Nick and Nora Charles
Created by Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)



Nora Charles: "I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids."
Nick Charles: "Not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."
-- from The Thin Man (1934 film)

The adventures of Dashiell Hammett's retired private eye NICK CHARLES and his rich, beautiful (and not quite as ditzy as you'd think) wife, NORA, proved to be just what people wanted. They established a formula that film, television and fiction are still trying to duplicate.

Don't believe me? Check out Moonlighting, The Late Show, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, etc... There was even a great send-up on the detective duo in Neil Simon's 1976 Murder By Death, where David Niven and Maggie Smith playing Dickie and Dora Charleston), and in the 1990's there was even a highly-anticipated musical, Nick and Nora. Unfortunately, it flopped, closing after little more than a week's worth of performances.

Originally, Nick (a Greek-American whose father had changed his unpronounceable last name upon his arrival at Ellis Island) served as an ace operative for the Trans-American Detective Agency, but upon marriage to Nora, he retired to a life of leisure, content to manage Nora's rather sizable dowry.

Nick and Nora first appeared in Hammett's 1934 novel, his last, The Thin Man, and ever since, and especially after the films started coming out, folks started assuming (incorrectly) that Nick Charles is the Thin Man. In fact, the Thin Man is actually the murder victim in the novel.

Still, that first film was the start of one of the most popular film series of all-time, even if each film was a bit weaker than the last. 1939's Another Thin Man, the third film in the series, introduced William A. Poulsen as Nick Charles, Jr. and saw the end of Hammett's involvement with the series.

But then, Hammett always seemed to have had a love/hate thing going on with the Charleeses, resenting their popularity even as that popularity no doubt kept the bar tabs paid off for years. He sold his rights to the Charleses for $40,000 (a couple of million in today's market) and boasted that "Maybe there are better writers in the world but nobody ever invented a more insufferably smug pair of characters. They can't take that away from me, even for $40,000."

Still, Hammett or no, Nick and Nora's popularity continued, and soon spread to other media.

A radio show appeared in 1940, with a succession of actors taking on Nick's part, while Claudia Morgan held steadfast and true as Nora. Each week, listeners tuned in to "Pabst Blue Ribbon presents the new adventures of The Thin Man with Nick and Nora Charles, the happiest married couple in radio. Claudia Morgan as Nora and Les Damon as Nick star in tonight's adventure of The Thin Man called "The Adventure of the Passionate Palooka" (or whatever). And each show closed with Nora calling "Good night, Nickeee..." Hammett was supposedly even coaxed into writingseveral of the scripts to "set" the series.

Parker Fennelly, who often offered comic relief as the sherriff, later became famous on the Fred Allen show and, in the 1960s, became known to another generation as "Pepperidge Farm" spokesman. His Maine accent was unmistakable as he signed off, "At Pepp'ridge Faaahm, we remembah."

There was even an attempt to bring the detecting duo's popularity to television, with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk playing the Charleses for three seasons, starting in 1957. Light fare, to be sure, but supposedly quite enjoyable, due to the easy-going chemistry between the two stars.

Since then there's been that previously mentioned ill-fated musical, Nick and Nora (1990) and in 2011, it was announced that actor Johnny Depp had expressed a desire to bring Nick and Nora to the big screen once more.

Of course, Hammett was also the creator of Sam Spade, Brad Runyon (The Fat Man) and The Continental Op.

UNDER OATH

  • "If you want to skim its surface, this is a fun read. But for those who look beneath, this book has hidden depths. Donald Westlake said it well: "When I was fourteen or fifteen I read Hammett's The Thin Man (the first Hammett I'd read) and it was a defining moment. It was a sad, lonely, lost book, that pretended to be cheerful and aware and full of good fellowship, and I hadn't known you could do that: seem to be telling this, but really telling that: three-dimensional writing, like three-dimensional chess. Nabokov was the other master of that." A book I reread at least once every year."
    -- Vince Emery, The 14 Best Private Eye Novels of All Time (2012)

NOVELS

SCREEN STORIES

  • Subsequent to the success of MGM's The Thin Man in 1934, the studio hired Hammett to write screen stories, which would be adapted and turned into screenplays by other writers. It kept Hammett in booze money for a while, anyway. They've appeared in various places over the years, and they were finally collected in the 2012 volume Return of the Thin Man.
  • "After The Thin Man, Parts 1 and 2" (1986, The New Black Mask, Nos. 5 and 6)
  • "Another Thin Man" (2012, Return of the Thin Man)

COLLECTIONS

  • Return of the Thin Man (2012),. Buy this book., Kindle it!
    The two hard-to-find screen stories featuring Nick & Nora Charles, finally collected together.

FILMS

  • THE THIN MAN....Buy this video....Buy this DVD
    (1934, MGM)
    Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
    Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
    Producer: Hunt Stromberg
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Cesar Romero, Natalie Moorhead, Edward Ellis, Porter Hall, Henry Wadsworth
    It was made on a budget of $250,000 and had a shooting schedule of just sixteen days, appearing less than six months after the book made its debut. MGM didn't have big hopes for it, but it went on to be one of the top grossing films of the year, spawned five sequels and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (William Powell), Best Director (W.S. Van Dyke) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
    .
  • AFTER THE THIN MAN ...Buy this video...Buy this DVD
    (1936, MGM)
    Based on an original story by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
    Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
    Producer: Hunt Stromberg
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Callelia, Elissa Landi, Jessie Ralph, Alan Marshall, Asta
    .
  • ANOTHER THIN MAN ..Buy this video
    (1939, MGM)
    Based on an original story by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
    Directed by by W.S. Van Dyke
    Producer: Hunt Stromberg
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    William A. Poulsen, Virginia Grey, Otto Kruger, C. Aubrey Smith, Ruth Hussey, Nat Pendleton, Patric Knowles, Tom Neal, Asta
    .
  • SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN ..Buy this video
    (1941, MGM)
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    Barry Nelson, Donna Reed, Sam Levene, Alan Baxter
    .
  • THE THIN MAN GOES HOME ..Buy this video
    (1944, MGM)
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Directed by Richard Thorpe
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    Lucile Watson, Harry DavenportGloria DeHaven, Anne Revere, Helen Vinson, Leon Ames, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy
    ..
  • SONG OF THE THIN MAN..Buy this video
    (1947, MGM)
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Directed by Edward Buzzel
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    Also starring
    Keenan Wynn, Dean Stockwell, Gloria Grahame, Patricia Morison
    .

  • All six of the Thin Man movies were finally made available on DVD in 2005 in one sweet seven-disc set, featuring The Thin Man, After The Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, Song of the Thin Man, and The Thin Man Goes Home, plus a slew of tasty extras, including documentaries, comedy shorts, classic cartoons, a radio show with Powell and Loy and even an episode from the subsequent TV series episode starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. ...Buy this DVD

RADIO

  • LUX RADIO THEATRE: THE THIN MAN
    60 minutes
    Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Dashiell Hammett
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
    .
  • LUX RADIO THEATRE: AFTER THE THIN MAN
    (June 17, 1940)
    60 minutes
    Based on a story by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Dashiell Hammett
    Starring William Powell as NICK CHARLES
    and Myrna Loy as NORA CHARLES
  • THE THIN MAN
    AKA "The Adventures of the Thin Man,""The New Adventures of the Thin Man"
    (1941, NBC; 1946, CBS; 1948, NBC; 1950, ABC)
    15 and 30 minute episodes
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Dashiell Hammett, Milton Lewis, Eugene Wang, Robert Newman, Louis Vittes
    Director/Producer:
    Himan Brown
    Starring Les Damon as NICK CHARLES
    (later replaced by Les Tremayne, Joseph Curtin, David Gothard and Bill Smith)
    and Claudia Morgan as NORA CHARLES
    Also featuring
    Parker Fennelly as Sherrif Ebenezer Williams
  • "The Adventure of the Passionate Palooka"
Adventures of
Thin Man
From Old Time Radio

TELEVISION

  • THE THIN MAN
    (1957-60, NBC)
    Over 70 30-minute episodes
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Writers: Devery Heilweil, Phil Davis, Charles Hoffman
    Directors: Bernard Gerard, Bretaigne Windust
    Producer: Edmund Beloin
    Starring Peter Lawford as NICK CHARLES
    and Phyllis Kirk as NORA CHARLES

THEATRICAL ADAPTATIONS

  • NICK AND NORA
    (1990)
    Based on characters created by Dashiell Hammett
    Music by Charles Strouse
    Lyrics by Richard Maltby
    Book by Arthur Laurents
    Recording: Nick and Nora (Original Broadway Cast)
    ..Buy this CD
    Debut: Marquis Theatre, Broadway, December 8, 1991 (9 performancess)
    Original cast: Joanna Gleason and Barry Bostwick as NICK & NORA CHARLES:
    Also starring Christine Baranski, Thom Sesma, Remak Ramsay, Chris Sarandon, Jeff Brooks, Faith Prince, Kip Niven, Michael Lombard, Yvette Lawrence, Debra Monk, Hal Robinson, Tim Connell
  • Musucal numbers include:
  • "Overture"
  • "Is There Anything Better than Dancing?"
  • "Everybody Wants to Do a Musical"
  • "Max's Story"
  • "Swell"
  • "As Long As You're Happy"
  • "People Get Hurt"
  • "Men"
  • "May the Best Man Win"
  • "Look Who's Alone Now"
  • "Entr'acte"
  • "Class"
  • "Let's Go Home"
  • "A Busy Night at Lorraine's"
  • "Boom Chicka Boom"
  • "Married Life"

ALSO OF INTEREST

  • The Real Nick and Nora (2001, by David Goodrich...Buy this book
    Story of real-life married screenwriting couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett who together wrote It's a Wonderful Life, Easter Parade, Father of the Bride, Naughty Marietta, The Diary of Anne Frank and the first three Thin Man movies. Written by their nephew.

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Sean Wright and Dennis Bendy for the heads-up. Ah'll remembah. Also, David Goodrich, the author of The Real Nick and Nora.


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