"Chandler wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered."
-- The New Yorker on The Long Goodbye
Raymond Chandler was one of the foremost authors (not merely one of the foremost mystery authors) of the 20th century.
Without him, what we know today as the hard-boiled crime tale might be quite different--probably less literary in aim, if not always in execution. Chandler took the raw, realistic intrigue style that Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and others had begun cooking up in post-World War I America, and gave it an artistic bent, filling his fiction with evocative metaphors and sentences that refuse to shed their cleverness with age (“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window”; “She sat in front of her princess dresser trying to paint the suitcases out from under her eyes.”).
Like Ernest Hemingway, Chandler had an idiosyncratic prose “voice” that is often imitated but rarely duplicated. “He wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a wonderful gusto and imaginative flair,” opined Ross Macdonald, who was among those influenced by Chandler's work, and who would go on--in novels such as The Chill (1964) and The Underground Man (1971)--to further elevate crime fiction's reputation.
Although he was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888, Raymond Thornton Chandler moved with his divorced mother, Florence, to England in 1895. After attending preparatory school in London, he studied international law in France and Germany before returning to Britain and embarking on a literary career that produced, early on, mostly book reviews and bad poetry. However, he did manage to publish 27 of his poems, as well as a short story called “The Rose-Leaf Romance,” before returning to the States in 1912. He then labored at a variety of jobs (including as a tennis-racket stringer and as a bookkeeper for a creamery in Los Angeles) until 1917, when he enlisted as a private in the Canadian Army and was sent to the French front lines during World War I. Discharged at Vancouver, Canada, in 1919, he moved back to L.A., and in 1924, wed Pearl Eugenie “Cissy” Pascal. Already twice married and divorced, she was also 18 years older than the future novelist, yet “was a lively, original, intelligent, mature, youthful-looking woman who seemed precisely right for a man of Chandler's age and experience ...,” according to biographer Jerry Speir. By this time, Chandler was on the payroll of a Southern California oil syndicate, just as the oil industry around L.A. was starting to, well, gush. He originally signed on with that syndicate as a bookkeeper, but--despite his distaste for an industry he believed was dominated by corrupt opportunists--eventually rose to the position of vice president.
However, as business pressures intensified during the Depression, and Cissy's health began to fail with age, Chandler commenced drinking heavily and engaging in affairs with office secretaries. In 1932, he was fired from his job with the oil syndicate. To ease the consequent drain on his savings, he turned back to writing, and in 1933 saw his first short story published in Black Mask, the most noteworthy of America's cheap, mass-market “pulp magazines.” Speir explains:
Chandler relished mystery writing because it seemed to lack pretension, and the pulps' restrictions on word length and subject matter compelled him to master the art of storytelling. Never a past master of plotting, Chandler found his own strengths instead in creating emotion through description and dialogue, and in presenting a prose idiom that melded the precision of his prep-school English with the vigor of American vernacular speech.
His first novel, The Big Sleep (which he wrote in three months), hit bookstores in 1939 and introduced the character who would come to be synonymous with, and long outlive, his creator: wisecracking, chess-playing, late-30s L.A. private eye Philip Marlowe. Marlowe embodied the author's conception (spelled out in his classic 1944 essay, “The Simple Art of Murder”) of the gumshoe as “a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor--by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and good enough for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.”
Chandler hadn't intended to write mysteries for the rest of his life, but that's exactly what he did. Thank goodness. After The Big Sleep, he penned six more Marlowe adventures, including what are arguably two undeniable classics: Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and The Long Goodbye (1953). He also took a turn in the early '40s as a Hollywood scriptwriter, adapting James M. Cain's Double Indemnity (1943) and writing the original screenplay for The Blue Dahlia (1946). Both garnered Oscar nominations for Chandler, and both (and Double Indemnity in particular) are well worth watching, be it on the silver screen or on televisions.
In 1954, just a year after The Long Goodbye was published, Cissy died from fibrosis of the lungs, sending her then 66-year-old husband into a “long nightmare” of mourning that left him with severe depression and resulted in at least one suicide attempt. Biographers like Frank McShane (The Life of Raymond Chandler, 1976) have remarked on the mixture in Chandler's stories of toughness and sentimentality, and how “the emotional sensitivity that made [Chandler's] literary achievement possible also made him miserable as a human being.” That miserableness was much in evidence during the last five years of Chandler's life. He survived it, in part, through the ministrations of Helga Greene, his London literary agent and friend (and, in the months prior to his death, his fiancée), and went on to compose Playback, which was based on a screenplay he'd written in 1947. That novel reached bookstore shelves just 16 months before he passed away, on March 26, 1959.
When Raymond Chandler died, he left behind an unfinished manuscript titled The Poodle Springs Story, which Robert B. Parker (a novelist who shows distinctive Chandlerian influences in his own novels, featuring a Boston P.I. named Spenser) would complete and see published, as simply Poodle Springs, in 1989.
The author left in his wake, too, a stylistic legacy that has inspired successive generations of detective novelists; without Chandler (along with Hammett and Macdonald) having shown them the way, people such as Parker, Michael Connelly, Timothy Harris, Arthur Lyons, Max Allan Collins, Robert Crais, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Loren D. Estleman might never have found their way into writing crime fiction. The success of movies made from Chandler's stories (especially Humphrey Bogart's 1946 The Big Sleep and James Garner's Marlowe, a 1969 flick based on The Little Sister), as well as radio shows, TV series, and even comic books based on his work makes us forget that he only ever published seven novels and 24 short stories during his lifetime.
The impact of his legacy has far exceeded the limits of his artistic fabrication. He gave the world an indelible image of mid-20th-century Los Angeles as a city where lawlessness and luxury were old drinking buddies, and trust was a rare commodity--a rather different place from what Chandler himself had encountered during his first, pre-World War I foray to Southern California. (In The Little Sister, he has Marlowe say, “I used to like this town. A long time ago. ... [It] was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but goodhearted and peaceful.”) This author also bequeathed us an archetype of the fictional private eye as a tired latter-day knight who, though he has traded his helmet for a fedora, still knows how to rescue a damsel in distress. That archetype has been altered in the decades since Chandler's demise, but its shadow can still be seen behind many of the crime-novel protagonists working today.
As McShane put it in his introduction to the wonderful 1988 anthology, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration, “Chandler was a real artist. He created a character who has become a part of American folk mythology, and in writing about Los Angeles, he depicted a world of great beauty and seamy corruption--the American reality. He made words dance, and readers continue to respond to his magic.”
So, let us drink a toast to Raymond Chandler: an unusual man, but one of the best writers in his own world and good enough for any world.
The original incomplete draft by Chandler posthumously published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1984.
Library of America edition includes The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely and The High Window, plus selected early stories.
Second Library of America edition includes The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, Playback, the Double Indemnity screenplay, plus selected essays and letters.
This Everyman's Library Edition is a whopping 1344 pages, and includes ALL of Chandler's short fiction.
Deluxe collector's box of two previous Library of America editions.
SHORT NON-FICTION BY CHANDLER
The first film adaptation of a Chandler novel, although the detective is Michael Arlen's The Falcon, not Philip Marlowe.
The second film adaptation of a Chandler novel, but once again the hero is not Marlowe. This time it's Brett Halliday's Michael Shayne.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Handsome but poor doctor falls in love with a rich, beautiful deaf patient. No wonder Chandler drank.
My favourite Marlowe, in my favourite Marlowe film.
A governess is haunted by a ghost, or possibly her past. Pass the scotch.
A soldier comes home from the war to discover his wife's a tramp. She's also dead, and he's the prime suspect. A pretty good flick, despite numerous production snafus, studio squabbles and Chandler being crocked to the gills during most of the writing.
A great and much beloved film, but it ain't Chandler's Marlowe.
Director and star couldn't even spell "Phillip" correctly, but his idea of filming the entire thing using the subjective camera was what really sank this turkey. Not that the acting was any help. Kiss my lens, baby!
Long considered the redheaded stepchild of Marlowe films, it's usually dismissed as inconsequential, and certainly stills from the film, depicting George Montgomery as a Marlowe who sports a chessy mustache don't hold much promise. But the film, only recently made widely available, while slight, is a pleasant surprise. Some very effective camera work and some great character bits go a long way to making this quickie B-flick an enjoyably satisfying piece of film.
By most accounts, Chandler's final screenplay for this psychological thriller was completely trashed by director/producer Hitchcock, and never used. Ormonde, though, was forced to share the credit with Chandler, due to studio politics.
This 1969 adaptation is well worth a look, even if Garner is a little stiff, caught somewhere between the hard-boiled dicks of 40s detective films and his future incarnation as easy-going Jim Rockford. Not essential, maybe, and too groovy for its own good, but fun nonetheless.
Robert Altman's quirky, rabble-rousing 1973 revisionist ode to Chandler and Marlowe is either a grievous insult, or a perfect update, depending on where you stand. You hate it, or you love it -- that's all there is to it. Elliot Gould stars, though Leigh (The Big Sleep) Brackett's script is the real draw here.
A solid flick, marred by the fact Mitchum is about 30 or so years late in playing the role. But there's something quite engaging in seeing Marlowe as a tired, aging bruiser plowing his way through a faithfully reproduced 1940s Los Angeles of mean streets and "shine bars."
Mitchum again, but even older and more tired, and for some reason transported to London. There's a solid cast, and in some ways it's more faithful than Hawks' classic (they restore the soliloquy, for example, and Candy Clark reclaims much of the disturbing, off-kilter sexuality of Carmen's character) but it's at best a curiosity, for die-hard fans only. It also underscores the fact they should have cast Mitchum as Marlowe thirty or so years earlier.
An animated gem of a bootleg, using elements of the old PC game Private Eye (which itself borrowed heavily from Chandler's The Little Sister). Definitely worth investigating. FanFic taken to a whole new level.
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
Ted Benoit, who adapted the novel, also created retro-cool private eye Ray Banana, who appeared in several bandes déssinées
The first serious biography on Chandler; pivotal and essential.
This 35-page chapbook was possibly the first major bibliographical list devoted to Chandler.
A collection of Chandler's personal correspondence, articles and other bits and pieces. Petty, nasty, cranky, cynical and at times surprisingly touching.
Fascinating collection of letters from 1950-56 between Chandler and fellow mystery writer Fox, creator of the Johnny & Suzy Marshall detective series. An unlikely friendship, but there ya go. They apparently met at a party at mystery collector Ned Guymon's house, and Fox eventually dedicated his book Dark Crusade to Chandler. Fox was obviously in awe of Chandler and Chandler, of course, could always write a mean letter.
What happens when a lonely, cranky drunk man decides to write a few letters. But this man could write a damn good letter.
Part of Ungar's "Recognitions" series.
Revised edition, "Raymond Chandler in Hollywood," 1996.
Quite similiar to the above Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, this slender volume (just over 100 pages) is more text-oriented, and offers a lot more contextual information.
Very interesting, especially for Chandler readers (like me) who've never been to LA. It consists of over 100 photographs (taken mostly in the 1980s), and accompanied by snippets from Chandler's novels and stories.
A major new biography, updating and rivalling Frank McShane's seminal The Life of Raymond Chandler.
The first in-depth study of Chandler and his work in film in years. Phillips zigs and zags all over the place here, throwing in an anecdote here, a little gossip there, and another Cliff's Notes synopsis over there, but he has some interesting ideas worth checking out. And some of those bits and pieces are just great stuff. Phillips tosses in a preface by Billy Wilder, a prologue, an introduction, and a brief biography of Chandler, but he's at his best when he relates how Chandler's screenplays, including Double Indemnity (directed by Billy Wilder) and Strangers on a Train (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), slammed him right up against the Hollywood elite, with whom he had a serious love/hate thing going on. And there's some truly great behind-the-scenes stuff any movie buff would enjoy, plus a fascinating look at the unpublished Lady of the Lake screenplay, the never actually produced Playback script and an intriguing comparison of the original version of Howard Hawks The Big Sleep, and the version most of us got to see.
Selected tidbits by the master, edited by Chandler biographers Frank MacShane and Tom Hiney, expanding on MacShane's previous Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler.
This handy-dandy trade paperback features three single-day ours of Los Angeles, visiting over forty locations referred to by Raymond Chandler in his novels: Marlowe's Hollywood, Marlowe's Downtown, and Marlowe's Drive. Includes b&w photo illustrations, color maps, local colour and more historical trivia than you can shake a gimlet at. For a new Los Angeleno like myself, or just someone contemplating killing a few days in the City of Angels, this is one righteous read.
Private correspondence, previously uncollected essays (both by and about Chandler) and associated material shed greater light on his triumphs and troubles. Well illustrated, with classic book jackets and photographs.
What took 'em so long? This is a no-brainer -- a pocket-sized collection of the wit and wisdom culled from the greatest series of private eye novels ever, offering the "rude wit," two-fisted wisecracks and bruised romanticism Marlowe was known for. A tip of the fedora to Marty Asher for finally doing what needed to be done.
It's a shame about Ray, or at least that's what the author of this alternately trashy and insightful biograghy seems to want to imply. Freeman sniffs through the flotsam and jetsam of Chandler's personal life and particularly his marriage to Cissy, a much older woman. Freeman pawed through his papers and letters, interviewed some of the people who actually knew them, and tracked down over thirty of the California homes and apartments the Chandlers lived in, all in an effort to figure out what made Chandler tick, but the result is still inconclusive, and alternately intriguing and more than a little creepy. Plus, it doesn't change one iota the work Chandler left behind. Or how I feel about it.
Bronx English prof holds Marlowe up to the light, and suggests that his "feeling for community and willingness to compromise radically changed the genre's vigilantism and violence," and compares Chandler's work to his contemporaries, and considers his impact on the genre as a whole.
After The Long Embrace, you've got to wonder at this point what's left to find out or to insinuate -- but this compelling study by rookie author Williams digs up all sorts of dirt, from child abuse to alcoholism, and tries to back it up with footnotes, interviews, quotes, letters and articles, that will have Chandler disciples fascinated -- and non-fans wondering what the fuss is about. For those unfortunates, just give them a drink and hand them a copy of The Big Sleep.
Yep, an actual map, spotlighting actual locations taken from Chandler's works (including the films) and his life. But mostly, it's just beautifully designed and illustrated.
Day cobbles together the autobiography Chandler never wrote, using excerpts from the man's letters, essays, interviews and fiction to tell the story. A compelling fascinating look at Chandler, his life and times, and how he saw them. It's all speculation, in a way, but it''s fascinating nonetheless.
ARCHIVES AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES
Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" remembered by Thomas Pluck
Cliff Fausset's tribute to "the best private dick ever." Includes a brief biography of Marlowe and his creator, Raymond Chandler; a summary and reviews of all books as well as movies and the T.V. shows plus "much more."
A great-looking site, unfortunately overloaded with graphics, scripts, and sound files. Almost worth visiting, if you've got a lot of patience. Check out Who is Philip Marlowe? by Bill Henkin.
More a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. And winner, apparently, of an Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
Gary Nordell's Chandler page has a brief bio and a list of books, audiobooks, films and posters for sale.
Stephen Blackmoore's tribute to the master.
A fascinating romp (with photos) through one man's Chandler obsession, featuring first American and first British editions, vintage paperbacks, foreign editions, magazine appearances, various reprints, limited editions, movie related items, reference works, bibliographies, student editions and some ephemera. Sadly, Al will not tell me when he plans to be out of town for a few days, or where he hides his spare key.
A short, short story; more a spoof of hardboiled cliches in general, than Chandler specifically, but still fun. Winner of Honorable Mention in the 1995 International Imitation Raymond Chandler Competition.
A tribute to Chandler from the celebrated horror/fantasy writer, of all people. Excellent!
Profile respectfully submitted by J. Kingston Pierce. Additional information compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Ted Fitzgerald, Chris Mills, Henry Cabot Beck, Barry Ergang, Steven Ardron and Marc LaViolette for their additional help with this page.
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