Hammett: The Clew Pile Hit Again

They just wrapped up the annual Teachers Tournament on Jeopardy! and what do you know, eased yet another Hammett puzzler into the action.

On May 15, Double Jeopardy! Round, $2000 clew under the banner of Mysteries & Thrillers:

“The Thin Man” by this author is about a former detective & his rich wife solving a murder amid high society

Yeah, for you or me, not a moment of cogitation required. So, I was kind of amazed that not one of the three teachers up at bat rang in to try at least a guess. You don’t get it much easier.

I did notice that Alex Trebek — usually a master at pronouncing all manner of exotic words — went with Dash-ULL rather than the correct Dash-SHIEL, but they can correct that next time. I’m presuming there’ll be a next time. Probably within a month or two.

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Tour: No Walks in May, and June Looks Shot, Too

You know how it goes, you go in for a checkup, one thing leads to another, and you find yourself under the knife for triple bypass surgery. Ouch.

Anyway, I survived, but it looks as if it’ll take two, maybe three months to get back in shape to do any tours.

My apologies for missing out on May especially after all these years, but circumstances dealt the cards.

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Rediscovered: A Couple of Footnotes

Yesterday, when I mentioned the death of Stan Sargent on March 6, I definitely was thinking what a fatal month March often is — so much so I plan on keeping my head down in an attempt to squeak through until April.

I even did a Memorial March bit back in 2012, citing deaths such as Lovecraft, Willeford, Edgar Rice Burroughs, plus noting the three-year anniversary of the passing of Steve Tompkins on March 23. Just noticed that Jim Cornelius jumped in this cycle to commemorate the nine-year anniversary — he encountered Tompk via some of his online scribblings and involvement in the once active blog for The Cimmerian magazine.

Anytime Tompk’s name pops up I usually think thoughts of mortality, because it was Tompkins who voiced the idea that Robert E. Howard fan and critical circles were bound to see a Great Extinction Event, where the huge numbers of people who came into play in the 1960s inevitably age out and fall by the wayside.

Not one or two every few years, but a sweeping of the windrows, a dozen, two or three dozen and more, within a few months!

And statistically I’m standing in that group, waiting to see How Many Go Before Me.

Thanks, Steve.

Tompk himself came in later than the herd we’re contemplating, and I’m not sure his early death could be considered as any kind of outlier. But the foretold Extinction Event has got to happen — there are a few specific fat guys in REH circles who have enormous rolls of lard on the backs of their necks, and no one’s betting on them beating the odds.

And by the way, The Cimmerian editor Leo Grin popped in a note that Stan Sargent sent him (Stan cracked the pages of TC with a poem back in the day) that has some interesting details about his 1979 sojourn in Iran:

When I was in Iran (3 months or so before the hostages were taken and the incident the film “Argo” is based on happened), most of the people didn’t care that I was American or [they] wanted to know if I had any disco records they could buy in secret. Heck, my friend and I even met Ayatollah Khomeini at his compound, and they all knew I was an American. But there were a few cities in which people would look at blue-eyed me too closely or ask if I was an American. At that point, I jabbered all the German I could remember from high school.

 

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Frisco Beat: Stanley C. Sargent

Counting down to the showing of Lon Chaney’s The Penalty in the Old Mint next Thursday — which I chalk up as one of the successful ideas I pitched to the Tenderloin Museum when they were asking what other programs we could do, above and beyond me just coming in and talking about Hammett. (Even so, I can’t give myself too much credit. Yeah, I had the idea, but the Museum and now the Old Mint are doing the heavy lifting.)

And you may be interested in another idea I pitched to the Museum — one of the first things I thought of back in 2015. A talk on how the Tenderloin intersection of Geary and Hyde somehow — by complete coincidence or the nudging of eldritch forces — became a center for horror writing in San Francisco. In the 1970s Fritz Leiber lived just west of the intersection in 811 Geary Street, where he wrote The Pale Brown Thing — which with an expansion and a few changes became the award-winning novel Our Lady of Darkness.

Just south of the intersection, west side of Hyde, Stan McNail lived in the 1960s — in the period he wrote his Arkham House poetry collection Something Breathing (and also edited the poetry journal Galley Sail Review, and so on).

Just north of the intersection, east side of Hyde, Stan Sargent — or Stanley C. Sargent — was living, and he had a couple of collections of Lovecraftian stories out, The Taint of Lovecraft and Ancient Exhumations. Plus more stories here and there. He seems to have written only in the horror form.

So, I suggested we could do a talk, where I’d blurb Fritz and Stan Mac, and drag Stan Sargent in as a living representative of the idea.

Too late now. I got news that Stan died March 6. Light on details. But he’d been living with HIV/AIDS for years, and believe he mentioned once that he had congestive heart failure under treatment, too. Guess it could have been anything.

(Once, walking along in San Francisco near the Powell Street BART Station with Stan and Dick and Pat Lupoff, a street preacher exhorted us, “Trust in the Lord!” Stan looked at us and said, “I did. . . . it didn’t work out.”)

Seasoned hikers around San Francisco no doubt noticed Stan’s windows, the inner sills stacked with various oddities, but notably a saber-toothed tiger skull.

Shot at the top is of Stan in recent years, looking the way I knew him. Shot below is Stan during a month he spent in Iran in 1979, which shows “me sauntering through Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis, Iran. I have a shot of me standing by the colossal winged-bull statues of the ‘Gateway to All Lands’ somewhere too. I spent two entire days exploring the palaces of Cyrus the Great, his son Darius the Great, and Xerxes at Persepolis, all of which were (accidentally?) burned by Alexander the Great. WONDERFUL PLACE! Also spent a couple days at Khomeini’s compound, which was interesting.”

Stan’s interest in such time-lost antiquities really jumped his weird fiction up, when he finally began to write.

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Frisco Beat: Lon Chaney Hits the Old Mint Again!

If you’ve ever caught the 1920 Lon Chaney silent flick The Penalty, you no doubt remember the sequence where Lon and his mob are looting the Old Mint on the corner of Fifth and Mission. On Thursday March 29 — and, yes, I guess there is some irony involved — Chaney returns to the scene of the crime, as the Old Mint hosts a screening, with some introductory remarks by me before the movie, and then Brian Hollins a.k.a. CitySleuth doing his Then & Now power point on location shots from almost 100 years ago.

You might recall that we recently did these same duties for a showing in the Tenderloin Museum, but the concept proved so popular the crew over at the Old Mint decided they wanted in on the action, too. Why not?

They are adding live music and other stuff to the festivities — and, come on, just getting to see this primo Chaney movie inside the building where the actor is running around on the front steps, what could be better?

I can tell you what the Old Mint has that no other venue will ever have: location, location, location.

Show up if you have the interest. I’ll do my usual thoughts of how I think Dashiell Hammett was inspired by this movie to write his tour de force San Francisco action novel The Big Knockover, and anyone who digs local history will be amazed by CitySleuth’s research — honest, the guy’s the best.

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Hammett: A Clew Pile or a Deck of Cards?

Jeopardy! dealt another Hammett clew into the show yesterday, March 6 — in the Category Facts About Fiction.

The $800 clew:

Dashiell Hammett introduced Sam Spade in this novel

Yeah, an easy one.

One guy got it with the correct response: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”

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Hammett: A Parable for Valentine

An even eighty-eight years ago today Knopf released a little tale of mystery and romance you know by the handle of The Maltese Falcon.

Yes, timed for release on Valentine’s Day.

Every Valentine’s Day for years now I’ve had to make the suggestion that the Falcon might just be the sickest Valentine’s Day novel ever. If it’s a romance — and you can see the outlines of a romance in it — then you still have the spectre of a noose hanging over the heroine at the end.

If they hang you — kind of makes you think romance isn’t the most significant aspect of the story.

Another unusual angle is that when Spade might be thought to be wooing Brigid O’Shaughnessy he drops a parable on her.

The Flitcraft Parable.

Again, not the usual malarkey of a regulation romance.

If you don’t know the Flitcraft angle (it’s in the novel but not in the Bogie flick), Brian Wallace just popped me an overview which wowed him — and written by Jim Nelson. You might remember Jim’s name from recent years, when he trudged along on the Fritz Leiber Tour I sometimes offer.

If interested, dip into Jim’s survey of the parable — and then reserve a few minutes to think about whether such a thing really fits into the whole Valentine’s Day scenario. A brain-buster, for sure.

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Death Lit: An Avram Davidson Vibe

The historied dark mantle of Prague cloaks 14 stories of crime in this superior entry in Akashic’s City Noir series. A fair number of collections from this series have rolled through my paws over the years, with this one and the recent Montana Noir far better than the average.

Oakland Noir, another new-ish one, was kind of a dud — and all things being equal, Oakland ought to have been one of the best in this set.

Akashic has been popping these items out since 2004, so I figure you ought to know by now if you enjoy them or not (someone must, because there are dozens, with more always in the pipeline). For Prague Noir specifically I’m tipping you off to one story which I know some of you might like, and if you don’t want to buy the whole package new then just wait it out — keep an eye open for a cheap used copy later on so you can read “The Cabinet of Seven Pierced Books” by Petr Stančík.

I started that one and instantly thought, man, this reminds me of Avram Davidson’s adventures of Dr. Eszterhazy, set in a more fantasticated version of Europe. You have the “autarchic detective, one Egon Alter” dropping casually into the action and many other touches which ought to delight Eszterhazy fans.

And I have no idea if Stančík has ever heard of Avram, much less has read a word he wrote. Could be a case of a mindset, a cultural background, nudging him in a similar direction.

I’m not encouraging everyone who reads these words to seek the story out. If you like Avram, yes. Or if you enjoy films by Wojciech Haas such as The Sandglass and The Saragossa Manuscript.

If you want a sample for consideration, the following paragraph riffing on the ghetto jumped out at me:

Alongside the ordinary poor souls, there were crooks, kabbalists, cheats, hucksters, mystics, pessimists, lusty murderers, ghost-hunters-for-hire and their demons who hadn’t found their back to the astral world, black and salon magi, wounded poets, old angel-hunting women, former alchemists, abstract painters, perpetuum motion inventors, honey counterfeiters, Lilliputian prostitutes, forgers, cannibals (due to hunger or preference), door-to-door hypnotizers, and other lost beings lived there.

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Rediscovered: Me and Willeford in a Comic Book

Brian Van Gold of Oakland just did a little homegrown comic book featuring me and Willeford — mostly Willeford. I show up in a one-page anecdote illustrating the time Willeford informed me that All Great Literature is Depressing.

I think this marks only the second time I have pulled a cameo in a comic book.

First was many moons ago after Roy Thomas had me and The Dashiell Hammett Tour show up in a four-issue mini-series featuring a revamped Jonni Thunder (who originally was a guy, but in the revamp was a female detective in San Francisco).

Think that cameo was in issue three, but I’d have to dig through the files to be sure.

Roy had just been on the walk, and apparently figured What the hell? Carmine Infantino, famous for The Flash, was the artist, working off the cover image on the second edition of the tour book.

I noticed that Roy made the news not long ago c/o his role as the original writer on the Iron Fist series, and got dragged — at least briefly — into the dustup on whether Iron Fist in the Netflix incarnation ought to have been played by an Asian actor or not, or whatever the specific controversy may have been. I glanced at a couple of articles and thought, Roy’s making the news — cool.

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Hammett: A Speedy Return to the Clew-Pile

Barely a fortnight had slipped past when Jeopardy! once again sampled from the huge variety of potential clews related to the life and work of Dashiell Hammett — I admit, I was taken by surprise.

I was thinking it would be at least a break of two or three fortnights.

On January 18 in the Jeopardy! round, the category Movie Spoilers, $400 slot:

The “bird” sought by Kaspar Gutman & others in this Bogart film turns out to be fake.

First guy buzzes in: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”

Yep.

I wonder if they’ll ever have a clew about why Gutman’s name is spelled Kaspar in the movie instead of as Caspar in the novel? The kind of thing that keeps me awake nights.

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