Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 392

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 392


This is the grave of Dashiell Hammett.

Born on a farm in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland in 1894, Hammett dropped out of school at age 13, worked random jobs, and then got a job as a Pinkerton. He was actually in Butte when Frank Little was lynched. Lillian Hellman later claimed that Hammett told her he was offered $5,000 to kill Little but refused. Whatever happened, Hammett left the Pinkertons to fight in World War I, but got the Spanish flu and then tuberculosis. He was too sick to return to the agency after the war, so he started to write. But there’s also plenty of evidence that he felt pretty disgusted by some of things he had done, creating a pretty cynical view of the world that deeply influenced his writing. Settling in San Francisco, he started publishing detective fiction in magazines in 1922 and proved quite adept at it. In many ways, he was the founder of the hard-boiled noir pulp fiction that most famously created the film noir movement based on stories by he and his successors such as Raymond Chandler. He published Red Harvest in 1929 (based directly on his time with The Pinkertons), The Maltese Falcon in 1930, which of course became perhaps the greatest of the film noir adaptations (though I’d probably put it behind The Big Sleep), and The Glass Key in 1931.

Hammett was married for a brief time and had a couple of kids but it fell apart quickly. Around 1930, he and Hellman started a relationship that lasted for the next 30 years. Unfortunately, he basically stopped writing in 1934, after The Thin Man, was published. Very strongly renouncing his early life employment, Hammett became a prominent anti-fascist in the late 1930s and joined the Communist Party in 1937. Like any committed communist at the time, he stopped opposing the Nazis actively between September 1939 and the Nazi invasion of the USSR, when he became a huge anti-fascist again. Somehow he managed to get back into the Army in World War II despite his questionable health and lefty politics, probably because his real first name Samuel and no one really caught it. He was stationed in the Aleutians and edited an Army newspaper. After the war, he was elected the head of the Civil Rights Congress, which was a communist group that represented oppressed people in legal cases, mostly African-Americans in death penalty cases. He was labeled a communist by the Truman administration and was blacklisted after refusing to name names in a case under the Smith Act, serving time in a West Virginia prison for contempt of court for that bravery. He later was called before HUAC and refused to name names then too. But he was also in pretty severe decline by the 1950s. A major alcoholic and heavy smoker, he was suffering from emphysema and a lifetime of boozing. Hellman took care of him in the last years. He sort of tried to finish a last novel, but didn’t get very far, dying of lung cancer in 1961.

Dashiell Hammett is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to cover other film noir writers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Raymond Chandler is buried in San Diego and Dorothy Hughes, who wrote In a Lonely Place, is in Santa Fe. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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