The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Raymond Chandler

Vice President Predicts 'Long, Costly' Struggle in Southeast Asia





  May 24, 1961, Southeast Asia  

  May 24, 1961, Joan Davis Dies  


May 24, 1961: Radio and TV comedy star Joan Davis dies of a heart attack and gets a Page 1 obituary with a jump. Raymond Chandler got an six-paragraph obituary on Page 4.  Davis was 48 when she died.

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Bullet of Mystery – Part 1





  July 11, 1901, Bullet of Mystery  

Nov. 26, 1959, Lionel Comport Los Angeles history in the 1900s is an acquired taste. Most people limit themselves to  the Raymond Chandler era, the 1930s through the 1950s, as if Philip Marlowe moonlighted as a historian. Perhaps they find the city’s horse-and-buggy days too remote, but for me that era is like watching a modern metropolis slowly rise from the dust of a Wild West town.

I revisited 1901 when I met with Caroline Comport on Tuesday to help research her grandfather for a master’s thesis on how personal history shapes a family’s self-image. Or, as Caroline puts it, “How does who we think we are impact who we become?”

After spending years at microfilm machines and in various archives, I am always amazed at the relative ease of doing research these days. Our session was at Foxy’s in Glendale (free Wi-Fi!) and we delved into Los Angeles history while toasting English muffins. Truly the civilized way.
 
To summarize the story of Caroline’s grandfather, Lionel F. Comport was shot in the back July 10, 1901, while delivering milk from a horse-drawn wagon at 20th and Toberman streets in the University Park neighborhood. Police suggested various motives (Robbery? Dispute over a woman? A mad assassin?) but despite an intense investigation, officers never found the attacker.

The bullet  penetrated Comport’s intestines and by all expectations of medical care in that era, he should have died. However, he was rushed to a hospital (as fast as a horse-drawn ambulance would go, anyway) and survived the operation. He died in 1959 at the age of 79.

Here’s a brief case study in how we went about the research:

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Film of Raymond Chandler Found



Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity

Fred MacMurray and Raymond Chandler in "Double Indemnity."

I can't claim this discovery but it's a good one. Evidently Raymond Chandler made a brief and unknown -- until now -- cameo appearance in "Double Indemnity." This was simultaneously discovered by John Billheimer and Olivier Eyquem.
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Found on EBay -- Raymond Chandler Letter


Raymond_chandler_letter

What appears to be an original letter by Raymond Chandler, addressed to Edgar Carter, has been listed on EBay. Bidding starts at $15.50.

Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler



THE WRITING LIFE

Judith Freeman on Raymond Chandler

A letter led to friendship with Dorothy Fisher, once Raymond Chandler's secretary.
By Judith Freeman
April 5, 2009
Raymond_chandler The number of people who actually knew Raymond Chandler and who are still alive can pretty much be counted on one hand. Chandler died 50 years ago last week, on March 26, 1959, at the age of 70. Among his surviving friends are Natasha Spender, wife of the late poet Stephen Spender (now in her 90s), and the writer Neil Morgan, who, as a young journalist at the San Diego Tribune, met the writer.

A few other less-well-known individuals still survive and, through an unusual circumstance, I met one of them a little over a year ago. Her name was Dorothy Fisher -- née Gruber. In the fall of 2007, she wrote me a letter after reading a review of my book "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved" in this newspaper. She said she'd enjoyed the review very much and was anxious to get my book -- especially, she said, because she had been Chandler's secretary in the 1940s at Paramount Studios. "I have many stories I'd like to tell you, if you're interested," she wrote. "You may not be interested, but if you are, give me a call," and she included her phone number.

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Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler




A historic passion

* Author Judith Freeman researched Raymond Chandler's marriage.

November 7, 2007

By Graham Fuller, Special to The Times

Twenty years ago, Judith Freeman became "obsessed," as she puts it, with Raymond Chandler, whose novels featuring the private detective Philip Marlowe still make up the most iconic literary portrait of Los Angeles. When, in 2003, Freeman began writing "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved," she found herself on a quest leading in many different directions.

The author of a short-story collection and four novels, Freeman was raised in Utah. She had moved to Los Angeles in the late '70s and was living in one of Chandler's old neighborhoods when she began reading his letters. She became captivated by Chandler's wife Cissy. A fey, ethereally beautiful sophisticate with a past as a nude model in New York, Cissy was living with her second husband on South Vendome when she and Chandler met around 1913. Their affair began after he'd returned from the Great War, and they married in 1924. At the time, Chandler was 35 and thought his bride was 43. Only gradually did he learn she was 18 years his senior.

It was the absence of information in Chandler's letters and Frank McShane's 1976 biography that made Cissy an enigma in Freeman's eyes and prompted her decision to "possibly bring her to life." As she tried to fathom the nature of the Chandlers' 30-year marriage -- which incorporated elements of courtly love and withstood his alcoholism, philandering, and her long decline into invalidism -- she was confronted with the couple's itinerant lifestyle.

They changed addresses over 30 times in Los Angeles and Southern California. They lived downtown and in Hollywood, in Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, San Bernardino, Monrovia, Idyllwild and Cathedral City, in the mountains and the desert, sometimes changing residences twice a year. They were as restless as an alley cat on a velvet cushion.

Why they couldn't stay put is a mystery that might have baffled Marlowe, at least temporarily. Without donning a trench coat, Freeman had a crack at solving it.

"I think Ray was constantly searching," she said, "but they also liked this idea of mobility, the fact that you could get a new car and go to Big Bear for the summers, to the desert for the winters, and if, you didn't like it, to Santa Monica or Arcadia, Brentwood or Silver Lake. This possibility was introduced not just by the automobile, but by their sense of general detachment from any kind of past family."

Asked if she feels there was a neurotic element in the Chandlers' nomadism, Freeman said "there is something deeply unsettled about it. In A.A. meetings they use the term 'going geographic' of an alcoholic personality to describe that idea of constantly moving, running, probably trying to escape and find at the same time."

"I don't know if Chandler was running from something," said David Thomson, who wrote a monograph on Howard Hawks' film of Chandler's "The Big Sleep." "Maybe he was a kind of hotel writer -- a little like Nabokov -- in that he never had much need to be 'at home.' He had a hero who seems to live in a very plain room and waits to be invited out by fate. I think of him as someone who found his dream and so inhabited it as much as he could."

The Chandlers nearly parted in 1932 when Ray's persistent drunkenness and workplace affairs cost him his executive job at Dabney Oil.

"This was the major disruption in his life," said Alain Silver, the co-author of "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles." "His peripatetic lifestyle became more urgent. The simplest reason he was constantly moving was that the rent would go up. By the time he could support himself and Cissy with his writing, the moving had become a habit. It maintained the displacement he'd known as a youth." He and his mother had been abandoned by his father when he was 7.

The marriage was threatened again when Chandler was lured to Hollywood in 1943 to write "Double Indemnity" with Billy Wilder. But over the long course, Freeman said, husband and wife sustained each other. Freeman says Chandler was "very conscious" of his knightly code. "I think it was forcibly instilled in him at Dulwich College in England. Then Cissy gave him the wonderfully strange nickname of Gallibeoth" -- redolent of Galahad-- "when they were still having an affair. This was a persona he adopted and that she completely embraced and reaffirmed, 12 years before he wrote his first short story. She became the enabler of his vision of the private eye who functions as a rescuer of humanity."

Freeman asserts that Cissy provided Chandler with a haven from the corruption, vice and brutality he considered endemic to Los Angeles -- and which fueled his finest writing. "They created this little island of civility within this wacky crackpot capital of the world, as Chandler called it. I think he must have been seduced by the city at first, but by the time he got through the studio system he was sick of it.

"There was a kind of banal quality to life that he detested, a lowbrow feeling, and he wanted to get out, and they did. But then, of course, he began to hate the place he found himself in, La Jolla, because of its Cadillac-and-chauffeur atmosphere. Like every other place he had run to, it wasn't going to be the answer to anything, and he began to regret that he ever left L.A."

Freeman visited all of the Chandlers' homes that were still standing. Particularly moving are her descriptions of Ray's study and Cissy's bedroom in their ocean-side house in La Jolla, where they lived from 1946 to 1954, when Cissy died.

It was there he wrote "The Long Goodbye," in which Marlowe's isolation, echoing Chandler's, becomes palpable. He rejects the humdrum existence of his hometown, Santa Rosa, and the decadence of the gated community in "Idle Valley." "I'll take the big sordid dirty crooked city," he says. "A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness."

Freeman's passion for her material can be off-putting for some. Ben Tarnoff in the San Francisco Chronicle writes that she "spends too much time reflecting on her own encounter with the material to offer a vivid portrait of the Chandlers' life together." But Richard Rayner, writing in The Times, sees her quest as more poignant, making the book "ache with emotion and loneliness -- her loneliness and Chandler's, the loneliness of following a trail, of a marriage, of writing itself."

Chandler died of pneumonia, brought on by his drinking, in La Jolla in 1959. A wanderer to the end, he spent his last years seemingly looking for another Cissy to protect -- and to protect him.

"Their marriage gave him meaning and kept him together," Freeman said. "He romanticized it as almost perfect. But I do think they were happy."


Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, the Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times' stories about his life and influence. We invite the Daily Mirror's readers to share their thoughts.

Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler

A historic passion

* Author Judith Freeman researched Raymond Chandler's marriage.

November 07, 2007

By Graham Fuller, Special to The Times

Twenty years ago, Judith Freeman became "obsessed," as she puts it, with Raymond Chandler, whose novels featuring the private detective Philip Marlowe still make up the most iconic literary portrait of Los Angeles. When, in 2003, Freeman began writing "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved," she found herself on a quest leading in many different directions.

The author of a short-story collection and four novels, Freeman was raised in Utah. She had moved to Los Angeles in the late '70s and was living in one of Chandler's old neighborhoods when she began reading his letters. She became captivated by Chandler's wife Cissy. A fey, ethereally beautiful sophisticate with a past as a nude model in New York, Cissy was living with her second husband on South Vendome when she and Chandler met around 1913. Their affair began after he'd returned from the Great War, and they married in 1924. At the time, Chandler was 35 and thought his bride was 43. Only gradually did he learn she was 18 years his senior.

It was the absence of information in Chandler's letters and Frank McShane's 1976 biography that made Cissy an enigma in Freeman's eyes and prompted her decision to "possibly bring her to life." As she tried to fathom the nature of the Chandlers' 30-year marriage -- which incorporated elements of courtly love and withstood his alcoholism, philandering, and her long decline into invalidism -- she was confronted with the couple's itinerant lifestyle.

They changed addresses over 30 times in Los Angeles and Southern California. They lived downtown and in Hollywood, in Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades, San Bernardino, Monrovia, Idyllwild and Cathedral City, in the mountains and the desert, sometimes changing residences twice a year. They were as restless as an alley cat on a velvet cushion.

Why they couldn't stay put is a mystery that might have baffled Marlowe, at least temporarily. Without donning a trench coat, Freeman had a crack at solving it.

"I think Ray was constantly searching," she said, "but they also liked this idea of mobility, the fact that you could get a new car and go to Big Bear for the summers, to the desert for the winters, and if, you didn't like it, to Santa Monica or Arcadia, Brentwood or Silver Lake. This possibility was introduced not just by the automobile, but by their sense of general detachment from any kind of past family."

Asked if she feels there was a neurotic element in the Chandlers' nomadism, Freeman said "there is something deeply unsettled about it. In A.A. meetings they use the term 'going geographic' of an alcoholic personality to describe that idea of constantly moving, running, probably trying to escape and find at the same time."

"I don't know if Chandler was running from something," said David Thomson, who wrote a monograph on Howard Hawks' film of Chandler's "The Big Sleep." "Maybe he was a kind of hotel writer -- a little like Nabokov -- in that he never had much need to be 'at home.' He had a hero who seems to live in a very plain room and waits to be invited out by fate. I think of him as someone who found his dream and so inhabited it as much as he could."

The Chandlers nearly parted in 1932 when Ray's persistent drunkenness and workplace affairs cost him his executive job at Dabney Oil.

"This was the major disruption in his life," said Alain Silver, the coauthor of "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles." "His peripatetic lifestyle became more urgent. The simplest reason he was constantly moving was that the rent would go up. By the time he could support himself and Cissy with his writing, the moving had become a habit. It maintained the displacement he'd known as a youth." He and his mother had been abandoned by his father when he was 7.

The marriage was threatened again when Chandler was lured to Hollywood in 1943 to write "Double Indemnity" with Billy Wilder. But over the long course, Freeman said, husband and wife sustained each other. Freeman says Chandler was "very conscious" of his knightly code. "I think it was forcibly instilled in him at Dulwich College in England. Then Cissy gave him the wonderfully strange nickname of Gallibeoth" -- redolent of Galahad-- "when they were still having an affair. This was a persona he adopted and that she completely embraced and reaffirmed, 12 years before he wrote his first short story. She became the enabler of his vision of the private eye who functions as a rescuer of humanity."

Freeman asserts that Cissy provided Chandler with a haven from the corruption, vice and brutality he considered endemic to Los Angeles -- and which fueled his finest writing. "They created this little island of civility within this wacky crackpot capital of the world, as Chandler called it. I think he must have been seduced by the city at first, but by the time he got through the studio system he was sick of it.

"There was a kind of banal quality to life that he detested, a lowbrow feeling, and he wanted to get out, and they did. But then, of course, he began to hate the place he found himself in, La Jolla, because of its Cadillac-and-chauffeur atmosphere. Like every other place he had run to, it wasn't going to be the answer to anything, and he began to regret that he ever left L.A."

Freeman visited all of the Chandlers' homes that were still standing. Particularly moving are her descriptions of Ray's study and Cissy's bedroom in their ocean-side house in La Jolla, where they lived from 1946 to 1954, when Cissy died.

It was there he wrote "The Long Goodbye," in which Marlowe's isolation, echoing Chandler's, becomes palpable. He rejects the humdrum existence of his hometown, Santa Rosa, and the decadence of the gated community in "Idle Valley." "I'll take the big sordid dirty crooked city," he says. "A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness."

Freeman's passion for her material can be off-putting for some. Ben Tarnoff in the San Francisco Chronicle writes that she "spends too much time reflecting on her own encounter with the material to offer a vivid portrait of the Chandlers' life together." But Richard Rayner, writing in The Times, sees her quest as more poignant, making the book "ache with emotion and loneliness -- her loneliness and Chandler's, the loneliness of following a trail, of a marriage, of writing itself."

Chandler died of pneumonia, brought on by his drinking, in La Jolla in 1959. A wanderer to the end, he spent his last years seemingly looking for another Cissy to protect -- and to protect him.

"Their marriage gave him meaning and kept him together," Freeman said. "He romanticized it as almost perfect. But I do think they were happy."


Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, the Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times' stories about his life and influence. We invite the Daily Mirror's readers to share their thoughts.

Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler




Two true loves

* The Long Embrace Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved Judith Freeman Pantheon: 354 pp., $25.95


November 04, 2007


By Richard Rayner, Richard Rayner's new book, "The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California," is due out in January. His column Paperback Writers appears monthly at latimes.com/books.

"I used to like this town. A long time ago. There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the inter-urban line," Raymond Chandler wrote, in the voice of his detective hero, Philip Marlowe, in 1949. "Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good-hearted and peaceful. It had the climate they yap about now. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America."

Chandler first came to Los Angeles in 1912, a time so distant in the city's history as to seem almost unreal. The population had only just climbed above 300,000. L.A. was still shaking from the dynamiting of The Times by the McNamara brothers, and Clarence Darrow was on trial for alleged bribery. William Mulholland's titanic aqueduct was incomplete and no water had as yet come from the Owens River Valley. Speedy, efficient streetcars connected downtown with the recently incorporated city of Hollywood and the distant beach towns. Chandler himself belonged to a little intellectual group, the Optimists, formed by his friend Warren Lloyd and meeting weekly at Lloyd's house on South Bonnie Brae Street. Music was played, poetry declaimed, literature and philosophy discussed.

At one of these soirees, Chandler first met Julian Pascal, a concert pianist and music professor, and Pascal's wife, Cissy. "Sexy and experienced, witty and confident, she was everything a young man could want in an older woman," writes Judith Freeman in "The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved." "He was sexually repressed and shy, inexperienced with women. Little wonder he found her irresistible."

And irresistible she was. "Cissy was a raging beauty, a strawberry blonde with skin I used to love to touch," Chandler would say later. "I don't know how I ever managed to get her." It took awhile: Cissy, twice-married, a former New York model who liked to do housework in the nude, kept him at arm's length at first.

Chandler enlisted in a Canadian regiment and went off to fight in World War I, in no small part, Freeman argues, "because he found himself in the untenable position of being in love with another man's wife." He came back, or was drawn back, to Los Angeles in 1919. After much argument and discussion, Julian Pascal agreed to bow out of the picture, but Cissy and Chandler didn't marry until 1924, when Chandler's mother -- with whom he'd been living -- died at last from an agonizing cancer. Only then, or a little later, did Chandler learn that Cissy was not eight years older than him, as he'd thought, but eighteen. He was 35, and he'd married a woman of 53.

"All this is the stuff of passion and novels," noted Patricia Highsmith, whose first book, "Strangers on a Train," Chandler would help adapt for the 1951 Hitchcock movie of the same name. "But little of the formidable emotional material that Chandler had at his disposal actually found its way into his writing."

That's not quite true. All his life, Chandler was a divided soul. He was an American, born in Chicago in 1888, yet he grew up mostly in England and received an education at snooty Dulwich College. He longed to live freely yet had a strict moral code. He was too troubled ever to be truly happy, and too inhibited and mannerly to be a freely autobiographical writer.

And yet, this worked for him, in its own way. His heightened sense of his own pleasures and dismays passed into how he caught the atmosphere and moods of L.A. His marriage to Cissy endured, and Los Angeles became a metaphor for the torture and disappointment he sometimes felt.

"The Long Embrace" is an exploration of these two relationships -- Ray and Cissy, Chandler and L.A. It is a beautiful and original book, in which Freeman becomes a double detective, telling the story of this strange yet loving marriage while also tracking down and visiting everywhere that the Chandlers lived in Southern California. That's no small task because Chandler needed movement like he needed air to breathe. "I kept the long list of Chandler addresses taped to the wall next to my desk where I could see it every day: Bonnie Brae Angels Flight Bunker Hill Loma Drive Vendome Catalina Stewart Leeward Longwood Gramercy Meadowbrook . . ." writes Freeman. "The list read like a plainsong of wandering, the liturgy of a long search for a home."

Freeman sits in bars and drinks gimlets, because Chandler claimed a gimlet "beat a martini hollow." She waits outside apartment buildings in the rain and sun. She spends months visiting UCLA's Special Collections and the Bodleian in Oxford, going through the Chandler archives. "I felt I was becoming a bit strange to myself," she tells us. Her quest turns into an obsession, and "The Long Embrace" starts to ache with emotion and loneliness -- her loneliness and Chandler's, the loneliness of following a trail, of a marriage, of writing itself.

Chandler is so much a part of the furniture that we tend to forget how great he is. The plots of "The Big Sleep," "Farewell, My Lovely" and "The High Window" are swift and workably complex, but they didn't bring much that was new to the crime story, even in their own time. He despised the lazy arrogance of wealth and power but lacked the rigor with which Dashiell Hammett viewed social and political corruption.

No, Chandler was a romantic, more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than the worldly Hammett, and through the character of Marlowe he became a haunting poet of place, this place, Los Angeles, whose split personality of light and dark mirrored Chandler's own. He caught the glaring sun, the glittering swimming pools, the cigar-stinking lobbies of seedy hotels, the improbable mansions, the dismal apartment buildings, the sound of tires on asphalt and gravel, the sparkling air of the city after rain and how the fog smells at the beach at night.

Frank MacShane published the standard Chandler biography more than 30 years ago, and until now, no other book has made us view this great American writer afresh. "The Long Embrace" does. "To take care of Cissy. That was his driving life force," Freeman writes. Chandler worked in the oil business for Cissy, and he turned himself into a crime writer for his wife, while feeling he never "wrote a book worthy of dedicating to her." Through booze, he rebelled against this bondage but never really wanted to break free. Freeman speculates, plausibly, that Chandler might have longed for men. "In 'The Big Sleep,' " she writes (she means "The Long Goodbye"), "there's simply no question Marlowe had loved Terry Lennox -- he moons after him."

Freeman traces the ups and downs of the marriage and career with utmost delicacy. We spend time with Billy Wilder and John Houseman, although "The Long Embrace" offers much more than a mere retelling. Spurred by Chandler's restlessness, Freeman writes about L.A. with a tender precision and yearning that borders on the religious. "I headed out Sunset Boulevard, past Hollywood High School and the cheap divey hotels with the leggy hookers out front, past the Chateau Marmont, where Belushi died of an overdose and the gargantuan billboards loom over the strip, the Marlboro man and his horse like gods high in the sky," she notes, describing a drive oceanward. "The farther you travel the more the air begins to change and become infused with a marine freshness. A mist develops. A faint fog appears, shot through with sunshine. A hazy light that says you're almost to the beach. You smell the coast long before you see it. You sense you're coming to the end of the land."

That's lovely, a haunting homage to a man whose own end was bleak. After Cissy died, Chandler burned her letters, perhaps wishing to keep her to himself forever. He was lost, and age dumped its garbage on him. He made an unsuccessful suicide attempt and embarrassed himself with younger women.

"[H]e became unmoored -- some might say unhinged," writes Freeman, who finds herself repeating again and again variants of the sad phrase: "He began drinking again." In "The Long Embrace," though, magic has occurred. Freeman's identification with her subject is so complete we feel we're there with Chandler too. We even believe her when she enters his dying mind, saying: "I always was a man without a home. . . . Still am."


Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, the Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times' stories about his life and influence. We invite the Daily Mirror's readers to share their thoughts.


Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler



Tour Casts New Light on Raymond Chandler's Old L.A.

* A Minnesota couple trace the steps of the novelist's best-known character.

April 4, 2004


By Erika Hayasaki, Times Staff Writer

Bonnie Olson stood in the lobby of the Oviatt Building on Olive Street downtown on Saturday, beneath the ceilings adorned with triangular glass, and read a passage from the Raymond Chandler novel "The Lady in the Lake," in which he described this very setting.

"The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it were breaking his heart," she read, explaining that the structure was called the Treloar Building in the book.

"The images he's able to evoke of Los Angeles and the past are powerful, maybe more powerful than actually seeing it in reality," said Olson, who led eight people on a walking tour of settings for Chandler's books.

Olson and her husband, Brian, were in town -- from Minnesota of all places -- to lead tours based on their new guide, "Tailing Philip Marlowe."

The self-published guide, available at Caravan Books on Grand Avenue, points out sites mentioned in Chandler's books, whose best-known character was private detective Philip Marlowe.

Olson said she admires Chandler's work because of his poignant storytelling, language and dialogue. He is studied along with great poets, writers and essayists, she said. Many consider him to be one of Los Angeles' quintessential writers, who weaved real places, people and events into his fiction, a strength that inspired fellow mystery writer Ross MacDonald to write: "Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence."

For several decades, Olson, an English teacher, and her husband, who works for the city of Minneapolis, have been enchanted by Chandler's descriptions of Los Angeles, like the steps of City Hall, where Marlowe lighted a cigarette as the cold wind blew in "Trouble Is My Business." Then there was the Bradbury Building on South Broadway about which Chandler wrote: "The dark narrow lobby was as dirty as a chicken yard" in "The High Window," in which the structure was called the Belfont Building.

The 2 1/2-hour tour began at the Oviatt Building and continued toward the Los Angeles Public Library, which Chandler mentioned in "The Long Goodbye."

The group headed to Bunker Hill, stopping at the top of the mothballed Angels Flight cable trolley, which Chandler described in "The High Window."

The group hiked to the 2nd Street tunnel, which Chandler compared to the barrel of a gun in "The Big Sleep": "The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel."

When the couple visited Los Angeles three years ago, they wanted to explore places mentioned in the novels, which captured the city in the 1930s and '40s. But they said they could not find a guide. So they returned home and combed through all of Chandler's stories, flagging descriptions of settings with Post-it notes.

Then the Olsons visited Los Angeles again, searching for the sites, and spent hours in the library researching the city's architectural history.

The couple put together the 112-page guidebook with the help of family members and a printer in Fargo, N.D., thinking they could use the books as Christmas gifts.

"We did it to have fun together," Bonnie Olson said. "We had no idea it was going to be such a niche."

Australian native Heath Ryan, 32, a fan of Chandler's book "Playback," moved to Los Angeles three years ago. He said he already had an idea of what the city was like from Chandler's descriptions.

"You get here and feel almost familiar with this place, even though you have never been here," Ryan said.

Ray Chin, 32, a downtown resident, said Chandler's work has helped him understand how the city has evolved.

"It isn't so much the images of the city," Chin said. "It's the historical knowledge he gives about the city. It's fascinating to see all of the changes."

On Saturday, those on the tour hiked up to Bunker Hill, where they rested on rows of marble benches in a courtyard overlooking a pond, surrounded by towering skyscrapers. The outdoor cafe tables were mostly empty, and a hair salon was closed. Beneath the courtyard, homeless men and women slept on the grass, and the stairs smelled like urine.

Many years ago, Chandler described the setting, in "The High Window," like this: "Bunker is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town.... Out of the apartment houses come women who should be young but have faces like stale beer; men with pulled-down hats and quick eyes that look the street over behind the cupped hand that shield the match flame; worn intellectuals with cigarette coughs and no money in the bank; fly cops with granite faces and unwavering eyes; cokies and coke peddlers."

Olson read that passage and her husband explained that this was the neighborhood where Marlowe found a dead body in an apartment.

"It was a romantic time, a different time," Ryan said. "There were no freeways. It was the center of the city. Now it feels a bit dead."


Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, the Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times' stories about his life and influence. We invite the Daily Mirror's readers to share their thoughts.


Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler

Tough Guys and Sentimental Gumshoes

* SELECTED LETTERS OF DASHIELL HAMMETT 1921-1960 Edited by Richard Layman with Julie M. Rivett; Counterpoint: 650 pp., $40

* THE RAYMOND CHANDLER PAPERS Selected Letters and Nonfiction 1909-1959 Edited by Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane; Atlantic Monthly Press: 268 pp., $25

May 6, 2001

By DICK LOCHTE, Dick Lochte writes the regular "Mysteries" column for Southern California Living

"Hammett was the ace performer," wrote Raymond Chandler in his frequently quoted 1944 essay, "The Simple Art of Murder." "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." Chandler's appraisal of Dashiell Hammett's influence on American crime fiction is unassailable. With numerous short stories and five novels, of which "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Thin Man" are probably the best known, Hammett moved the mystery story from a celebration of over-educated amateur sleuths who solved improbable crimes (exemplified by S.S. Van Dine's playboy-genius Philo Vance, whose arrogance compelled poet Ogden Nash to pen: "Philo Vance/Needs a kick in the pants") to a study of professional detectives who used street smarts and shoe leather to get their jobs done. Still, it was ingenuous of Chandler to mention it, since, at the time, he'd been tapped by the critical establishment and mystery fans as the heir apparent to the no longer productive Hammett.

Chandler and Hammett occupied roughly the same period: Hammett was born in 1894, six years after Chandler, and died in 1961, two years after him. They were not friends. According to all accounts, they met only once, in 1936, at a Hollywood dinner for contributors to Black Mask magazine. But they will be linked forever as the men of letters who, in Chandler's razor-edged words, took "a cheap, shoddy, and utterly lost kind of writing and ... made it into something that intellectuals claw each other about."

Much of the clawing was reserved for Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon," a lesson in avarice in which archetypal private eye Sam Spade searches for the murderer of his partner and a jewel-encrusted statue worth millions, and "The Glass Key," on the surface a whodunit involving the murder of a senator's ne'er-do-well son, but actually a study of power politics and male bonding. A segment of the literary establishment, led by Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker, considered Hammett to be a major novelist. The opposition was led by Edmund Wilson, who ranked "Falcon" on a par with "newspaper picture-strips." Wilson was a bit more positive about "Farewell, My Lovely," one of Chandler's more tightly woven novels, a mixture of mayhem and romanticism in which detective Philip Marlowe is hired by an ex-convict named Moose Malloy to locate his lost lady love, an auburn-haired club singer as "cute as lace pants." What the literati said about them was important, of course, but as Chandler indicated, being discussed at all was a major accomplishment for writers of crime fiction.

Both men were fiercely private, lending an air of mystery to their lives. The more shadowy areas of Chandler's history have been illuminated by well-researched biographies and two generous books of letters: "Raymond Chandler Speaking," edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathrine Sorley Walker, and "Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler," edited by Frank MacShane. Hammett's life is a different matter. Though it has been examined in books, motion pictures and television dramas and documentaries, major questions remain. Why did he suddenly stop writing fiction in 1934 at the height of his career? What was his relationship to the wife and daughters whom he had seemingly deserted? How much of his decades-long affair with Lillian Hellman was real and how much the product of her imagination? (Gore Vidal once wondered wickedly if anyone had ever actually seen them together.)

"Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett 1921-1960" was harvested from more than 1,000 existing letters by biographer Richard Layman ("Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett") and the author's granddaughter, Julie M. Rivett. Presented chronologically, with annotations and trenchant biographical fill-ins, the letters depict a life if not in full then at least in focus. There's not much here to add to the accumulated information about Hammett's professional affairs. The key revelations are personal: self-portraits of the author as doting father, unremitting drunk, self-educated intellectual, committed Marxist, patriot, soft touch, seducer and romantic.

Hammett's earliest entries date from just after World War I, when tuberculosis put his career as a Pinkerton operative on hold. They're unabashed love songs sung by an infirm 26-year-old to Josephine Dolan, the pretty nurse he'd left behind after moving to another hospital. "I may have done a lot of things that weren't according to scripture," he wrote to his future wife on March 9, 1921, "but I love Josephine Anna Dolan -- and have since about the sixth of January -- more than anything in Christ's world." Tempering his ardor somewhat, he added a line meant to be playful: "Some day I may partially forget you, and be able to enjoy another woman, but there's nothing to show that it'll be soon."

On a November night in 1930, at a party hosted by Darryl Zanuck, Hammett was introduced to Lillian Hellman, at the time the wife of screenwriter Arthur Kober. As the book's editors describe it, they "left the party together and were companions for the rest of his life." Since he would complete only one more novel, "The Thin Man," the general assumption has been that Hellman was the reason for a writer's block that lasted for three decades. But his letters indicate that she was only one of a wide range of impediments. There were other women. He maintained a continuing, if long-distance, relationship with Josephine and his two daughters. He drank heavily and was in and out of hospitals. He was active in socialist politics. He wrote screenplays. And, while on the West Coast, he wrote letters to Hellman in the East. By then he was starting to sound like his blase "Thin Man" hero, Nick Charles. "I've been faithful enough to you," he informed her from Hollywood, "but I went back on the booze pretty heavily until Saturday night -- neglecting studio, dignity and so on."

In 1942, at age 48, in a patriotic, anti-fascist fervor, he enlisted in the Army. He was stationed on Adak Island in the Aleutians, a ruthlessly cold and desolate location that offered little by way of hedonistic pleasure. But as is clear from his wartime correspondence -- more than 250 pages of letters, predominantly to Josephine, his daughters, Hellman and another paramour, Prudence Whitfield -- Hammett relished his military duty, particularly his main assignment, the creation and editing of a daily camp newspaper.

The final letters were addressed primarily to his younger daughter, Jo. They are relentlessly upbeat, no matter how dreary the circumstance. After numerous failed attempts to jump-start his fiction career, he wrote her, "... it's swell having a new novel not to do: I was getting pretty bored with just not working on that half a dozen or so old ones...." After his imprisonment for refusing to aid a federal court in locating bail-jumping Communists, he seemed almost jaunty. "Dear Jo, This is the first letter I've written since I've been in the clink ... it's getting kind of fallish down here, with frosty nights, mostly foggy mornings and sunny afternoons ...." At liberty again but in failing health, he continued to put on a game face, responding with genuine-seeming warmth and grandfatherly pride to news of her children. His last letter, penned just 15 days before lung cancer claimed him, was a paean to his chance meeting with Hellman 30 years before. He described that event as "the beginning of everything."

But as compelling and informative as many of these letters are, there is an overabundance of them. Those addressed to his wife after their parting are repetitious enough to take on the aspects of a litany: My health is improving, my weight is increasing, the weather here is (fill in the blank), a check is in the mail and kiss the girls for me. And it's unclear who or what is served by the inclusion of several bits of sappy esoterica, such as Hammett' s toe-curling "Love Poem" to Hellman: "I am silly/About Lily./Without Lily,/I am silly/Willy-nilly."

In comparison, "The Raymond Chandler Papers" is much leaner. And definitely meaner. There's a genial quality to most of Hammett's letters. Even in his rare flashes of waspishness, he pulled his punches. The Chandler letters, on the other hand, are the work of a hypercritical past master of the use of sarcasm, irony and bitter wit. In his introduction, Tom Hiney mentions newly resurrected material, but there's not much of it, other than a gleefully vicious description of an Academy Award celebration that appeared in a 1948 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, a rather feeble 1958 interview with Lucky Luciano that the London Sunday Times commissioned and then discarded and a few scattered excerpts from business letters. But even though the book is essentially a trimmed-down version of the "Selected Letters" edited by the late MacShane, the new offering is jampacked with shimmering invective aimed in every direction, including inward.

Hiney has not been scrupulous in indicating every minor edit or in researching his annotations (he seems to think that Studs Lonigan was "a pseudonym of James T. Farrell"), but he has been careful to include many of his subject's more harshly humorous observations. An example, written to critic and novelist Lenore Offord: "Most writers have the egotism of actors with none of the good looks or charm." And to Charles Morton, associate editor of Atlantic Monthly: "Talking of agents, when I opened the paper one morning last week I saw that it had finally happened: somebody shot one. It was probably for the wrong reasons, but at least it was a step in the right direction."

The "Chandler Papers" covers much of the author's adult life, beginning with samples of poems and essays written in his early 20s for several British literary magazines; a brief, crisp account of a day in the trenches during World War I; and a maudlin poem to his wife, Sissy. The letters start with his association with publishers Alfred and Blanche Knopf regarding the 1939 debut of his first novel, "The Big Sleep," then move through the good, productive years of the '30s, '40s and '50s, when he wrote his remaining six novels and assorted screenplays.

After Sissy's death in 1954, they describe a sort of aimless decline, during which he reportedly attempted suicide. In a letter to British publisher Roger Machell, he suggests that the "suicide" may have been an accident. "I couldn't for the life of me tell you whether I really intended to go through with it or whether my subconscious was putting on a cheap dramatic performance. The first shot went off without my intending to ... the trigger pull was so light that I barely touched it ...." Though drinking heavily and traveling back and forth from London to La Jolla in search of a "comfortable home," he managed to write what many consider to be his best novel, "The Long Goodbye," and arguably his worst, "Playback." The last letter in the book, to British detective novelist Maurice Guinness, discusses the pros and cons of Philip Marlowe's taking a wife. Chandler neglects to mention his own plans to marry his agent Helga Greene, Guinness' cousin (an event canceled by his fatal episode of pneumonia).

The letters offer few glimpses into his private life (except for some strikingly unpleasant examples of his anti-Semitism and misogyny). It's as if, by railing against everyone and everything from desert weather to American justice, Chandler were trying to deflect attention from matters too painful or too personal for him to discuss. The nearest he comes to self-revelation occurs just after the death of Sissy, in a letter to Roger Machell. "All us tough guys are hopeless sentimentalists at heart," he wrote. He was speaking of himself, of course, but he could just as easily have been speaking of Hammett too.

Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death, the Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times' stories about his life and influence. We invite the Daily Mirror's readers to share their thoughts.

Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler


Black_mask_chandler1
My pal Carlos Lozano and I attended "Something More Than Night: Raymond Chandler 50 Years Later."

Here's my little recording of the forum. The speakers are Judith Freeman, Kenneth Turan, Leo Braudy and Denise Hamilton.

Listen to it here. >>>
 

Trouble Was His Business -- Raymond Chandler



Author Raymond Chandler celebrated on anniversary

9:37 AM | March 26, 2009

Raymondchandler_2

“The streets were dark with something more than night.”

-- Raymond Chandler on Los Angeles

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s death.

To celebrate his work, a small group of fans and scholars gathered at USC on Wednesday night to discuss the works of the author who elevated the detective novel to an art form and who, perhaps more than any other writer, is identified with Los Angeles, a city he loved to hate.

The panel of speakers included moderator Judith Freeman, a novelist and Chandler biographer, Kenneth Turan, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, Leo Braudy, author and film critic, and Denise Hamilton, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer and author of the Eva Diamond crime novels.

The discussion ranged from Chandler’s difficulty with plot lines to similarities between the author and detective Philip Marlowe, a loner and failed knight in an increasingly corrupt city.

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