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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,259

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This is the grave of Edwin Lanham.

Born in 1904 in Weatherford, Texas, Lanham grew up in one of Texas’ most elite families. His grandfather was governor of Texas when young Edwin was born. But Edwin didn’t have the political or business desires of his family. He was more artistically minded. He mostly grew up in New York City. The family was super rich and when his father died, his mother moved to New York and remarried, living a much more exciting lifestyle there than in [checks notes] Weatherford. Hard to imagine. He ended up at Williams College in Massachusetts, already a site for elite higher education.

Lanham, not having real money worries, could lead the life of the artistic dreamer as a young man, so he did what such people did at the time. He went to Paris. There, he embraced the American expat artistic community revolving around Ernest Hemingway and especially Gertrude Stein. In 1928, he married a model and they lived abroad, though they divorced a few years later. And he set his mind to writing. The next year, he published Sailors Don’t Care, which was based on the time when he was 16 that he left home and worked on a freighter going around the world for a year. As I mentioned, he was a rich kid looking for adventure after all and didn’t really have to care about the financial consequences of any of his decisions.

Now, Lanham is not considered any kind of great writer. He wrote about twenty novels, but only a couple of them received much in the way of critical acclaim. The Wind Blew West was his biggest novel in terms of the critics. It was a frontier novel about conquest. The Texas critics hated it–it made white Texas look bad, which was all they cared about. But the national critics saw it as an honest portrayal of the violence of the frontier. He did win a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1940 that funded his novel Thunder in the Earth, which he published in 1942 and which was about the a millionaire losing his money in the oil industry. During the 30s and 40s, he mostly lived in New York and worked as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. Banner at Daybreak, his 1937 book, was about how he decided to return to the U.S., believing that someone must embrace their country in the end. The Stricklands, published in 1939, was about a family of impoverished Oklahoma settlers, again going back to the world he grew up around, or at least observing since he certainly knew nothing about poverty.

Lanham wasn’t so interested in high end literature though. He went for genre fiction and embraced the murder mystery. His detective stories fit into the growing noir movement in American letters and soon he became an important figure in this genre. He was no Dashiell Hammett, OK, but he was good enough. He published a bunch of stories and novels in the 40s and 50s around these themes.

In fact, Lanham’s stories attracted Hollywood. George S. Kaufman really wanted to make The Senator Was Indiscreet, based on a Lanham short story, and in fact this was the only film the critic would make on his own. He cast William Powell as the idiot and corrupt senator and the film did well. This made Lanham a bunch of money. A far more minor adaptation of a Lanham work was the 1946 comedy It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog, directed by Herbert Leeds and starring Carole Landis and a pre-Dragnet Harry Morgan.

Lanham published his last book in 1970. The Clock at 8:16 was a look back at the unfortunately bombed city of Hiroshima a quarter-century later. Interesting topic, but I’ve never heard of it before writing this post.

Lanham died in 1979 at his home in Connecticut. He was 74 years old.

Edwin Lanham is buried in City Greenwood Cemetery, Weatherford, Texas.

If you would like this series to visit other mystery writers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Raymond Chandler is in San Diego and John Voelker, who published as Robert Traver, is in Marquette, Michigan. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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