Dashiell Hammett Lecture

Dashiell Hammett Lecture

March 5, 2009,
Cumberland County Public Library
North Regional Branch Library, Fayetteville, North Carolina

By Joan Mellen

dashiell-hammett-190x300“Most things in San Francisco can be bought or taken,” Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy in “The Maltese Falcon,” the book chosen for “The Big Read,” sponsored by the Fayetteville community library program. It is as good a selection from Hammett’s work as any. Sam Spade is a Hammett surrogate, reflecting and speaking for the author so emphatically that in the 1941 film version (there were three) Humphrey Bogart, a short, nondescript-looking man, seems to resemble the tall, lean, ruggedly handsome Dashiell Hammett. And, of course, lest there remain any doubt that the detective’s views reflect those of the author, Samuel Dashiell Hammett even gave Spade his own name.

Sam Spade is a man attuned to evil, to the deceptiveness of appearances. He is a person cognizant of his own self-deceptions. Spade attempts to hold back the flood of iniquity exuded by life in 1920s America by means of a self-imposed code, a code that is entirely arbitrary, but no less rigorous for that.

“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it,” Spade says famously as he turns Brigid O’ Shaughnessy, the woman he desires and may even love, over to the police for the murder of his partner, Miles Archer. “It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him,” Spade adds, acknowledging that his partner was not a particularly honorable man.

As for love, speaking for Hammett, Spade says, “I don’t know what that amounts to. Does anybody ever?” He then adds: “Maybe next month I won’t.”

This was the man with whom future playwright Lillian Hellman, a young nobody in Los Angeles, fell in love on November 22, 1930. He was the man she yearned for over the next thirty-five years, hoping he would at last tell her that he loved her: even on his deathbed he would not.

My book about them was called “Hellman and Hammett” and it chronicles the relationship between these two remarkable writers, when they were together, and, for a much longer period, when they were apart. Gore Vidal once asked, wickedly, “Did anyone actually ever see them together?” so irritating had been Hellman’s long effort, through four volumes of memoirs, to idealize their relationship.

Among the many ironies I discovered was that Hammett, who in “The Maltese Falcon” is so appalled by Brigid’s almost reflexive lying, should take up with a self-proclaimed liar. The year after the publication of “The Maltese Falcon,” Dashiell Hammett allied himself with a woman notorious for having been a habitual liar since childhood, who would write a play about a child lying, “The Children’s Hour,” and who depicts Hammett in one of her books as having condemned her lying. “You didn’t owe anybody a lie,” Hammett says. “It was undignified and you only hurt yourself in the end. In the end it was a way of life.” Yet after Hammett’s death, Lillian Hellman did nothing but mythologize their relationship.

The scene in which Spade calls Brigid O’Shaughnessy a liar ends with his eyes burning “yellowly,” the psychological connotation of the color yellow suggesting evil. In combating wrongdoing, Spade, inevitably, participates in the very evil he opposes; this theme would be taken up by Clint Eastwood in the later Dirty Harry films. That confrontation between Spade and O’Shaughnessy concludes, scandalously for those years, with the sexual act. Hammett/Spade is both attracted and appalled by bad women.

Spade himself lies, as does Hammett’s other great detective hero, the Op, who says in one story, “like a lot of people, I looked most honest when I was lying.” To survive in a degenerate society, you had to lie, or remain silent. So in “The Dain Curse,” another of Hammett’s great novels of the 1920s, Hammett wrote, “If a man has a past that he wants to forget, he can easiest drug his mind against memory through his body, with sensuality if not with narcotics.”

The thesis of my book, “Hellman and Hammett,” was that, in the course of their connection, these two vibrant, dynamic, talented people exchanged identities, so that Hellman became what Hammett called a “She-Hammett.” Lillian Hellman assumed Dashiell Hammett’s writing style, his tough-talking, his smoking (like Sam Spade he rolled his own cigarettes), and his drinking, while he receded into idleness. Hellman became a prolific playwright, with his help (“The Little Foxes,” her masterpiece, was a collaborative effort), while, after “The Thin Man,” published in 1934, Hammett stopped writing almost entirely. Playwright Jerome Weidman wrote in a memoir, quoting Hammett, “Look at me. Empty. Finished. She’s got it all now.” After “The Thin Man,” Hammett produced only a thin semi-memoir called “Tulip,” self-indulgent and with little of the old Hammett rigor and meticulous style.
I began my book with their meeting, only to flash back to the earlier lives of each. Here is a bit of what I discovered about Dashiell Hammett.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on May 27, 1894 on a tobacco farm called “Hopewell and Aim,” in southern Maryland. He was baptized a Catholic, although his mother was of French Huguenot ancestry: in later years he joked that there were on his mother’s side sixteen army men of France named De Chiell who never saw a battle. Although Hammett himself served in both the First and Second World Wars, he never appeared on a battlefield either.

The Hammett family moved to a working class neighborhood in Baltimore. Sam grew into a tall, gangly boy with dark red hair. From childhood, he was a loner, a boy who loved to read at the nearby Enoch Pratt library branch. He lived six blocks away from the journalist H. L. Mencken. Hammett as a young man was stubborn, somewhat belligerent, and mostly silent.
Formal education did not suit him and he had what he called “a fraction of a year” of high school at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute where the smart students went. His grades were mediocre and reflected his indifference to regimented learning.

At the ripe old age of thirteen, Dashiell Hammett quit school to go to work supervising street peddlers, a job his alcoholic, womanizing father had but couldn’t keep. In later years, Hammett said that he quit school at thirteen “because I wanted to loaf,” but by then he was a man not given to verbal expressions of his feelings. He did not come from a happy home, and Hammett told his cousin Effie (shades of “The Maltese Falcon” and Spade’s secretary) that he would never treat a woman the way his father abused his mother.

His mother Annie, in turn, told him that “all men are no good,” and once remarked that a woman who wasn’t good in the kitchen wouldn’t be much good in any of the other rooms either, a line Hammett would later use in “Tulip” and Lillian Hellman would use in “Toys In The Attic.”

Out of school, he took any job he could get: newsboy; messenger for the B & O Railroad; freight clerk.

By his teenage years, Hammett already smoked, and drank, and gambled at dice, cards, the horses and the fights. From his early years, he developed the notion that there were two kinds of women: the saintly good women, like his mother, Annie, and the sexually exciting lying ones like Brigid O’Shaughnessy. By the time he was twenty, he had suffered his first case of gonorrhea. The women who are trustworthy in Hammett’s fiction resemble men, in a version of the sexism of the era. Of one of these, Hammett writes in “The Thin Man,” admiringly, “there’s a woman with hair on her chest.”

“You’re a damn good man, sister,” Spade tells his secretary Effie, the ultimate compliment.
Lillian Hellman attempted to create her own persona in that Hammett model, and she succeeded. He made no promises to her or to any other woman in his life and once he told Hellman, “god knows I’m doing my best to keep celibacy from rearing its ugly head in Hollywood.” Hellman imitated Hammett so pervasively that she even insisted that one of her favorite foods was pigs’ feet, stealing from the three page scene during which, at length, Spade and detective Polhous dine on that delicacy: life imitated art.

It was on the Baltimore waterfront that Dashiell Hammett first encountered socialists, a group that his father Richard despised. Bitter fights between father and son ensued. In 1918, just before the war’s end, Hammett enlisted in the Army, scoring the second highest in IQ of all those who had been interviewed. He left blank the space for religion. His hair was already prematurely white, like that of his father.

He became a medical sergeant. Then an accident with an ambulance led him never again to drive an automobile. In the world-wide epidemic that followed World War I, he contracted Spanish influenza, which was followed by bronchial pneumonia and by the latent tuberculosis that would claim the life of his mother.

He worked for eight years as a Pinkerton detective, so that the profession of Sam Spade was entirely familiar to him. He was assigned to the suppression of the Anaconda copper mining strike which broke the IWW, the International Workers of the World. Anaconda offered Hammett five thousand dollars to kill a union organizer. For years, he would feel guilty about his strike breaking and union busting for Anaconda.

As the 1920s dawned, living now in San Francisco, Dashiell Hammett sat down at his kitchen table and became a writer. “I can do better than that,” he said looking at the detective stories that were his passion.

And so he invented his gallant, stoical, hard-boiled detective. Sometimes he was called the Op or the Continental Op, Op standing, of course, for “operative.” Or he was Sam Spade. The Hammett hero is a stranger to sentimentality, to illusions, to romantic myopia. He’s tough-talking and no woman can domesticate him. Dorothy Parker, the famous humorist and writer who would become one of Hammett’s friends, wrote that Sam Spade was “so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn,” and that he had a “clear eye for the ways of hard women.” Dashiell Hammett liked women and he liked sex, but he could not be tamed or controlled, and his writing was an expression of his person: direct, blunt, brutally honest, and impatient with pretension.

In 1924, Hammett described himself in “Black Mask,” the detective story magazine. He was “long and lean and grayheaded, and very lazy. I have no ambition at all in the usual sense of the word,” he writes. During that period, he demanded an advance from “Cosmopolitan” magazine promising a completed manuscript by the Monday only to disappear and emerge “a bit boiled” with the half-story rolled up under his arm and the advance spent on bars and whatever else. “Three times I have been mistaken for a Prohibition agent, but never had any trouble clearing myself,” he wrote, tongue in cheek, in “From The Memoirs Of A Private Detective,” a piece published in “Smart Set” in 1923.

Like his father, he was an alcoholic. In these years, he could be a disciplined writer. Otherwise, he was a drinker, and a womanizer, silent, aloof and with an air of inaccessibility combined with startling good looks and a fierce intelligence. His behavior was so self-destructive that his Hollywood friend, the screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, attributed Hammett’s recklessness to “his assumption that he had no expectation of being alive much beyond Thursday.” The tuberculosis of his youth would never quite leave him.

In addition to inventing the detective story “anti-hero,” a man rooted in no rules but those of his own making, Hammett’s books followed in the tradition of Mark Twain in reinventing – or, rather, inventing -American English. He achieved this end with a prose that realized his professed goals of “simplicity and clarity.” He hated the “needlessly involved sentence, the clouded image.” Asked what is the most beautiful sentence?” he answered, “the shortest.” “Town and Country” magazine praised him for having “developed the American tongue.” As for which writers had influenced him, Hammett once told Lillian Hellman that he learned to tell a detective story “chiefly from reading Henry James and a good deal from Dostoevsky.” Critics, of course, compared his dialogue to that of Hemingway. In fact, Hammett’s is much better.

From the start, Dashiell Hammett was an enemy of censorship. When his editor at Knopf, his publisher, objected to the sexual scene, and to the homosexual aspects of “The Maltese Falcon” in the character of Joel Cairo, Hammett refused to make any changes. “I should like to have them as they are, especially since you say they would be all right perhaps in an ordinary novel. It seems to me that the only thing that can be said against their use in a detective novel is that nobody has tried it yet. I’d like to try it.”

Although he did not believe in marriage, Hammett married once. In 1921, he wed an Army nurse named Josephine (Jose) Dolan not because he loved her but because she was pregnant and she needed him. Some of my sources told me that the child, who would be named Mary, was his. Hammett’s surviving daughter, Josephine, was among these. Several of his friends, however, said that Hammett had told them that Mary was not his natural daughter. Some mysteries are never solved, the dots never connecting. I do not know for sure.

I do know that Hammett had not fared well in the bosom of the nuclear family and he would never develop a taste for domesticity. He had some things in common with Jose. She too never made it past the eighth grade. She was a thin not unpretty public health nurse with bad teeth, a Catholic girl. Of their relationship, Hammett would say, “neither of us ever said anything about seriously loving the other.”

His mother Annie objected vehemently to this marriage. “This is going to kill me,” she said, but Hammett had promised that he would marry Jose and so he did. His daughter Josephine, Jose’s second child, was born in 1926. Hammett had already developed the habit of disappearing at will, even as, in 1926, to support his family, he was writing advertising copy for a jewelry store owner named Albert Samuels. He slept with the typist who worked on his advertisements. Her name was Peggy O’Toole, and some have speculated that she was the model for Brigid O’Shaughnessy.
Hammett had left Jose for the first time in 1923. By 1927, he was alone, spitting blood, and two years away from his great success. In 1930, he borrowed a thousand dollars from Samuels and went to New York to finish his last great novel, “The Glass Key.”
That year he met Lillian Hellman. Dashiell Hammett was a celebrity now, living at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. In 1930 he earned over $100,000, the most he would ever earn in a year. He had a butler and an African American chauffeur named Jones and was suffering from those twin diseases of his manhood, gonorrhea and chronic tuberculosis. Hammett liked to live in fancy hotel suites where he entertained his loose women, one of whom, a starlet named Elise de Viane, accused him of raping and beating her and sued him for $35,000. He refused to defend himself. In a Los Angeles court in June 1932, Elise de Viane was awarded $2,500 for having been “bruised and battered in resisting the asserted fervid love makings of Dashiell Hammett.”

After the publication of “The Glass Key,” Hammett virtually stopped writing. Money poured in from the movie sales of his novels, and from radio sales of his stories. He wrote a comic strip, and “The Maltese Falcon” came out as a comic book. He postponed his next novel, “The Thin Man,” which would not be published until 1934. As the critic Heywood Hale Broun put it, Sam Spade had endured the agony of having to live up to his code of honor. He fulfills the demand of honor but it almost destroys him. Nick Charles, the hero of “The Thin Man,” is beyond principles. Broun writes of Charles: “He is an amoral, ugly man who lives off his wife’s money.” Hammett’s personal despair had invaded his fiction.
Style came to matter to him overly. Years later, the author Norman Mailer observed this tendency. “I had considerable respect for Dash,” Mailer wrote Lillian Hellman in the late seventies, “but not because he would often refuse to face into knotty problems and would instead dismiss them by an exercise of his personal style.” In “The Glass Key,” among the features of Ned Beaumont’s personal code is “never wear silk socks with tweeds.”
Although today the concept of genre has broken down and detective novels, like those of P.D. James, are accepted as mainstream fiction, in Hammett’s day – and Hammett himself believed this – to be a detective story writer (or a science fiction writer) was a lesser activity. Hammett by 1931 was saying that he was through with the detective story. He wanted to write what he called “straight” novels. He dismissed “The Dain Curse” as “a silly story.” He thought “The Maltese Falcon” was “too manufactured.” Only “The Glass Key,” arguably his best novel, was “not so bad.”


There is another vital aspect to the biography of Dashiell Hammett. As profoundly as he was a brilliant author, so, simultaneously, was he a political man. From those days when he met socialists on the Baltimore wharves, he had been politically committed. His early life had exposed to him the vagaries of capitalist society. No one had taken any notice of him, this exceedingly bright boy who was permitted to leave school at the age of thirteen. In his twenties, he pleaded for his war pension. He was no more successful than Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Colonel, a veteran of the Colombian civil wars in “No One Writes To The Colonel,” who waits forty years for the pension that never arrives.

Hammett had registered the corruption of government, the inequity between rich and poor, and the hopelessness of trusting politicians. He had come to believe that the American system of justice was a hypocritical sham. “Don’t kid yourselves that there’s any law in Poisonville except what you make for yourself,” he writes in the most searing of his detective novels, “Red Harvest,” which is set in a place called “Poisonville,” a thinly veiled euphemism for America.
Unique to Hammett is his infusing the detective story form with a political consciousness previously absent. No writer before him had depicted so unrelentingly the corruption of America’s social institutions. In his stories and novels, Dashiell Hammett depicts a political system in decay, its victims miserable and without recourse. “Everybody has something to conceal,” Sam Spade says, speaking for Hammett. Spade adds: “most things in San Francisco can be bought, or taken.” By San Francisco, another Poisonville, Hammett again means America.

Spade elaborates, speaking of the District Attorney: “I don’t know that he ever deliberately framed anybody he believed innocent, but I can’t imagine him letting himself believe them innocent if he could scrape up or twist into shape proof of their guilt.” Such was official justice. Survival in “The Maltese Falcon” depends on Spade’s not trusting anybody; connecting sex with love is particularly dangerous. Bored, greedy, selfish, murderous people – the Gutman’s, the Joel Cairo’s, the Wilmer’s and the Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s – are ubiquitous.

Sometimes Hammett’s capitalists disguise themselves as “liberals,” but they never enact any lasting or structural reforms, as we see in “Red Harvest.” In “The Glass Key,” a vast and sinister conspiracy permeates society: the newspaperman’s mortgages are held by the State Central Bank, which is owned by the gangster’s candidate for the Senate. To own a newspaper, one must bow to the hegemony of the powerful and spread corruption. Banks, press, gangsters and politicians – all are under the control of robber barons, corporate criminals lining their pockets greedily. The co-opted newspapers in Hammett predict presciently the corrupted state of the press today as newspapers, embedded in government, are passing out of existence in part at least because they have not served their function honestly, without, indeed, “fear or favor.” Hammett dramatized how the press came to be enmeshed in the service of power, representing its interests – this nearly one hundred years ago.

In the defining metaphor of “The Glass Key,” slithering snakes suddenly appear. “We couldn’t lock the snakes in and they came out all over us,” Janet Henry dreams. Evil cannot, for Hammett, be contained in capitalist society. The glass key shatters and all hell breaks loose.

Of the writers influenced by Hammett, among the foremost was, of course, Raymond Chandler, who admitted that he learned how to transform “a physical observation into something that reveals character” from Hammett. In a paean to Hammett, Chandler wrote of how Hammett had revolutionized the genre of the detective story so that murder was now no longer, as in Agatha Christie, an affair of “the upper classes, the week-end house party and the vicar’s rose garden,” but had been restored “to the people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.”

Long schooled in the writings of Marx and Engels, in the wake of the Depression, Dashiell Hammett joined the Communist Party. To keep up with him, in the late thirties, by her own admission, Lillian Hellman joined too. An irony of her biography is that, refusing to lie, she confessed to being a Party member in the statement she authored for the House Un-American Activities Committee only for her lawyer, Joseph Rauh, to excise her admission. Rauh wrote her entire statement, but for the line where Hellman declares, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no political place in any political group.”

For years, Hammett, a man of considerable intelligence, followed the party line dictated from Moscow, and to the letter. He supported the unions, signed petitions and donated money to radical organizations. He was among those Party members, artists, whose membership was kept secret, the better for them to reach wider audiences. The late thirties began the era when Moscow dictated that American Communists support the Democratic Party’s New Deal. It was fashionable to be a Communist then, and those critical of the Party would call Hammett and his friends “Roosevelt Bohemians.” Hammett and Hellman, while waiting for the revolution that would create a just society, enjoyed their lives.

The Party was not ideal, Hammett acknowledged, but it was the only game in town. Occasionally he opposed them. When he wanted to volunteer on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, the Party refused to grant him permission; under discipline, he obeyed and did not go to Spain, to his regret. He had to content himself with contributing money to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Hammett was well aware that the corruption of Poisonville rubs off on everyone, even those opposed to it. In “Red Harvest,” the IWW member, Quint, turns out to be one more liar. “Anybody that brings any ethics to Poisonville is going to get them all rusty,” the Op realizes. “Play with murder enough and it gets you one of two ways. It makes you sick, or you get to like it.” The Op, in danger of becoming unhinged, becomes “blood-simple,” a Hammett-invented phrase the Coen brothers would borrow for the title of their first film.
In Hammett’s personal case, corruption made him sick. Hammett hated the capitalist nightmare. Then, out of the nihilism of his life, out of having lived as if each moment might be his last, this man with a consuming passion for justice faltered. He stopped writing virtually in tandem with his confounding of Stalinist Communism with a socialist ideal of justice.

“When I find something better, I’ll change to it,” he reassured Hellman. That moment never arrived. When people condemned the prospect of a Hitler-Stalin in 1939, and many left the Party, Hammett authored a petition excoriating them as “fascists” and “reactionaries.” It was not his finest hour.

Only after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 did Hellman and Hammett sign the League of American Writers’ call to “all Creative Workers” to support Great Britain and the Soviet Union in their struggle for the demolition of fascism.”

In 1942, Hammett enlisted in the U.S. Army for the second time, calling that day “the happiest…of my life.” His medical examination revealed dental problems. To ensure his being sent overseas, he had all his teeth pulled. He was long beyond vanity now. Instead of being sent to the front, however, he was stationed in Alaska, on the Aleutian Islands where enlisted men with radical politics were stashed. From Alaska, Hammett sent Hellman literary advice, while she sent him packages of canned lobster, smoked turkey, chocolate, caviar and other delicacies.

His fellow soldiers organized a screening of the 1941 film version of “The Maltese Falcon” and asked Hammett to talk about the book afterwards. “That’s a part of my life that’s all over,” he said. He declined to appear. Yet he was still the writer, offering aspiring authors his guidance.

Eliot Asinof, later to write a book about the Chicago Black Sox baseball scandal, “Eight Men Out,” contributed an article for the camp paper about the corruption of officers smuggling booze. Then he waited eagerly for Hammett’s approval. The response came in the form of fine advice for any writer. “Lieutenant,” Hammett said, “everyone knows ‘what.’ Why don’t you try to find out ‘why’?”

In 1951, on assignment from the Communist Party, Hammett was made president of the New York State branch of the Civil Rights Congress, a Communist front organization. He was also a trustee of its bail fund, which had freed the Communists indicted under the Smith Act in United States of America v. Dennis. President Roosevelt had signed into law the Smith Act, rendering it illegal to “teach and advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence.” Since it was aimed at first at the Trotskyists, Hellman and Hammett had uttered no opposition to the Smith Act. Now it had been turned against them.

Thousands of people had contributed to this bail fund, and Hammett, a figurehead leader, had no idea who they were.

In court, under subpoena, Hammett was ordered to hand over the Civil Rights Congress bail fund checkbook and receipt book. On the stand, he pleaded that answering might tend to incriminate him, as his lawyers encouraged him to claim the protection of the Fifth Amendment. All he would offer to the court was the dates he had been present in New York. That day Dashiell Hammett was sentenced to six months in prison. Bail was denied.
“Samuel Dashiell Hammett, have you anything to say as to why judgment should not be pronounced on you by this court?” Judge Ryan demanded, citing Hammett for contempt.
“Not a thing,” Hammett said. Like Sam Spade, he abided by his personal code. The Treasury Department at once filed a lien on him for tax evasion for more than one hundred thousand dollars, representing taxes he supposedly had owed while he was overseas during the War. Later bail was set, but no one could be found to pay it, in part because they feared bringing the wrath of the McCarthyites down upon themselves. By the time the bail money was raised, the court wouldn’t accept it, and Dash went off to federal prison. Hellman fled to Europe.

Hammett’s life was a downward spiral after that, with the only writing he produced being “Tulip.” “If you are tired you ought to rest, I think,” Hammett writes, “and not try to fool yourself and your customers with colored bubbles.” “Tulip” is an honest piece of writing, and an apologia for his life. “As soon as things or people threaten to involve you,” Hammett writes of himself, “you make up a fantasy you call the memory of some place else to drag you away from any sort of responsibility.” He had good excuses for not writing now: he had just been released from prison where his health had been broken; his radio shows were off the air; Hollywood had succumbed to yet another red scare.

At the end of his life, Hammett lived alone in a country cottage on the property of some friends. “Ring, I really don’t want to see anyone,” he told screenwriter Ring Lardner, whom he had known since his first days in Hollywood. Nor, to her chagrin, did he encourage Lillian Hellman to visit.

When he was too sick to live alone, at her insistence, and pleading that this was only a temporary solution, he moved into Hellman’s 82nd Street townhouse. It was May 1958. Together they visited Hellman’s house on Martha’s Vineyard, and Hammett even accompanied her to the openings of her plays. He was nothing if not generous.

Yet no less than in his youth would he tolerate cant, bad writing or hypocrisy. “I thought you got over that agitprop shit years ago,” he told Hellman after attending a rehearsal of “Toys In The Attic.” When she told him how shocked she was that an actress w ho had behaved with honor during the McCarthy period was giving the directors and other actors so much trouble, Hammett replied, “What makes you think a hero can’t also be a son of a bitch?”

He was broke, and Hellman attempted to persuade him to ask the people to whom he had loaned money to pay him back. They wouldn’t. Hellman wanted to take legal action, but Hammett refused. “Just because other people are shits doesn’t mean I have to be,” he said.
Dashiell Hammett died of lung cancer on January 10, 1961. Even at the end, on his deathbed, he would not acquiesce in Hellman’s demand that he declare his love for her. I found an excerpt from her diaries tucked into one of her appointment books, and there she pours out her heart and the bitter rue of her disappointment.

At Dashiell Hammett’s funeral, Hellman, who would outlive him by more than twenty years, delivered a moving eulogy. “Blessed are they, I hope, who leave good work behind,” she said. “And who leave behind a life that is so worthy of respect. Whoever runs the blessing department, may they have sense enough to bless a good man this last day he is on earth.”

Dashiell Hammett was an American patriot, and so it should not be surprising that it was his desire that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with a military funeral. A last-minute government attempt to deny him this wish was unsuccessful.