Hammett: “Siamese” Getting Around

Evan Lewis recently did a post on the Hammett yarn “The Creeping Siamese,” and now Brian Leno tells me that Library of America have picked it up for their Story of the Week — using the same illo Evan scoured out of the crumbling newsprint of yesteryear.

If interested, check it out. With a little intro, too.

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Rediscovered: W. R. Burnett on Defund the Police

A few weeks ago I finally got around to reading the heist-gone-wrong classic The Asphalt Jungle from 1949 by W. R. Burnett.

With his first novel in 1929, Little Caesar, Burnett made his name. A cornerstone of crime fiction, the 1931 Warner’s movie version gave Edward G. Robinson his star-making role. “Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?”

Jungle rolled right into the film production mix, of course, with the 1950 version directed by John Huston. Early Marilyn Monroe. Saw it years ago.

In the novel, the planning, assembly of the crew, botched robbery and aftermath, remain definitive. Poetic descriptions of the rainswept metropolis, the alleys and dives, underscore a mastery of craft.

The flaw for me in Jungle are the various scenes centered on the police commissioner, which only slow the action. If I ever reread the book I’ll skip those pages as I come to them and get on to the meat.

However, I did notice some lines by the commish that might interest some of you, where he says:

“The worst police force in the world is better than no police force. . . . Take the police off the streets for forty-eight hours, and nobody would be safe, neither on the street, nor in his place of business, nor in his home. . . . We’d be back in the jungle. . . .”

Yeah, the asphalt jungle. . . .

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Rediscovered: Val Lewton

Autograph Hound Saturday once more, and Brian Leno is back to give us a glance at one of his most recent acquisitions in the Department of Serious John Hancocks.

Take it, Brian:

I haven’t seen too many Val Lewton signatures in my time, but frankly I don’t look too often.

I realize he is pretty much priced out of the ballpark for me.

However, I came upon this copy of The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan and idly noticed it was signed.

I enjoyed the Lonigan books when I was younger — even though I already have a James T. Farrell I thought I would take a look at it.

When the description read that it was inscribed by Val Lewton, I was mildly shocked.

And it was cheap.

The seller provided no picture, so I wrote and asked if he’d email me a photo of the signature. He did — and amazingly dropped the price by half, possibly figuring I was hoping it had been inscribed by Farrell.

Needless to say I emitted my best Tarzan yell and swooped it up.

Lewton really needs no introduction. Produced many atmospheric thrillers, including The Cat People, Bedlam and I Walked with a Zombie. 

He also did the screenplay for The Body Snatcher which is a great film starring Boris Karloff, who once said he appreciated working with Lewton.

Hey, if he’s good enough for Boris he’s good enough for me.

One last tidbit. Lewton appeared in the July 1930 issue of Weird Tales with “The Baghetta,” a little gem.

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Tour: Inquiries Welcome

For the Dashiell Hammett Tour I have drifted over largely into doing Tours by Appointment.

Kind of inevitable. Easier. Better money.

After 45 years, bound to happen. And I still meet people who ask me how many times a day I do a tour. Come on, you’re kidding, right? Think about it for a second.

Nonetheless I still do tours where anyone can show up with $20 clutched in a paw and walk the walk.

I almost had a couple of tours recently, anchored by people coming in from out of town. But they didn’t work out. One guy eager to do it was given the Ixnay by his family. They didn’t want to do it, so he didn’t get to put gumshoe to mean street, either.

(By the way, I don’t hold even a little grudge against them — the vast majority of people alive today or alive 45 years ago wouldn’t want to do the tour. They’d hate it. Knowing the situation, I have never tried to pull generic tourists into the net. I want people who’ll enjoy themselves, with the right cut to their jib, so it looks like a trenchcoat.)

Another date was getting set up, until I found out that the woman would insist on translating it live into Spanish, for her husband or somebody — she offered to translate for anyone else on the walk who only spoke Spanish.

How many people who only speak Spanish do you think have ever shown up for the Hammett Tour?

From my long years of personal experience, I’ll say None.

(And no offense to the Spanish language. Same thing goes for German. Korean. Urdu. What have you.)

I couldn’t trap anyone else who might come out, paying $20, into standing around listening to her showcasing her linguistic skills, so that one got shoved aside, too.

But then Mario Ruiz from Portland asked when I was going to offer such a walk, and I told him to pick a date. Late June, and for the hell of it I selected a couple of Sundays out of the air in July, too.

$20. Three Hours. Just show up. At noon.

If you want to know the available dates, pop me an email — dashdude@donherron.com — and I’ll let you know.

Doubtless I’ll do a few more anyone-shows-up Sundays in August, September and probably October, too, if you want to check back on those later.

Posted in News, Tour |

Mort: Fred Ward

After the fact, word drifted in that Fred Ward died on Sunday May 9 at the age of 79.

Got to note it here since — as pictured above — Fred was the first to essay the role of Charles Willeford’s Miami cop Hoke Moseley in the 1990 film Miami Blues. In addition, he served as Executive Producer, the guy who got the whole thing going.

In crime terms, he also played Joe Leaphorn in The Dark Wind (1991), and did a fun mashup in the role of Harry Philip Lovecraft — HPL meets Philip Marlowe — that same year in the TV movie Cast a Deadly Spell. Remo Williams. Lots of big budget movies, but if you haven’t seen it I’d plug UFOria (1984) as one of my favorites from his body of work.

And of course the stone cold instant classic Tremors from 1990.

I spotted him in a waiting area in SFO around 15 years ago. Standing, reading a 1950s or early 60s paperback. None of the other people swarming around seemed to be aware of him.

Normally, I wouldn’t intrude on a celebrity, but — FRED WARD.

I went over and talked for a few minutes about Willeford and his movie. He was in San Francisco to audition for something — a play, I think it was. Didn’t disappoint — I can’t say for sure that he was actually acting in Tremors or just being himself.

Posted in Film, Frisco, News, Willeford | Tagged , |

Rediscovered: Another “Lost” Arkham

As usual, I was sitting around minding my own business, collecting Arkham House ephemera, when I realized I might have spotted another “lost” Arkham House book.

For decades fans have been noting books that once may have made it into the Arkham lineup, but for one reason or another never appeared under the House logo.

In his Arkham histories Sheldon Jaffery lists 62 such titles, repeated by S. T. Joshi in “his” most recent history of the press. John D. Haefele in his review of the Joshi hodgepodge mentions that with barely any effort he himself could add at least “a baker’s dozen” lost Arkhams to that now standard list.

And now I’ve lucked into another — and an especially interesting title at that.

The Arkham ephemera item I wanted happened to be tack-stapled onto a letter from Arkham publisher August Derleth to Charles Beaumont — no doubt most famous today as a writer on The Twilight Zone. Dated “24 May 1960.” In the ordinary course of events, I don’t go around buying Derleth letters, but I needed the Item and what the hell, an association with Beaumont wasn’t going to hurt anything.

Beaumont had sent Derleth an inscribed copy of his new collection Night Ride and Other Journeys — per Derleth, a “generous inscription.”

The publisher was “slowly assembling” a new anthology of horror stories (presumably 1962’s Dark Mind, Dark Heart) and said, “I’d ask for a Beaumont tale for the new book of horror, but there isn’t enough money in it to make it worth while, and agents nowadays make impossible demands.”

And after that line Derleth mentioned: “Arkham has just had to turn down a Clingerman collection because her agent balked at our contract — too bad, a good book, too, but despite the AH record of never putting our authors into any inequities and releasing all rights once a book’s gone out of print, the agent spurned our contract. Bob Bloch’s Pleasant Dreams has now been moved up into its place — coming in September.”

Mildred Clingerman (1918-1997) — like Beaumont — was one of the hotter new generation of horror writers emerging in the 1950s. Her potential Arkham House book — the only title released in her lifetime — saw print as a Paperback Original from Ballantine in 1961 as A Cupful of Space.

I checked with Haefele to see if Cupful was on either the Jaffery list or his own additional baker’s dozen. He replied, “Not on anybody’s list that I know of. . . .”

There you go. Clingerman practically stopped writing, and fell into neglect for decades. A feminist-based revival finally brought her back with an omnibus of all her fiction, The Clingerman Files, in 2017.

So few forgotten writers can be brought back even for a moment. . . .

I suppose the question to ponder might be whether or not a hardcover from Arkham — from which a paperback could have followed — could have set her up better. Maybe. Maybe not. If her writing dropped to the side anyway, the Arkham may not have done more for her than the many more copies printed of the Ballantine PBO.

All things being equal, I’d guess the presence of a fresh voice such as Clingerman might have put put more luster on Arkham’s legacy than on her own. Derleth certainly was open to the experiment.

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Hammett: Call Me Ned

Terry Zobeck, the guy watching Perry Mason, pops in a footnote to today’s main post to tell us:

“Latimer did not keep up the Hammett schtick of Ned Beaumont, always Ned Beaumont.

“The character usually was referred to simply as Ned. A couple of times.

“I noticed it and thought, as you did: Too much for TV.”

Posted in Dash, Film | Tagged , , |

Hammett: Jonathan Latimer Cracks Wise

Got some notes in from Terry Zobeck, who is deep into the forgotten mags of the early 1920s on a Hammett hunt. Big game bibliography at its finest.

But he’s not always prowling the primeval pagination, like a regular guy he can watch some tube, too.

And so he noticed the intersection of three Black Mask writers, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett and Jonathan Latimer:

“My wife and I have taken to watching reruns of the original Perry Mason on MeTV. They are on at 9:00 am and 11:30 pm each weekday.

“Central to the plot of this morning’s episode was a Nevada casino.

“The boss had a tough-guy enforcer type.

“His name was Ned Beaumont.

“Coincidence? I don’t think so.

“The writer was Jonathan Latimer, so he would certainly know and probably be amused at the little inside joke.

“And I suspect many in the original audience would have smiled too.

“Today, not so many.”

I wonder if Latimer kept up the schtick from Hammett’s novel The Glass Key — when Beaumont is mentioned, he is always referred to as Ned Beaumont. Both names.

Might have been tougher to bring off on TV.

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Rediscovered: Poe’s Mustache

Autograph Hound Saturday, with Brian Leno back on the stick to show off another offtrail corner of his John Hancock hobby. While I’m sure Brian would have nothing against getting some major signature if he had the opportunity, a Bill Shakespeare or Jack the Ripper, I imagine he’d also salivate if the auto of Jack the Ripper’s barber was up on the block.

Here’s Brian:

In July of 1849 Poe entered John Sartain’s engraving shop in Philadelphia and had a wild story to tell.

The writer said he overheard two men talking about a plot to assassinate him. He asked Sartain for a razor, figuring that if he shaved his mustache he would be unrecognizable.

To Sartain, Poe appeared distraught, obviously not quite right in his mind, and perhaps suicidal. He told the poet that he never shaved and so didn’t have a razor — but he volunteered to cut Poe’s mustache off with a scissors.

So, apparently, Sartain removed one of the most recognizable of all literary mustaches.

However, Peter Ackroyd, in his Poe: A Life Cut Short, doesn’t seem to put too much faith in the story, stating that Poe did have a mustache still when he got to Richmond.

Either way it’s a helluva good story.

Autograph, on a check, of John Sartain, one of the owners of Sartain’s Union Magazine, which published Poe’s The Bells and Annabel Lee:

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Frisco Beat: Worley Recalled

Yet another mini-memoir of crime writer William Worley has wandered into the traffic on These Mean Streets, this one from Linda Shaw — a student from one of his classes in Lowell High:

I had not thought about Mr. William Worley for years but for some reason he popped into my head tonight.

He was my English teacher at Lowell in the the early 1970s. I was probably a sophomore.

We read a wide range of books from The Iliad to Ray Bradbury to Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

I remember him in his tweed jacket standing in front of the class trying to elicit opinions about the book we were reading. Occasionally he mentioned in passing the books he had written, but I must admit to not paying attention.

I do remember writing a lot of essays.

When he would hand me back my essay he would grab my right hand and look for calluses on my fingers and say, “You do write a lot.” I tended to meander in my essays.

Mr. Worley taught me how to get to the point in my writing, which has helped me in my professional life.

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