Hammett: His Garbo Speaks! Moment

Holy cow — suddenly it is Audio Hound Super-Sunday! And longtime Mean Streets maven Terry Zobeck just heard some sound he’s been waiting to hear for many, many long years.

Here’s Terry with the scoop:

In 2001, at the Washington, DC Bouchercon, Hammett’s daughter, Josephine Hammett Marshall, and granddaughter, Julie Rivett, along with Hammett biographer, Richard Layman, were in attendance to promote Jo’s memoir Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers. I had the pleasure of meeting them and spending a memorable and leisurely lunch with them.

Among the many questions I had for Jo was, since there were no recordings, what did Hammett’s voice sound like? She said it was a bit high-pitched but that was the best she could describe it.

Well, we don’t have to wonder any more.

A 30-second clip of Hammett’s uncredited cameo appearance in CBS’s Studio One presentation of his story “Two Sharp Knives” has come to light. It has been hiding in plain sight on the Internet Archive since January 24, 2009.

But it wasn’t until three years ago that a sharp-eyed Hammett aficionado named Thomas Fasano recognized Hammett in a brief scene. He posted it to YouTube on December 31, 2018. He notes that it is the only film footage of Hammett he’s been able to find, but he’s sure there must be more.

As regular visitors to the Mean Streets will know, Don has documented two previous bits of footage of Hammett — both are silent. But with the teleplay Two Sharp Knives, we have him speaking a couple of lines.

Hammett plays Skip, the ticket agent at the railroad station. The police have come to the station on a case and rouse him from reading Dick Tracy to ask about the arrival of a train.

Hammett’s scene comes at around the 9-minute mark. The episode also is available on DVD, paired another Studio One episode, There Was a Crooked Man. Several websites document this episode of Studio One but none of them note Hammett’s cameo.

I came upon this remarkable footage quite by accident. I’ve been researching the non-fiction articles of John Le Carré the past few weeks. I posted my initial findings to the FictionMags listserv. A fellow FMer, Bill Mullins, sent me the details of an online search he did that contained several dozen more articles of which I was completely unaware. Bill knew from earlier posts on FictionMags that Hammett was my favorite author. He sent me a search of another online service that contained hundreds of references to Hammett from newspapers.

I spent several hours scrolling through the search results. Most of the articles were book and film reviews and gossip column notices. The latter are of interest and deserving of a future post.

But a few of them discussed Studio One television productions of The Glass Key and Two Sharp Knives. These were unfamiliar to me so I clicked on the link to read about them.

The Glass Key was broadcast on May 11, 1949.

Two Sharp Knives aired during the program’s second season on November 14, 1949.

I then thought to see if they were available on YouTube and lo and behold, they were. But it was the second post for Two Sharp Knives — titled “Dashiell Hammett — Cameo in ‘Two Sharp Knives’” — that set my heart racing.

I contacted Richard Layman and asked if he were aware of this bit of history. Turns out Julie Rivett happened upon it a few weeks ago. She wasn’t sure it was her grandfather and wanted Rick to take a look and see if he could confirm it. He was able to quickly assure her it was indeed him.

We have Thomas Fasano’s sharp eye to thank for identifying this Hammett rarity — and Bill Mullins for sending me all those Hammett search results.

Hammett speaks!

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