894—January 10, 1961) 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 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]


[edit] Early life

Hammett was born on a farm called "Hopewell and Aim" off Great Mills Road, St. Mary's County, in southern Maryland.[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; it is pronounced "da-SHEEL", not "DASH-el".) 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[citation needed]) 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) and Josephine (1926). 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.

[edit] Early work

The detective who goes by no name other than "The Continental Operative" served as the hero in many of Hammett's early short stories, largely following a simple investigative formula. His writing was composed largely of minimalist sentences, and a steady accumulation of evidence. 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 Continental Op took a hand in the purging of mob bosses from a corrupt mining town. The Dain Curse was a more straighforward murder mystery as everyone close to a young woman met their demise, leading to the twisted mind of the murderer.

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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 thirty-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. 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.[5] 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.[6]

[edit] Service in World War Two

In 1942, after Pearl Harbor, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army. Though he was a disabled veteran of WWI, 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.

[edit] Post-war political activity

After the war, Hammett returned to political activism, "but he played that role with less fervor than before."[7] He was elected President of the Civil Rights Congress of New York on 5 June 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."[7] 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."[8] Those three trustees were Hammett, who was chairman, Robert W. Dunn, and Frederick Vanderbilt Field, "millionaire Communist supporter."[8] On 3 April 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.[9]

[edit] Imprisonment and the blacklist

The CRC's bail fund gained national attention on 4 November 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."[8] On 2 July 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 U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, issued subpoenas for the trustees of the CRC bail fund in an attempt to learn the whereabouts of the fugitives...".[8] Hammett testified on 9 July 1951 in front of United States District Court Judge Sylvester Ryan, facing questioning by U.S. District Attorney Irving Saypol, described by Time as "the nation's number one legal hunter of top Communists".[8] 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."[8] 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.[8][10][11][12]

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

[edit] 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.

[edit] Works

[edit] Published as

[edit] 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 handwrought 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

[edit] See also

[edit] 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 on 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. ^ FAQ at the CPUSA site
  6. ^ Franklin Folsom, Days of Anger, Days of Hope, University Press of Colorado, 1994, ISBN 0870813323
  7. ^ a b Layman, Richard (1981). Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 206. ISBN 0-15-181459-7. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett, pp. 219-223
  9. ^ 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 on 2007-11-27. 
  10. ^ Metress, Christopher (1994). The Critical Response to Dashiell Hammett. Greenwood Press. 
  11. ^ Johnson, Diane (1983). Dashiell Hammett, a Life. Random House. 
  12. ^ Petri Liukkonen. "Dashiell Hammett". Books and Writers. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dhammett.htm. Retrieved on 2007-11-27. 
  13. ^ Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 140. 

[edit] Bibliography

  • Hammett, Jo, A Daughter Remembers, 2001, Carroll and Graf Publishers.

[edit] External links

NAME Hammett, Dashiell
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Hammett, Samuel Dashiell
DATE OF BIRTH May 27, 1894
PLACE OF BIRTH Saint Mary's County, Maryland
DATE OF DEATH January 10, 1961
PLACE OF DEATH New York City, New York
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