Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Bouchercon 2015 panels — Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers

Yesterday's reading was the most touching I'll likely do for this year's Bouchercon or maybe any other year's, as well. I'm too busy preparing to make a full post about Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers, so I'll offer a few selections from the book that seem especially pertinent to Hammett's work and life. Fuller treatment may follow next month at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. , when I moderate a discussion with the book's two editors, Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett. The discussion is called "Inside the Mind and Work of Dashiell Hammett," and happens Saturday, October 10, at 8:30 a.m.

The author of A Daughter Remembers, Jo Hammett, is Dashiell Hammett's daughter and Rivett's mother. As you might guess, the book, published in 2001, is full of family photos and recollections of family life. This is especially valuable in the case of a writer as private, as sparing of information about himself, as Hammett was.  Jo Hammett also has a better eye and ear for what made Hammett a great writer than do many who have written about him. She's also capable of an occasional flash of delightful, stinging wit, which makes her sound a bit like her father. Here's some of what she has to say in this memoir:
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"Red Harvest comes out of Black Mask days. It's got Black Mask rough edges and give-it-all-you're got energy. The later novels are smoother, more finely tuned. But this is the one I like best, because it's hard like its people. funny and unforgiving, and sounds most like Papa."
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"`Lock me in a room with a set of encyclopedias, and I'll come up with a plot,' [Hammett] used to say. His idea of heaven was going cross-country in a train compartment, in his pajamas, reading all the way."
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"[Hammett] took Mary and me backstage to meet Ethel Barrymore ... She was charming to us and very regal. In a parting remark she said something to him about the play having `great social significance,' perhaps thinking that would strike a sympathetic chord with him. He was quick to agree. `Oh, yes, absolutely.'  I could tell by the look on his face he was thinking, `Yeah, about as much as Krazy Kat.'"
*
"Papa had a generally low opinion of actors. He despised their self-pre-occupation and their ruthlessness."

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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15 Comments:

Blogger N.C. W. said...

That is a wonderful book that deserves to be back in print. I treasure my copy.

September 20, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

By strange chance I am going to a cousins' reunion in South Carolina at the beginning of the week and have finally stopped dithering and will be coming up to Bouchercon at the end. I hope to get to your first panel, though I'm sure I will arrive in Raleigh in time. But I will definitely come to this one if I make it at all.

September 20, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I meant, I am NOT sure I will arrive in Raleigh in time.

September 20, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

What this post reminds me of that I like best about Hammett's writing--and I suspect I would have found to like about him--is a lack of pretentiousness. Straightforward writing that did everything he needed it to do without making a big deal about it, providing no filter between the printed word and the reader. A lot harder to do than it looks, seeing as how all writers think they have something "important" to say, or they wouldn't be writing.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

N.C.W.: I did not know it was out of print. But yes, it is a wonderful book for a number of reasons. The anecdotes are touching, and funny, and they illuminate Hammett's writing in any number of interesting ways. I read A Daughter Remembers Saturday and Red Harvest yesterday, and a anecdote that Jo Hammett relates enabled me to spot a little Ira Gershwin tribute in Hammett's novel. The book is full of such things.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: That's a nice surprise. My first panel happens at 2:30 Thursday afternoon, and this one is at 8:30 Saturday morning. I hope to see you for some combination of panels, coffee, dinners, and gin and tonic. And that reminds me of another clue to Hammett's life I picked up in yesterday's reading of Red Harvest: Hammett must have liked gin and ginger ale. The Op drinks that in one scene in the novel, just as he had in the opening scene of The Bog Knockover in Jean Larrouy's dive.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Hammett taught a mystery writing class in New York later in his life. One can imagine the course lasting less than a minute, Hammett telling the class: "Know everything, read everything, and wear your knowledge lightly."

September 21, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes, I hope to meet up for some combination of the above. I won't have my "entourage" with me this time, unless I can persuade any of the cousins to make the trek up, so there will be more flexibility.

I love the Hammett quote. I'm trying to fit in a couple of his books before I get there. The Thin Man is more like the movie than I thought it would be, although for some reason I keep visualizing Humphrey Bogart instead of William Powell.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Oops--it wasn't a quote but a distillation.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wish I could come up with a wisecrack about Zen being an illusion, with respect to your downsized entourage. And which Hammett quote/distillation do you mean?

You're right that The Thin Man is rather like the movie adaptation. The notes of despair and sadness are undertones in the book, mixing unobtrusively with the buoyant manner of most of the story. That is a fascinating thing to see.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, it is kind of an illusion, as Zen isn't their real name.

I just meant what you wrote as being his one sentence advice on the writer's class.

I do think the sadder undertones are more apparent in the book, although I don't think the movie is false to them.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, Google just killed my reply by trying to trick me into giving my phone number on a security page rather than posting my comment. So let's try this again.

Yes, my distillation is as imaginary as the name Zen, but both it and the name are pretty good I think.

I agree that the movie version of The Tin Man is not false to the sadder undertones, but it plays them down a bit, alluding to them rather than out and out presenting them, one might say.

I also don't remember the movie's having a counterpart to the wry philosophical exchange between Nick and Nora that ends the book.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Thin Man, that is, not the Tin Man, who did not appear on screen until a few years later.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

The Tin Man too is fairly sad, though.

I haven't gotten to the end of the book yet, so look forward to that. It does seem hard to imagine a movie ending with a philosophical discussion.

September 21, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well it's not quite a-- but I'll let you judge when you get there.

September 21, 2015  

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