Hammett: More Newsprint


When I checked my copy of Richard Layman’s Dashiell Hammett: A Descriptive Bibliography the other day for information on newspaper reprints, I noticed that he cites a serial run for The Thin Man in the San Francisco Examiner during March and April 1934. Now John D. Squires has tracked down another reprint on the Australian Trove digital site — a complete-in-one-issue appearance in a free supplement to The Australian Women’s Weekly for Saturday 15 February 1936. JDS reports he got more than 200 hits on Hammett, “though at a quick glance, most are news stories or movie/book notices.”

“The digitizing of all these old papers,” JDS notes, “is really gonna transform traditional bibliography. For some authors, like M. P. Shiel, there isn’t much there, but for popular authors, like Louis Tracy, newspaper reprints were a big income source. Clode acted as his US agent and resold his novels as serials for decades after book publication, sometimes more than once to the same paper.

“It is a wide open field, waiting for the academics to stumble across it.”

Yeah, believe it or not, Louis Tracy — one of JDS’s main topics of research — was a hot name in his day. You can find many of his novels on Project Guttenberg, if curious. I am beginning to suspect that Hammett may have used newspaper reprints much the same way Tracy did, meaning there could be dozens upon dozens of newsprint appearances waiting to be found.

Meanwhile, our frequent Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck couldn’t resist tracking down more info on the reprint of the classic Op yarn “Dead Yellow Women” that JDS spotted in the Ottawa Citizen.

Terry says, “Great discovery by John. I fooled around with the link to the paper. All six installments are available; it ran from September 1 through the 6th. I’ll have to check to see if they used the Dannay edits — his collection of the same name came out in 1947. I wonder if this was some sort of tie-in?”

But then Terry noticed that the story carried a “copyright King Features Syndicate” tagline — “I’m thinking that it is taken from the version published in the 1930s and copyrighted by King Features. We’ve already seen that Dannay sometimes used their texts as sources for his editions, though he made changes to them as well.

“I compared the text of The Citizen’s version with that in Crime Stories from the Library of America, which is based upon the original appearance of the story from the November 1925 issue of Black Mask. It gets interesting in the first paragraph, describing the Op’s new client, a Chinese woman. The newspaper deletes the last few sentences: ‘But there was no slant to her eyes, her nose was almost aquiline, and she had more chin than Mongolians usually have. She was modern Chinese-American from the flat heels of her tan shoes to the crown of her untrimmed felt hat.’

“The newsprint serial also begins with this Editor’s Note:

This thrilling mystery story was written before World War No. 2 at a time when Chinese patriots in America were doing their utmost to send aid to their countrymen valiantly fighting against Japanese aggression.

“Among Hammett’s work,” Terry adds, “‘Dead Yellow Women’ is notorious for its racial stereotyping — common at the time —starting with the title. To further counter the racist language, the editors — whether at King Features Syndicate or The Ottawa Citizen
is not known — removed some of the more egregious examples. For example, at one
point the Op is enlisting the aid of a Filipino laborer. In describing the man the Op says he could often be found ‘in a Chinese gambling house passing his money to the yellow brothers.’ In The Citizen’s version ‘he was passing his money over the tables.’ The Op then remarks, after the Filipino extends him a courtesy, ‘Whatever else the Spaniards do for the people they rule, they make them polite.’ This sentence is not to be found in The Citizen’s version.

“Dannay’s 1947 version, by the way, follows the pure text, with only a couple of minor changes in the paragraphs I checked, so there goes my idea that he used the King Features version — unless it was the editor of the Ottawa Citizen who felt squeamish about the racial stereotyping.

“I guess I need to find the 1930s King Features version of this story, to figure out if the cuts were made at the Citizen or not.

“I admit I only checked the first installment. The edits and rewrites are so extensive that this version can be described only as an abridgement of the original. The Citizen’s version
occupies a little fewer than two columns of newsprint; in the LoA version, this portion of the story requires about six-and-a-half pages, comprised of 74 paragraphs. Of these 74 paragraphs, The Citizen’s version cuts 29 paragraphs completely — admittedly, some of these are just a line or two of dialogue — and the majority of several more. About half
of the remaining paragraphs are abridged — large chunks of Hammett’s prose are simply gone.

“After reading the first part of Hammett’s ‘Dead Yellow Women’ in The Ottawa Citizen, I can only say, ‘Thank God for Frederic Dannay.’ However annoyed and frustrated we may be with the edits Dannay made to many of Hammett’s stories, at least he did not take a hatchet to them. If we had only The Citizen’s version to read today, we would have a mangled, heavily abridged version of the story.”

Thanks, Terry, for the textual detective work.

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