Partner Lillian Hellman

Queer Places:
891 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Hardscrabble Farms, Hardscrabble Rd, Pleasantville, NY 10514
Arlington National Cemetery, (section 12, site 508)

Photo portrait of Hammett from the cover of his final novel, The Thin Man (1934)Samuel Dashiell Hammett (/dəˈʃiːl ˈhæmɪt/;[2] May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. Identified with the Lost Generation. He was also a screenwriter and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse) and the comic strip character Secret Agent X-9. Hammett "is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time".[3] In his obituary in The New York Times, he was described as "the dean of the... 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction."[4] Time magazine included Hammett's 1929 novel Red Harvest on its list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.[5] His novels and stories also had a significant influence on films, including the genres of private-eye/detective fiction, mystery thrillers, and film-noir. He was part of the Literary Ambulance Drivers during WWI.

Hammett was born near Great Mills on the “Hopewell and Aim” farm in Saint Mary's County, Maryland[6] to Richard Thomas Hammett and his wife Anne Bond Dashiell. His mother belonged to an old Maryland family, whose name in French was De Chiel. He had an older sister, Aronia, and a younger brother, Richard, Jr.[7] Known as Sam, Hammett was baptized a Catholic,[8] and grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. He left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He served as an operative for Pinkerton from 1915 to February 1922, with time off to serve in World War I. He claimed that while with the Pinkertons, he was sent to Butte, Montana, during the union strikes, though some researchers doubt this really happened.[9] The agency's role in union strike-breaking eventually left him disillusioned.[10] Hammett enlisted in the United States Army in 1918 and served in the Motor Ambulance Corps. He was afflicted during that time with the Spanish flu and later contracted tuberculosis. He spent most of his time in the Army as a patient at Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, where he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, whom he married on July 7, 1921, in San Francisco.[11]

Hammett and Dolan had two daughters, Mary Jane (born 1921) and Josephine (born 1926).[12] Shortly after the birth of their second child, health services nurses informed Dolan that due to Hammett's tuberculosis, she and the children should not live with him full-time. Dolan rented a home in San Francisco, where Hammett would visit on weekends. The marriage soon fell apart; however, he continued to financially support his wife and daughters with the income he made from his writing.[13]

Hammett was first published in 1922 in the magazine The Smart Set.[16] Known for the authenticity and realism of his writing, he drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton operative.[17] Hammett wrote most of his detective fiction while he was living in San Francisco in the 1920s; streets and other locations in San Francisco are frequently mentioned in his stories. He said that "I do take most of my characters from real life."[18] His novels were some of the first to use dialogue that sounded authentic to the era. "I distrust a man that says when. If he's got to be careful not to drink too much, it's because he's not to be trusted when he does". [19] The bulk of his early work, featuring a nameless private investigator, The Continental Op, appeared in leading crime-fiction pulp magazine, Black Mask. Both Hammett and the magazine struggled in the period when Hammett became established.[20] Because of a disagreement with editor Philip C. Cody about money owed from previous stories, Hammett briefly stopped writing for Black Mask in 1926. He then took a full-time job as an advertisement copywriter for the Albert S. Samuels Co., a San Francisco jeweller. He was wooed back to writing for the Black Mask by Joseph Thompson Shaw who became the new editor in the summer of 1926. Hammett dedicated his first novel, Red Harvest, to Shaw and his second novel, The Dain Curse, to Samuels.[21] Both these novels and his third, The Maltese Falcon, and fourth, The Glass Key, were first serialized in Black Mask before being revised and edited for publication by Alfred A. Knopf. The Maltese Falcon, considered to be his best work, was voted #2 of The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time.[22] by the Mystery Writers of America and is dedicated to his wife Josephine. For much of 1929 and 1930, he was romantically involved with Nell Martin, a writer of short stories and several novels. He dedicated The Glass Key to her, and in turn, she dedicated her novel Lovers Should Marry to him. In 1931, Hammett embarked on a 30-year romantic relationship with the playwright Lillian Hellman. Though he sporadically continued to work on material, he wrote his final novel in 1934, more than 25 years before his death. The Thin Man is dedicated to Hellman. Why he moved away from fiction is not certain; Hellman speculated in a posthumous collection of Hammett's novels, "I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker."[23] In the 1940s, Hellman and he lived at her farm, Hardscrabble Farm, in Pleasantville, New York.[24]

Hammett devoted much of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong antifascist throughout the 1930s, and in 1937 joined the Communist Party.[25] On May 1, 1935, Hammett joined the League of American Writers (1935-1943), whose members included Lillian Hellman, Alexander Trachtenberg of International Publishers, Frank Folsom, Louis Untermeyer, I. F. Stone, Myra Page, Millen Brand, Clifford Odets, and Arthur Miller. (Members were largely either Communist Party members or fellow travelers.)[26] He suspended his anti-fascist activities when, as a member (and in 1941 president) of the League of American Writers, he served on its Keep America Out of War Committee in January 1940 during the period of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[27] After the war, Hammett returned to political activism, "but he played that role with less fervour than before". He was elected president of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) on June 5, 1946, at a meeting held at the Hotel Diplomat in New York City, and "devoted the largest portion of his working time to CRC activities".[32] In 1946, a bail fund was created by the CRC "to be used at the discretion of three trustees to gain the release of defendants arrested for political reasons."[33] Those three trustees were Hammett, who was chairman, Robert W. Dunn, and Frederick Vanderbilt Field, "millionaire Communist supporter."[33] On April 3, 1947, the CRC was identified as a Communist front group on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations, as directed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9835.[34]

During the 1950s, Hammett was investigated by Congress. He testified on March 26, 1953, before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his own activities, but refused to cooperate with the committee. No official action was taken, but his stand led to him being blacklisted, along with others who were blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism. Hammett became an alcoholic before working in advertising,[17] and alcoholism continued to trouble him until 1948, when he quit under doctor's orders. However, years of heavy drinking and smoking worsened the tuberculosis he contracted in World War I, and then according to Hellman, "jail had made a thin man thinner, a sick man sicker ... I knew he would now always be sick."[42] Hellman wrote that during the 1950s, Hammett became "a hermit", his decline evident in the clutter of his rented "ugly little country cottage", where "signs of sickness were all around: now the phonograph was unplayed, the typewriter untouched, the beloved foolish gadgets unopened in their packages."[43] He may have meant to start a new literary life with the novel Tulip, but left it unfinished, perhaps because he was "just too ill to care, too worn out to listen to plans or read contracts. The fact of breathing, just breathing, took up all the days and nights."[44] Hammett could no longer live alone, and they both knew it, so he spent the last four years of his life with Hellman. "Not all of that time was easy, and some of it very bad", she wrote, but, "guessing death was not too far away, I would try for something to have afterwards."[45]

Hammett died in Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on January 10, 1961, of lung cancer, diagnosed just two months before. A veteran of both world wars, Hammett was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[46]

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