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||Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)|
American motion picture screen writer and author of detective fiction. Chandler began writing stories for crime fiction magazine Black Mask, which also published Dashiell Hammett's stories. He is best known for his tough but honest private detective Philip Marlowe, the name originating from the English 16th century writer Christopher Marlowe, who had a violent temper. As representative and master of hard-boiled school of crime fiction, Chandler criticized classical puzzle writers for their lack of realism. His most famous target in much quoted essay The Simple Art of Murder (1944) was A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery.
"In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man." (from The Simple Art of Murder)
Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago, but he grew up in England after the divorce of his parents. His mother, Florence, had married a Quaker railroadman, Maurice Chandler, while visiting her sister in Omaha. Chandler lived with his mother, grandmother, and aunt in Auckland Road, Upper Norwood, in south London. He attended Dulwich College, which was within a longish walking distance of Upper Norwood, and studied then international law in France and Germany. He worked as an assistant stores officer in the Naval Supplies Branch, a temporary teacher at Dulwich College, and published poems and essays in the Academy, the Chamber's Journal, and Westminster Gazette. In a poem, which appeared in the Westminster Gazette in 1909, he wrote: "Come with me, love, / Across the world, / Ere glory fades / And wings are furled, / And we will wander hand in hand, / Like a boy and girl in a playroom land." Later Chandler characterized his early poetry as 'Grade B Georgian'.
Before returning to the United States in 1912, Chandler published twenty-seven poems and his first story, 'The Rose-Leaf Romance.' Back in America he worked in St. Louis, then on a ranch, in a sporting goods firm, and as a bookkeeper in a creamery. During the World War I he served in the Canadian Army (1917-18), and was later transferred to the Royal Air Force (1918-19). In 1924 he married 18-years older Pearl Cecily "Cissy" Hurlburt, twice married and divorced. When she wed Chandler she was fifty-three, but looked far younger and listed her age as forty-three. Possible Chandler never knew never knew her true age. Cissy was a sensuous woman with a beautiful body and Chandler once revealed that she liked to do her housework naked.
After the war Chandler worked in a bank in San Francisco, wrote for the Daily Express,
and was employed as a bookkeeper and auditor for Dabney Oil
Syndicate from 1922 to 1932. When Chandler lost his job during the
Great Depression – he was fired for drinking and
absenteeism – he began writing private eye stories for Black Mask Magazine.
At the age of forty-five, with the support of his wife, Chandler devoted himself entirely to writing. He prepared himself for his first submission by carefully studying Erle Stanley Gardner and other representatives of pulp fiction, and spent five months writing his first story, 'Blackmailers Don't Shoot.' It was bought by Joseph Shaw and appeared in December 1933 in Black Mask, the foremost among magazines publishing in the hard-boiled school.
"The pebbled glass door pane is lettered in flaked black paint: 'Philip Marlowe... Investigations.' It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization. The door is locked, but next to it is another door with the same legend which is not locked. Come on in – there is nobody in here but me and a big bluebottle. But not if you're from Manhattan, Kansas." (from The Little Sister, 1949)
Chandler was a slow writer. To adopt a truly American style was important to him. "I was distincly not a clever young man. Nor was I at all a happy young man," he recalled much later. (Cheap Thrills by Ron Goulart, 2007, p. 98) Between 1933 and 1939 he produced a total of nineteen pulp stories, eleven in Black Mask, seven in Dime Detective, one in Detective Fiction Weekly. Unlike most of his pulp-writing colleagues, Chandler tried to expand the limits of the pulp formula to more ambitious and humane direction. His fourth published story, 'Killer in the Rain,' was used in The Big Sleep (1939), Chandler's first novel. Probably at the suggestion of Joseph Shaw, he sold the work to publisher Alfred A. Knopf. The story introduced Philip Marlowe, a 38-year-old P.I., a man of honor and a modern day knight with a college education. Marlowe is about forty, tall, with gray eyes and a hard jaw, has a college education, listens to classical music, and solves alone chess problems. Marlowe is betrayed by his friends, women, and lying clients, but he is always quick with wisecracks. Preferring nonviolent solutions, in the course of seven novels he kills only one man, Canino in The Big Sleep.
In his role as narrator, Marlowe moves through the criminal world and social elite – sometimes there is not much difference – of Los Angeles. "A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness." (The Long Goodbye) When Chandler himself first arrived in Los Angeles, horses and buggies were still common sights, and the downtown streets were only partially paved. Toward the end of his life, Chandler began to think that L.A. had became an impossible place to live.
In The Big Sleep Marlowe helps General Sternwood, a paralyzed California millionaire, by rescuing his daughter from a potentially embarrassing blackmail scheme. The story ends in resigned contemplation: "What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump of in a marble tower on top of a high hill? ... you were not bothered by things like that. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell..." "Pretty terrifying story of degeneracy," wrote the New Yorker.
In Farewell, My Lovely (1940) Marlowe searches for an ex-convict Moose Malloy a missing girl friend, Velma Valento. Velma is described by Moose as "cute as lace pants," and during his investigation Marlowe deals with Los Angeles' gambling circuit, a murder, and three potentially deadly women. Manchester Guardian's critic found the writing "often pictoresque and vivid, though often, too, incomprehensible to the mere Englishman". His third novel, The High Window (1942), Chandler considered his worst. It was written at the same time as The Lady in the Lake (1943), which Ross Macdonald included in his list of favorites. Chandler's writing had already excited interest in the film community.
In Double Indemnity (1944), based on James M. Cain's novel from 1936, Chandler and the director Billy Wilder worked together. Wilder had much problems with the author who had his own views how to write a screenplay. After reading Chandler's first draft, Wilder said: "This is shit, Mr. Chandler." The author smoke his pipe, did not open windows, and did not hide that he hated Hollywood. But Cain loved the film, saying: "It's the only picture I ever saw made from my books that had things in it I wish I had thought of."
In 1946 Chandler received Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for screenplay, and in 1954 for novel. When Warner Brothers was making The Big Sleep (1946), Chandler discussed the story with the screenwriters, Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner, director Howard Hawks, and star Humphrey Bogart. He even wrote a new ending which was not used. "This one similarly had Marlowe and Carmen in Geiger's house, with Marlowe, but not Carmen, realizing that the first person to walk out the door would be gunned down. Disliking the role of "playing God" with Carmen's life, he decides to flip a coin to decide if he should tell her. He does not, but is about to stop her when she pulls a gun, ready to shoot him. As she opens the door, machine-gun fire tears her to pieces." (from Howard Hawks by Todd McCarthy, 1997, p. 356) Warner Bros. was afraid that Chandler's story, which involved pornography, nymphomania, homosexuality, and police corruption, is too much for the censors. The plot was so complicated that even Chandler did not know, who murdered one of the characters.
"Everything a writer learns about the art or craft of fiction takes just a little away from his need or desire to write at all. In the end he knows all the tricks and has nothing to say." (from 'Introduction' to Pearls Are a Nuisanse, 1950)
The Little Sister (1949), which included the author's opinions about Hollywood, received negative reviews. The story opens in the usual way: "'Is this Mr Marlowe, the detective?' It was a small, rather hurried, little-girlish voice. I said it was Mr Marlowe, the detective. 'How much you charge for your services, Mr Marlowe?'" The sixth novel in the series, The Long Goodbye (1953), has been admired by many critics. Marlowe's long and complicated investigation begins when he helps Terry Lennox, sitting drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. Marlowe's willingness to forgive in his own way his friends, who have betrayed him, differs completely from the attitude of Mike Hammer, who is ready to kill and never turns his other cheek. In the end Marlowe tells Terry: "You're a very sweet guy in a lot of ways. I'm not judging you. I never did. It is just that you're not here anymore. You're long gone.You've got nice clothes and perfume and you're as elegant as a fifty-dollar whore."
In her seventies, Cissy developed fibriosis of the lungs. When she
died at the end of 1954 Chandler was devastated. He sailed for
England and met Jessica Tyndale, a banker, on board, and they became
close. "In England I am an author. In the USA just a mystery writer,"
he once complained to Paul Brooks, the senior editor Houghton Mifflin. (The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959, edited by Tom Hiney and Frank MacShane, 2000, p. 183)
Playback (1958), Chandler's last finished novel, was originally written as a screenplay. In the story Marlowe renews his affair with Linda Loring, who made her first appearance in The Long Goodbye. During the writing process Helga Greene became Chandler's literary agent. He and Helga Greene were induced by Ian Fleming to travel to Capri, and to interview Lucky Luciano along the way in Naples. Chandler essay 'My Friend Luco' was not published. In 1959 Helga flew to California, and Chandler proposed her from his hospital bed.
Curioisly, Chandler didn't classify himself as an alcoholic, although he told in a letter to Jessica Tyndale that he starts his day with a drink of white wine, and ends it drinking two bottles of Scotch. "I shake so that I can't hold a glass of water. Once day I vomited eighteen times." (Writing under the Influence: Alcohol and the Works of 13 American Authors by Aubrey Malone, 2018, p. 32)
Raymond Chandler died on March 26, 1959. His unfinished novel Poodle Spring was completed by Robert B. Parker, who has also written a sequel to The Big Sleep, entitled Perchance to Dream (1990). In 1998 the playwright Tom Stoppard wrote a screenplay for Poodle Springs, which was made into a television movie. Parker's doctoral dissertation was The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality: A Study of the Private Eye in the Novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald (1970). Parker's own Boston private eye Spenser combines Marlowe's knightly moral code and Archer's social commitment.