Rediscovered: The Great War — Circa 1914


One reason I scheduled a tour for Sunday July 26 was to get myself within striking distance of the Erik Chipchase art reception in Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub on the Emeryville/Oakland borderlands — that showing ends in a couple of days, though I understand Erik will put it up again soon in another branch of Lanesplitter. Check his website for news, or, if you’re out of town or across the globe, you can view the gallery on his The Great War 1914 page.

I was intending to go to the show long before the whole “First World War/Great War” in “This King Business” came up the other day. Coincidence? Who knows.

I’ve known Erik for quite a few years now, courtesy the whole interface with The Cacophony Society (lineal descendent of The Suicide Club, my turf), and he stands out from the masses because it always seems to me that he is dressed to go on a safari or fight a century-old engagement in some desert somewhere. I am certain I have seen him in a pith helmet on more than one occasion.

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Hammett: A Tiny Tweak for “This King Biz”

Just when you think you’ve got something wrapped-up. . . .

Earlier this month Terry Zobeck and I wrote Fin/30/Fade-to-Black on Zobeck: Series One, the investigation into “pure texts” on the 21 Hammett short stories yet to be reprinted using the original texts from the pulp or slick magazine appearances. While we’ll poke along on Zobeck: Series Two and other projects that may pop to life, I thought for sure we had that one nailed down tight.

But a few days ago I got an e winging in from Michael Stoler, who said,  “I took your tour back in late March; I know you remember some of your guidees; I was the tall skinny guy with glasses and thinning black hair, celebrating his 47th birthday, who had been reading Raymond Chandler and asked you an infinite number of questions, which you gracefully answered.”

So far, so good — if I can field a query, I am happy to do so.

“On your recommendation,” Michael continued, “I started reading The Big Knockover in the paperback, starting with the title novella, and now going back to the shorter stories. I was reading ‘This King Business,’ and came to the part in which the young American millionaire Lionel Grantham, whom prominent ‘Muravians’ are supporting to be the figurehead of a royalist coup in a Balkan republic, talks of how something similar was tried in Albania, just after ‘the First World War.'”

Michael wondered why a story published in 1928 would use that expression:

So why would a character, or Hammett, have referred to the “First” World War, when there was as yet no inkling of a second? At that time, people referred to “the” World War, or the Great War.

I asked Terry Zobeck to do a quick check of the original pulp, and he discovered that “first World War” in that first publication of the story was just “war.”

But Terry also discovered that he did not have that specific correction in his 2011 post on “This King Business,” which began this whole exercise: “Well, this is embarrassing. I wish I could say that Hammett was prescient or a devotee of H. G. Wells. But I can’t. I missed this one. Our correspondent’s logic is absolutely spot on.”

So Terry added a fix and I went in for a surgical insertion, and all is now well — as far as I know — in the pure texts world. A tiny tweak, but one you want done.

I also asked Terry to double check the third printing of Library of America’s Crime Stories collection, to make sure they had the right wordage, and he says they did and do. So, that “pure text” is indeed a pure text. But remember, you want the third printing on that book, not the previous two, for the best text on “This King Business.”

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Tour: Sunday July 26 and Sunday August 9

012412 tour6

Next walks where anyone with $20 in hand and about four hours to wander the mean streets will be on Sunday July 26 and Sunday August 9. If interested, just show up by noon near the “L” sculpture, ready to go.

But there’s no need for a stampede — I figure I’ll do another tour later in August after I get back from PulpFest, and cover at least a couple of the Sundays in September (I’m waiting to hear from someone hauling in from New Zealand about which Sunday in September works best). I’ve already got a Sunday in October penciled into the log book, too.

Shot above: Dashiell Hammett Tour in Ellis Street in San Francisco, with the large sign for John’s Grill hanging overhead and the cavernous rear entrance to the Flood Building, where Hammett worked for Pinkerton’s, adjacent.

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Hammett: “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer”

BM January 1926

Remember the fireworks going off boom! and bang! a couple of days ago?

As I watched the explosions I was thinking, yeah, if they only knew that Terry Zobeck was about to finish off — complete, fini — his now years-long project of tracking down pure texts on the short fiction of Dashiell Hammett, some of those puffs of color would be in honor of Terry.

You want cause for celebration? The birth of a nation or the wrap-up on Zobeck: Series One is occasion enough for some kind of party.

And now here is Terry Zobeck, to put the nails in the coffin of Mr. Cayterer:


It’s been a little over four years since we started the effort to document the changes Fred Dannay made to Hammett’s short stories when he began reprinting them in the early 1940s, first in the pages of EQMM, and then in a collection of 10 digests over the next 20 years.

When we kicked off this project there were 21 stories that remained unavailable in their pure text form. Story by story, we checked 20 tales for pure texts.

But we’ve been stuck tracking down the final story, “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer” from the January 1926 issue of Black Mask. (Cover image above courtesy, once again, of Galactic Central).

Until now.

On Hammett’s birthday this past May, Don posted a blog announcing the University of South Carolina’s acquisition of Hammett archives of books, magazines, letters, and other memorabilia from the collections of Jo Hammett and Richard Layman. This news prompted me to email Rick asking if he had an inventory of the materials he provided the University. To my surprise, among the donations he detailed was included a pdf of every story Hammett published in Black Mask.

Yes, including “Nails.” Not being shy, I immediately requested a copy of the story, which Rick kindly provided.

From Hammett’s career as a book reviewer we know he had little patience for the conventions of the Golden Age Mystery. The authors of these books raised Hammett’s ire with their thorough ignorance of proper police procedure and the ways of criminals. His most damning criticism of such stories was that they lacked excitement. This makes his rare forays into the style all the more curious. “The Diamond Wager” — an un-ironic pastiche of such stories — ranks among his worst, its obscurity justly earned.

That’s not the case with “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer.” Going over it for this blog was the first time I had read the story in many years. My recollection of it was that it was poor, with a general feeling that it was low-ranking Hammett.

Upon re-reading it my opinion has risen somewhat. What I recognize now is that Hammett was having fun with those conventions — something that was completely lacking with “Wager.”

“Nails” is a curious mixture of the Golden Age and hardboiled styles.

Robin Thin, the story’s narrator, is a 30-something effete young man in the employ of his father’s detective agency. Robin would rather be a poet than a detective. While his narrative style and dialogue is verbose and staid, the dialogue of all the other characters, especially his father, is quite tough. The tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition is rather amusing. This is a gimmick that Rex Stout would have great success with in his Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels, the first of which, Fer-de-Lance, was published in 1934. I wonder if he was influenced by “Nails”?

Given how long it has taken us to track down the pure text of “Nails,” it is somewhat ironic that Dannay made very few edits to it — none of them substantial or significant. Perhaps, given the story’s more traditional style, he found it less in need of editing. Dannay did not reprint the story first in EQMM; it was collected straight into The Creeping Siamese in 1950.

As usual the following list provides the page number, the line number and whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the affected text — Hammett’s original wording is underlined. The page numbers refer to the story as it appears in The Creeping Siamese.

Page    Line     Top/Bottom     Text

37        10        top                   Papa questioned the promoter while scowling sidewise at me.

39        12        top                   What did he say when you sent him word of the leak—if anything?

40        3          bottom             “Oh, no, sir! Not anyone.” [This should be part of the preceding paragraph]

41        15        bottom             Papa asked when we were in the street.

43        15        bottom             humor in his thin face.

44        17        top                   about your you troubles [This is an obvious copy edit error]

45        12        bottom             “You mean kissing?” [This should be a separate paragraph]

48        5          top                   “Got a couple of hours to spare?” he asked,

49        11        top                   them stayed staid for longer

49        18        bottom             That was why they never stayed staid long.

50        7          top                   I have stayed staid with him

54        15        bottom             and bring them here. Hurry.

55        8          bottom             “I’m going to —” [This should be a separate paragraph]


And there you have it, the last of Zobeck: Series One. Coverage of 21 Hammett stories that had not been available in their pure texts to readers since their original appearances in the pulps and slicks of the 1920s and 1930s. We’ve learned that a few stories were reprinted without any edits by Dannay. Some, like “Nails,” were tinkered with only slightly. But others, like “This King Business,” “Corkscrew,”It” and “Death and Company” had substantial edits that lessened the impact of the story. (That these stories all feature the Continental Op make the edits all the more unfortunate.)

In recent years two important volumes, Vince Emery’s Lost Stories and The Library of America’s Crime Stories & Other Writing, have collected the majority of Hammett’s stories in their pure text versions. I’m especially pleased that our efforts led to the LoA reprinting their volume so that the pure text of “This King Business” could be included.

Additionally, the past three years have seen publication of two volumes of rare and previously unpublished Hammett material, The Return of the Thin Man and The Hunter and Other Stories. I’m hopeful that someday we will see publication of Hammett’s complete stories in their pure text versions.

Don and I plan to continue documenting the edits Dannay made to Hammett’s stories — stories that have been reprinted in pure text form, but checking to see what Dannay did to them back in the day — with Zobeck: Series Two.

Next up, “Slippery Fingers.”

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Hammett: In Constant Jeopardy!

As I’ve reported on a few times, the quiz show Jeopardy! just loves Hammett trivia.

On Wednesday June 24 our favorite gumshoe/crime writer popped up again in the category A Bit About Authors, the $2000 clew:

For refusing to testify against fellow communists, this “Maltese Falcon” author spent 5 months in prison.

And the guy who buzzed in got the correct answer, as one would hope: “Who is Dashiell Hammett?”

Will they eventually run out of Hammett clews — or is “Who is Dashiell Hammett?” an endless source?

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Sinister Cinema: Publicity Shots

Lyle Talbot Nancy Hult Don Herron Stephen Talbot

How about we kick off a new month with some publicity shots from the Archives of Stephen Talbot?

Steve popped these to me recently. Pic at top, left to right, Lyle Talbot, Nancy Hult, Don Herron (me!) and Steve from 1982, doing a group shot during the release party for the KQED documentary The Case of Dashiell Hammett, said party tossed in the third floor of John’s Grill.

Steve noted that “my father, Lyle Talbot,” served as “the voice of Hammett in the documentary.” He says that “Nancy Hult, the KQED publicist (best publicist I ever had!)organized the party and went on to marry Hollywood producer Sid Ganis, who for many years was president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.” And he describes us as “the one and only Mr. Don Herron, wearing your Maltese Falcon tie; and yours truly, as happy as I can be, celebrating the release of this Hammett TV biography.”

Yep. The Good Old Days. I should mention that the ties with a Maltese Falcon image threaded into them were worn by the bartenders and head waiters in John’s in that era, but I was given my tie by none other than Fritz Leiber. Fritz went into John’s to have dinner one night and discovered that they had used his article “Stalking Sam Spade” in the new menu. They picked up his tab as a gesture of thanks, gave him a tie — but by 1981 or 1982 he figured the tie would be better used by me as I gumshoed the mean streets leading the tour. I wore it for quite awhile, until it became obvious the threads were becoming bare, and then I retired it. Smithsonian material — or at least another item for the Hammett Tour collection in Bancroft Library.

Steve also sent me the pic at bottom, “an old publicity still of Mae West and my Dad in a nightclub scene in a 1936 movie called Go West, Young Man.” If you’ve read the blog for awhile you know I enjoy the whole Degrees of Separation idea — and here in one post is evidence for your eyes that I am merely One Degree of Separation from Mae West:

Mae West and Lyle Talbot in nightclub

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Tombstone: Two-Gun Bob

howard gravePhoto above courtesy the Crider Family Archives, circa 1980. Left to right, at the Robert E. Howard grave in Brownwood, Texas: James Reasoner and Angela, Allen and Bill Crider.

The Crider clan lived in Brownwood in that era. If the approximate date of 1980 is accurate, Reasoner’s first novel, Texas Wind, would hit print that year. It would not be his last. Bill Crider is also reasonably prolific. And Angela Crider Neary just released her own first book in February of this year.

Today marks anniversary 79 of the day Robert E. Howard put a pistol to his head in his Chevy, parked in the drive outside his home in nearby Cross Plains, Texas. At the age of 30, he ended his life. But the literary legend lives on.

I’ve been to the tombstone in Brownwood a few times myself. Fans and fellow writers have been stopping by for many years, and no doubt will continue to do so for many years more.

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Hammett: A Neo-Dash Update

Got a note in from Steve Talbot, who surfed into These Mean Streets after his name was evoked during the little rumination on Naming Kids Dashiell the other day.

“I can’t believe I made The Case of Dashiell Hammett 33 years ago!” Steve said.

His son Dashiell — Dash — “is now 35″ and a lawyer in LA. “Back in 1980 when he was born in San Francisco,” Steve says, “I think he was the first kid I knew to be named Dashiell — in honor, of course, of Samuel D. Hammett.”

Steve remembers wheeling “a two-year-old Dash around town with you on one of your Hammett Walking Tours. Now on my visits to LA, I push Dash’s son (my first grandson) around Hollywood.”

I told Steve that I think he should take the next generation of Talbots into the great Musso and Frank at the earliest opportunity, if he hasn’t done so already. I can’t imagine that Steve’s dad Lyle Talbot didn’t make the Musso and Frank scene in his day. Might even be a good topic for Steve, who continues to do documentary work for PBS.

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Frisco Beat: And an “Adios” to the Powell Hotel. . . .

On May 19 I made my way to the bar in John’s Grill for a meeting with the Greek writer Fondis Ladis, in the burg doing research on a biography of Blackjack Jerome.

As I hiked up the first block of Powell Street I noticed that the entrance to the Powell Hotel was shrouded by a large plywood construction shed. Believe I kind of noticed the plywood a couple of weeks back, but didn’t pay much attention. This time I gave it a couple of minutes.

Obviously a major renovation to the Powell is going on, and some signage announced that what was once the Powell will be open “fall 2015″ as the Axiom.

The building itself will be the same, but who knows what changes the boutique job will wreck on the original lobby and mezzanine? They’ll probably be pretty but for us Charles Willeford fans, they won’t be pretty.

As related in my book Willeford and elsewhere, the Powell is where Willeford claimed he stayed when he was writing his first novel, and also serves as the basis for the hotel in his lone Private Eye novel Wild Wives, the place where PI Jacob Blake hangs his shingle.

For those Willeford fans who got a look at the place before May, what you saw was pretty close to the way it looked when Willeford slept there.

For the people who missed it, consider this an update: the Powell is now history.

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Hammett: Birthday 121


Shot above, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett — who get stacks of their old mail officially donated to the University of South Carolina today, the 121st anniversary of Hammett’s birth.

Terry “Mr. Pure Texts” Zobeck and I had a little present for Hammett in the works to celebrate the birthday, but decided to hold it back for a few days and give the new library donation pride of place. This trove will become a mecca for Hammett and Hellman scholars, like the Ransom Center in Austin did, after Hellman donated literary papers from her and Hammett.

The bulk of the papers and photos seem to be coming from Jo Hammett, daughter of Dashiell Hammett — basis for her book Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers, but she also had a large stack of letters from Hellman that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t been explored by people interested in that sort of thing. And it must be Hammett biographer and bibliographer Rick Layman’s connections in South Carolina that landed the collection there — he is donating his personal collection of Hammett books and magazine appearances to bulk it up even more.

Based on the blurb, I can’t tell if two areas of potential research will be covered by the donated materials.

One is — and this comes up quite often as a question on the tour — how did Hammett’s wife handle the question of their “divorce” (divorce in quotes, since the papers filed in Mexico apparently did not legally result in a divorce). I’ve seen various of the papers Jo had in house, and it seemed to me that sometimes her mother would fill out a school paper (say for a field trip or the like)  saying that she and Hammett were still married, and that other times they would be “divorced.” Be nice to have all the papers in one place, lay them out on a table, and see if the data jumped back and forth or if after a certain point the data stayed the same. At best a minor point, but something that having access to the right set of papers probably could answer. That’s the sort of thing library collections really come in handy for. . . .

The other thing that I can see someone having real fun researching would be: How did Hellman pay out the royalties from Hammett’s writing in the era when she was handling the estate? Did she give his two daughters a fair and square share of the monies? Did she send along merely some token amount? Apparently Jo’s husband kept track of the payments when he was alive, so if that kind of info is at USC someone could juggle it against royalty statements from, oh, Random House, and figure things out (if said scholar can get access to the publishers’ record books).

People who like Hellman can prove her a just warden of the property — or people who don’t like her can show she took more than she gave, as the case may be.

If enough background data exists to make the case either way.

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