Suicide Club: Roscoe Arbuckle Kidnapped Caper

On a rotting wharf over the Islais Creek channel, a climactic gundown gets a reenactment — left to right, R. Faraday Nelson as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (but I’m thinking Ray’s major claim to immortality probably is serving as the model for Roy Batty in PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a.k.a. Bladerunner); John Law as Vito Lawtoni (John with a number of toeholds on lasting fame — taking Burning Man to Black Rock Desert surely one of the major blurbable moments); and Don Herron as Rocco (“More, get me? I want more. Lots more! Sure. More than you can cram into this lousy little shootout!”).

On his blog today John Law does some history on the infamous Suicide Club of San Francisco, and dives deep into the event where the plot involved Fatty Arbuckle being kidnapped, see, and mugs like Hammett and the Op try to dope out the caper, see?

Anyway, if you want to check out one of the things I was doing back in 1981, follow the clew highlighted in the paragraph above.

Now, beat it.

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Hammett: A Strange Career? You Decide!

Brian Wallace just dropped a link into my Inbox, Anne Diebel in The Paris Review ruminating on Hammett’s career as a writer — and much of it seems to be riffing off Nathan Ward’s bio The Lost Detective.

Kind of like I did with the Jesse Sublett review of The Big Book of the Op, I didn’t really read the article (honest, I already know all this stuff, right?).

I scanned down the wordage, spotted the refs to Nathan’s book, which got a lot of play here, and figured Mean Streets types might want to give it a glance, too. Or even read the whole thing.

And aside from the Nathan angle, I kind of like the Paris Review connection, too. Years ago I went to a big writers deal in Florida, and George Plimpton was one of the major figures in attendance. I was on a panel about biography with him. Incredibly nice guy — and a founder of The Paris Review.

In memoriam George Plimpton, then, hop on over to see what they’re doing in his mag today.

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Hammett: Some Corrections If You Please

Awhile back I did a link to a review of The Big Book of the Continental Op by Jesse Sublett. I’m sure there are numerous reviews of Big Book of the Op I haven’t linked to yet, and never will, but Jesse got the nod because he was part of Posse McMillan, and it gave me an excuse to summon up once more the dope on the copies of Measures of Poison signed by eleven contributors during the Bouchercon in Austin in 2002.

Just yesterday a guy happened to ask me if I had any idea who did some of the signatures that day, and I told him, Yes, I do — and I pointed him to my definitive explanation. You’ll never find a clearer guide to that set of John Hancocks.

I don’t think I even read the review before I quickly mocked up the link. I wasn’t worried about any errors that occurred — essentially, I consider any article done for a paper and most magazines to be at best marginal on accuracy. Reader, beware. . . .

But I’m not the only gumshoe patrolling These Mean Streets, and you guys know that Tenderloin Terry Zobeck is picky as hell. A stickler for accuracy. A tireless defender of the facts. And so forth.

“I just dropped into the Mean Streets,” Terry said, “and saw the link to Sublett’s review of the Big Op Story collection.  I felt like the Op reading that sign behind the Mexican bar and counting the number of lies, in this case the number of errors.

“How could he make so many mistakes in a couple of paragraphs?”

Here’s a sample paragraph from the review, that got Terry’s attention:

Born in 1896, Dashiell Hammett was a detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency between 1915 and 1922, his employment interrupted by service in the trenches in World War I. The latter ruined his health. Wracked by TB, he turned to writing to support himself and family. His first story in the American hard-boiled style, “Arson Plus,” appeared in Black Mask in October 1922. Hammett set down standards for the genre with a deceptively stark prose style, American vernacular and cadence, and an unsentimental point of view. The stories bristled with realism, urgency, and momentum. Hammett is best known for his monumental first novel, The Maltese Falcon, featuring detective Sam Spade (immortalized in the film, starring Humphrey Bogart and a stellar supporting cast) and his later, alcohol-soaked Thin Man novels, featuring Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy in the film adaptations). In between came a personal favorite, The Glass Key, helmed by a fixer named Ned Beaumont. Which leaves the vast treasure of short stories featuring a certain nameless operative of the Continental Detective Agency, referred to as an operative, or “op.”

The Maltese Falcon was Hammett’s first novel?” Terry asks. “He ruined his health in the trenches of WWI? Hammett a left-winger when he created the Op? And best known for his Thin Man novels, plural?  Yikes!”

But from that otherwise innocuous and no doubt forgettable little post, Terry figured out that we had encountered each other a decade before the official meeting at PulpFest in 2012.

“And you are in Measures of Poison?  I’d forgotten that,” he said. “I must have met you in Austin if only for a second. I was there and bought a copy from Dennis. I remember the signing.”

Ships that pass in the night. This blog, in its still formless infancy, was only two years old.

Terry wouldn’t start contributing until 2011.

He might want to read or reread that story I did for Measures of Poison, specifically because Dennis McMillan asked me for a neo-pulp yarn. That one was written for guys like Terry, even if I didn’t know who he was at the time.

I just knew he was out there.

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Sinister Cinema: A Heist Flick, with Jagger

And a Tip of the Fedora to John Hocking, who popped in the news that Mick Jagger has been plugged into the cast for the movie of The Burnt Orange Heresy.

The more potentially distressing news unveiled by Variety portrays the action as a “heist thriller” — racking the aging brain I don’t recall much heist action in the classic Big Deal on Madonna Street or  Topkapi sense in Willeford’s novel. Or even the antics of The Italian Job and dozens more. I like heist thrillers, I’m thinking I would have noticed.

But as I was telling John, the mere fact that they are changing up names and locations suggests to me that they’ll drift so far away from the book that it won’t be the book. As happened with World War Z, where they used the title and had some zombies, and nothing else.

I figure if it turns into some major talked-about movie, all is swell. Float Willeford’s name to the top for a moment. Bring some people to his novel, even his backlist.

Of course, if it diverges just enough I can see the meetings where Someone in Power doesn’t want the Movie too closely associated with the Book.

It would be primo Willefordian if they brought in some struggling contract writer to do a novelization off the screenplay.

Jeez, the mere thought. . . .

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Hammett: Gutman’s Daughter Preying on Minds

I was just mentioning to Bill Arney that our days of hanging out in San Francisco bars between ten and twenty years ago was a Golden Age, and that I said so at the time. Golden Ages don’t slip past me unnoticed.

Bill agrees: “Yeah, it was a Golden Age. We had cheap food, reasonable rents (to a point), and lots of dive bars. Regular people could afford to live in San Francisco, as long as they weren’t trying to save for retirement.”

But he also mentions lingering thoughts on the issue of whether or not Gutman’s daughter Rhea and Wilmer Cook might be the same person. Bill commented on the issue before, but he’s still thinking about it today. Hey, who isn’t?

“I still hold those opinions,” Bill says. “Spade would have seen through such a disguise, don’t you think? And wasn’t Wilmer with Gutman and Cairo while Spade was dealing with Rhea?

“But the whole discussion does pose the question, which is what the hell was up with Rhea Gutman to begin with?

“Why was she even IN the novel?

“It’s like Hammett thought he would do something with her, and then thought better of it but forgot to remove her from that one scene.

“I know that makes no sense.

“Hammett wouldn’t have done that, either.

“Still. . . .”

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Hammett: And Stein

Nathan Ward just informed me of a tidbit he did for Crimereads, about the meeting of Hammett and Gertrude Stein.

If you have his bio of Hammett, The Lost Detective, you’ve already got the gist of the incident. Especially these days, you can do a book then break it into parts — in the old days you kind of did the parts here and there then pulled them together into a book. (I’ve got one of those perking through the pipeline at the moment, and once I get something into a solid book, I tend to leave it alone. But then I’m not living the freelance life like Nathan does.)

I think Nathan mostly popped this one my way for the info on attitudes to your basic detective novel.

I had sent him a link to my most recent review for Publishers Weekly, which I notified a few people about because I was amazed that almost all my wording got past editorial intact. I’m especially happy my Sinatra vs. Borgnine bit made it into print. You never know what they’re going to cut or change-up.

In the official published version, the last line mentions “undemanding crime readers” — which isn’t precisely equivalent to my original wording of “comes up with solutions to the locked-room and other puzzles that ought to keep most crime readers content.”

What the hell, close enough, I guess — undemanding vs. most. You’ll find that Gertrude falls into that category of most, though if she really wanted to meet Hammett — and she did — then she could savor a superior performance as well.

For many of the most I think the genre is just mush. But they like it.

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Rediscovered: Chandler and the Great War

Brian Wallace lets me know about news popping in scattered corners of the noir universe. I suspect he thinks I’m too lazy to look for the stuff myself, and if so, he isn’t wrong. For many long years I have operated under the motto The Mountain Comes to Mohammed, with me being Mohammed, waiting around to see what news might drift in.

Just a couple of days ago some digital archives were opened up, with 80 pages covering the pre-Marlowe Raymond Chandler enlisting to fight in World War I.

Surf over and check it out. Mentions Chandler coming into San Francisco, plus the fact that he has one of those blue enamel plaques on a house in London to commemorate his time there.

Posted in Frisco, Lit, News | Tagged , , , , |

Mort: Gus Konstin

And Brian Wallace just popped me the sad news from the San Francisco Chronicle that Gus Konstin — owner of John’s Grill — has died. Under Gus’s tenure, the grill set up the various tributes to Hammett, in celebration of Sam Spade eating a meal there in the novel The Maltese Falcon.

You might recall the last big meeting I had with Gus, when I took the Greek writer Fondas Ladis to his house to interview Gus about legendary Frisco businessman and strikebreaker Blackjack Jerome. Too bad Gus didn’t live to see his interview translated over into that book.

The Blackjack book isn’t out yet, but Fondas is plugging away on it and has many chapters written. I need to sit down and dig out some nuggets of info he needs to wrap his Hammett chapter.

A year or two after the interview, I happened to meet Gus as he was entering John’s Grill and I was exiting, and we talked for a few minutes on the sidewalk. Last time I saw him.

I always liked Gus. He was authentic.

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Two-Gun Bob: Rob Roehm on Previous Discovery of “Racial Standpoint”

Just got in a note from Rob Roehm, a Big Name Fan in Robert E. Howard circles in recent years, tireless tracker of any mention of the Howard family in courthouses and county records across Texas. My favorite of his discoveries was finding the spot in the ruins of Fort McKavett where REH had a picture snapped — quite a job of detective work. And one year Rob and I drove cross country from his lair in the Mojave Desert to the annual Howard Days celebration in Cross Plains, Texas.

Rob says, “Just FYI, the bit from the Palouse Republican and the June 11, 1936 item from the Brownwood Bulletin (the one where Howard is expected “to live only a short time”) both appeared in The Collected Letters of Isaac M. Howard. The bit from the Republican was also in The Howard Collector #2.”

And herewith those previous appearances are duly noted — however, as I replied to Rob: “But the Kansas City and all the other discoveries are cool, right?”


Rob said, “Yeah, those are the only bits in this latest batch of articles that have been republished (to the best of my knowledge). The Portal to Texas History,, and Texas Tech’s archive of papers (including the Cross Plains Review), have all been pillaged over the last 3-5 years, though they are constantly adding new papers to the mix. And there are several other websites, too.

“Nice to see others are looking through newspaper archives.”

Indeed, you want as many eyes involved as possible. Brian Leno only got into it as part of his boxing research, and Scott Connors has been looking for Clark Ashton Smith bits for the bio he’s writing — but of course if Scott sees a ref to another Weird Tales writer, such as Robert Barbour Johnson, he takes a look.

In any event, with new fans coming in every day, I suspect it is easier for them to surf in at random and get tipped to the dope than be expected to buy all the books and zines. I remember various academics over the years whining about how expensive it was to be expected to keep up with all the print material, but keeping up is part of their job description — if they’re pretending to some expertise in things Howardian.

I actually have a copy of the Doc Howard letters, leafed through it once and put it back on the shelf for a rainy day. Rob slapped that one together, but I played a crucial role in getting some of the more interesting content — if the content was to be all legal and above board. I went up to get J. Dan Price to sign the okays to use letters from his dad, pulp fictioneer E. Hoffmann Price. And that involved a typical mighty session of drinking Jack Daniels.

At some point in the revels Dan said to me, You know what’d I say to this request if you weren’t the one making it?

I said, You’d say No.

Dan said, That’s right.

I think they give me a small credit line in the book, which in no way suggests the oceans of Jack Daniels that were sailed.

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Hammett: Jesse Sublett on Big Book of the Op

Brian Wallace just sent along a link to a new review of The Big Book of the Continental Op from The Austin Chronicle — worth checking out since it comes from Jesse Sublett, a guy who served in Posse McMillan in days past (with the scattered members now lone outposts, just waiting for Dennis McMillan to show up in town and get the party started all over again).

You’ll find that Jesse Sublett was on hand for one of the cooler moments of the Posse’s Ride  — the Bouchercon in Austin back in 2002 where no less than eleven contributors to Dennis’ huge noir anthology Measures of Poison were on hand to sign the book for its premiere. Michael Connelly and Pelecanos with scratchy John Hancocks. Me and Sublett legible. The other guys, somewhere in between.

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