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Author Raymond Chandler celebrated on anniversary

March 26, 2009 |  9:37 am


“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 memory, 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 panelists included Chandler biographer Judith Freeman, Los Angeles Times' film critic Kenneth Turan, critic and author Leo Braudy, and Denise Hamilton, author of the Eve 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.

The panelists touched on Chandler’s rootlessness -- he lived in more than two dozen residences in and around LA -- and its effect on his writing.

There was also some debate over whether his work really qualifies as "noir," which one panelist described as an "elastic genre" that has been rendered all but meaningless.

In one of the best quips of the evening, Braudy related a quote that "the only thing you needed to be noir was for it to rain a lot. It rains more in Chandler than it does in L.A."

But all agreed on the reason Chandler endures, why people still read “The Big Sleep,” “Farewell, My Lovely” and “The Long Goodbye.” He was a master prose stylist who created a lasting image of the city.

“The core of Chandler’s appeal is the language,” Turan said. “It is the gift of words. I believe he is still the best.”

Here is a sampling of some memorable lines from Chandler's books:

" I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.”

-- from Farewell, My Lovely

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts."

-- from The Big Sleep

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."

-- from Farewell, My Lovely

"To say goodbye is to die a little."

-- from The Long Goodbye

-- Carlos Valdez Lozano

Photo: Raymond Chandler. Credit: Los Angeles Public Library