Hammett: On Mary Austin and Advertising

The indefatigable Terry Zobeck is back to complete his coverage of Hammett’s side career as a book reviewer. He began with a post on February 1st and dedicated another on February 16th to the mystery review column The Crime Wave. This round he takes on the third and final issue of The Forum containing a review of Mary Austin — who features in my The Literary World of San Francisco as one of the literary founders of Carmel-by-the-Sea — as well as a big wrap-up Hammett did on advertising books during his San Francisco years. Terry sends along a b&w shot he took of Western Advertising, saying “the original color cover is wonderful. I wish the Library of Congress had color copiers.”

Here’s Terry:

Back in February I lamented the fact that the website Unz.org was missing one of the three issues of The Forum with a Hammett review — the one from August 1925. During my recent trip to the Library of Congress I obtained a copy of that issue. Hammett’s review, titled “Genius Made Easy,” was of Mary Austin’s Everyman’s Genius. Austin was a novelist, playwright, poet, and critic, with particular interests in Native Americans and the desert southwest, and a fellow contributor to The Forum.

Unlike most of the books that Hammett reviewed, Everyman’s Genius is not a novel. Rather, it is an exploration of the nature of genius. Austin’s premise is that genius is derived from inherited racial experience stored in the “deep-self.” Hammett acknowledges that Austin has some interesting things to say, but concludes: “Although much of her evidence is trivial and logic is not in her, Mrs. Austin achieves a certain convincingness by sheer weight of humorless sincerity.”

I thought that was the final Hammett book review I needed to track down, but I was wrong. I’ve long been intrigued by the articles Hammett wrote for Western Advertising, a San Francisco-based monthly devoted to the art of advertising, but could never find them. I finally had a chance recently to read them — thanks once again to the collections of the Library of Congress —and learned that one of his contributions to the magazine was actually a book review.

After starting off 1926 with a story in each of the first three issues of Black Mask for the year, Hammett stopped publishing in the pulp due to a dispute over money. It would be a year before he returned to fiction and Black Mask with “The Big Knockover.”

Meanwhile, to make ends meet, Hammett took a job in March 1926 as advertising manager with the Albert S. Samuels Company, a San Francisco jewelry store, but due to a dramatic decline in his health, he was soon forced to cut back on his hours. He continued, however, to work for Samuels part-time until late 1927, by which time he began the serialization of Red Harvest in Black Mask.

While working in advertising, Hammett appears to have thrown himself wholeheartedly into his work. Over the course of 18 months he produced five pieces for Western Advertising, an indication of his self-confidence in his abilities in his new profession. Four of these were articles on various aspects of how to create interesting and successful advertising — more on those in a future blog. The fifth piece — “The Literature of Advertising in 1927” — was an omnibus review for the February 1928 issue of the best advertising books published the preceding year. Even with such stuffy material, Hammett couldn’t resist bringing his sense of humor to the job. Of Stuart Chase’s and F. J. Schlink’s Your Money’s Worth — “the most talked about book of the year” — he wrote that:

. . . they attacked the sales mechanism of modern business above and below the belt, from front and back, and from around corners. If they didn’t actually redden the earth with their victim’s blood, they assuredly drew from him and from the spectators groans, cheers, jeers and assorted bellowings enough to satisfy even a pair of authors.

Some of the books Hammett reviewed and his comments on them provide insight into his interests and intellectual curiosity, and they take on added historical interest given our perspective of 84 years later. Commercial radio broadcasts had begun only 8 years earlier, yet advertising was already playing an important role in this new medium and Hammett recognized it.  He noted in his review of Using Radio in Sales Promotion that it was:

. . . a thorough, competent and understandable presentation of the known facts concerning the advertising use of radio. The first authoritative work in its field, this was a volume not to be neglected by any advertiser or advertising man, no matter how well-informed or how little interested in this newest of media.

Hammett was obviously interested in economics — he undoubtedly was to become even more interested, along with the rest of the world, by the end of the following year. Of The Economics of Installment Selling he wrote:

Professor Seligman found abuses in installment selling, and dangers, but he found no reason for supposing that consumer credit was not fundamentally sound; and he concluded that when its evils were removed—as old evils had to be removed from banking—it would be as beneficial to the consumer as bank credit is to the producer. This book had an enormous silencing effect on the enemies of installment selling, and a soothing effect on those who had begun to be afraid that credit had become too easily obtained.

In a nice bit of inadvertent foreshadowing Hammett noted of Business Cycles: The Problem and the Setting that it was:

. . . a painstaking and scholarly inquiry into the nature and processes of recurrent commercial fluctuations; an attempt to combine the observations of economic theorists, economic statisticians and economic annalists, and to discover what business cycles actually are. Although not a book for those who require a neat and simple answer to every problem, it brought order—if complex order—into a field where most had hitherto been confusion, and prepared the way for further studies, leading eventually, perhaps to an understanding of the causes of business cycles and of how they may be controlled.

It seems to be a topic as timely today as it was then.

For the sake of completeness here’s a list of the 41 books Hammett covered in this review — I doubt there are many Hammett aficionados who will want to “collect them all”:


Your Money’s Worth by Stuart Chase and F. J. Schlink

Economics of Advertising by Roland S. Vaile

Old Sox on Trumpeting by E. T. Gundlach

Advertisement Writing by Gilbert Russell

What about Advertising by Kenneth M. Goode and Harford Powel, Jr.

Using Radio in Sales Promotion by Edgar H. Felix

Advertising Copy: Principles and Practice by Lloyd D. Herrold

Advertising Simplified by N. B. Boardman

Color in Advertising and Merchandising Display by Charles C. Knights

Sixth Annual of Advertising Art foreword by W. H. Beatty

Modern Poster Annual (fourth annual edition)

Printing for Commerce by the American Institute of Graphic Arts

A Printer’s Manual of Style by Frederic H. Hamilton

The Art and Practice of Typography (enlarged edition) by Edmund G. Gress

Manual of Typographical Standards (enlarged edition) by the New York Times

Type Faces by D. C. McMurtrie

Achievement in Photo-Engraving and Letter-Press Printing edited by Louis Flader

How Banks Increase Their Business by G. Prather Knapp

Finance and Advertising by the Bureau of Advertising of the American Newspaper Publishers Association

Principles of Effective Letter Writing by Lawrence C. Lockley

Principles of Selling by Mail by James H. Picken

Constructive Selling Talks by B. J. Williams

How to Influence Men by Edgar J. Swift

How to Sell Newspaper Advertising by H. A. Casey

The Measurement of Advertising Effects by George Burton Hotchkiss and Richard B. Franken

An Investigation of Attention to Advertisements by H. K. Nixon

Advertising Research by Percival White

Principles of Marketing by Harold H. Maynard, Walter C. Weidler and Theodore N. Beckman

The Economics of Installment Selling by Dr. Edwin R. A. Seligman

Business Cycles: The Problem and the Setting by Wesley C. Mitchell

Advertising Fluctuations: Seasonal and Cyclical by William Leonard Crum

Advertiser’s Annual and Convention Year Book (from the UK)

Papers of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (report on the meeting of the A.A.A.A., including President Coolidge’s speech).

My Life in Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins

Trail Blazers of Advertising by C. L. Pancoast

Hawkers and Walkers in Early America by Richardson Wright

The Advertising Agency by Floyd Y. Keeler and Albert E. Haase

An Outline of Careers by Edward L. Bernay

How to Become an Advertising Man by Norman Lewis

Writing and Editing for Women by Ethel M. Colson Brazleton

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