Hammett: It’s Greek to Me

Greek to Me Photo courtesy Becky Dawidziak — featuring her dad Mark Dawidziak, of Jim Tully biography fame — shot for a class project to take a picture on the two-word theme Proof Reading.

I think she nailed it. Thanks, Becky.

I just crawled out from under one brutal round of proof reading after another on A Big Secret Project, which seemed to come right on the heels of proofing John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos five million times. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a full five million. Maybe it was only three million. Or two. But I feel as if I’ve been proof reading non-stop now for twenty years.

For the blog itself I don’t worry that much about proofing — if I notice a typo after something goes live, I’ll pop in and correct it, sure, but some devices — like the ‘ mark in a term like smoke ’em — are sometimes impossible to get pointed in the right direction. (Example shown.)

I’ll mess around with one of those six or seven times, trying for a fix, and that’s it. If I can’t get it by then, enough. I’m not typesetting the Gutenberg Bible here.

On rare occasion I’ll make a larger change. About a month ago I deleted a couple of photos, and the companion blurb, per a request — now a bit of lost noir history. (Had a ref to Lee Marvin in it, too, alas. I like Lee Marvin.)

A few months before that I finally made a decision about what to do with something I just had wrong. For awhile, I thought about simply deleting the incorrect bit. Then I thought about doing a post like this one, linking to the error so people could surf back and forth, back and forth, and get the correct info.

Then I would forget about it for a few months.

Ultimately, I went with the easy fix and did a delete on the lines I had wrong. If you remember the post about the theory that in the novel The Maltese Falcon the characters Wilmer Cook and Rhea Gutman are the same person — and Rhea is in drag posing as Wilmer — that’s where the error occurred. I have no idea at this point how I got the info wrong. Maybe I had a touch of sunstroke that day. . . .

But the info I had wrong: I said that I had no idea how the theorist had it that Joel Cairo was Greek. When in the novel he has a Greek passport. Jeez.

On January 26, 2013 I got an e from an Anne Ferguson saying: “Joel Cairo has a Greek passport and says he’s going to complain to the Greek consulate.”

I replied to this effect: “Yeah, yeah, thanks — Sue Montgomery already pointed it out to me.”

Sue was the first person to really bring Rhea Gutman into the discussion on These Mean Streets, and had this to say on the idea of Rhea passing as Wilmer — beyond the bit about Spade going “through the stuff in Cairo’s pockets, it was mentioned specifically that his passport was Greek — ‘a much-viséd Greek passport bearing Cairo’s name and portrait'”:

The person who wrote about how she believed Wilmer Cook and Rhea Gutman were the same person. . . . Nope, I’m not buying that and here is why: I don’t believe Hammett was that devious. Here was a guy who loved to list all the clues (clews) that led him to his “meat” and I sincerely believe that if Wilmer and Rhea were the same person, Spade would have tipped the instant he looked at Rhea’s eyes because of their curling lashes, which were constantly remarked upon about Wilmer — but not a word about Rhea’s lashes.

He mentions nothing at all of her lashes during her drugged performance. As well, he put her to bed and removed her dressing gown. No mention is made of what she was wearing for jammies but he did see her scratched-up stomach so you have to infer that he took a pretty good look at her when putting her to bed (since he is skilled in nonverbal interaction with women, as he admits).  

What had pissed Wilmer off so badly at Spade was, of course, the constant “gunsel” comment as well as “punk,” which also has a submissive sexual partner connotation on top of the derogatory idea of the petty criminal.

Wilmer is not a girl or Cairo would not have been fawning over him.  

And Wilmer just may have liked girls too, explaining his rage at Spade’s comments about Rhea’s scratched stomach because maybe his real thing was with her. The other thing was that the hotel detective at the Alexandra said the Gutman party consisted of Gutman, his daughter and Wilmer.

I just happened to be rereading Falcon just as I read those comments and had not got that far in yet, so paid special attention for clues I may have missed the many other times I have read it.


My fave of Sue’s deductions is that obviously Rhea-as-Wilmer wouldn’t have fooled Cairo, which pits one Idea of Coyote — The Trickster — against another. If you’re buying in to the Feminist Idea, then a woman in drag could fool any one, Spade the detective, Cairo the gay paramour, doesn’t matter. The Trickster rules. But if you like the idea of the Gay Trickster, then obviously Cairo wouldn’t have been fooled for an instant.

And since that long-ago post we’ve hosted Midget Bandit Week here at Up and Down, where Warren Harris tracked down the real-life criminal Hammett modeled Wilmer on. In his mug shots from the era Hammett encountered him, Edwin Ware does look somewhat feminine — he may have those long lashes characteristic of Wilmer.

How close was Hammett’s version of the Midget Bandit to the real life model? Did Ware impress Hammett as being an actual gunsel? Warren is digging in to the research and will let us know if he tumbles to any hard info.

But I think the fact that Hammett modeled Wilmer off a specific male yegg further argues against the idea that he really was a dame passing as a two-gun shadow.

Not that anyone really went for that theory — but among the various ideas that have come into play, it is one of the most fun to prod and pry.

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