Hammett: “The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody” & “The Joke on Eloise Morey”

Another month on the mean streets, ready to be kicked into gear by Terry Zobeck with part two of his new series probing the various changes made by Frederic Dannay to Hammett’s short stories. . . .

You can find “pure texts” of these stories available on the market today, but if you ever wonder what wordage Dannay changed around back in the day, here you go. The guy had a blue pencil and wasn’t afraid to scribble.

Once again, Terry apologizes for only having an image for one of the original magazine covers to show off, but tells me he’s cover-ready for his next installment.

And here’s Terry:

This time around we have two of Hammett’s cynically comic pieces, or — telegraphed by the title of the first one — sardonic. Both stories originally appeared, appropriately, in Brief Stories, the first in the February 1923 issue and the second four months later.

“The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody” was most likely inspired by Hammett’s knowledge of small time crooks and their frequent jail-house conversions. Many of the cops I’ve known through my work are just as cynical as Hammett in their doubts of such religious awakenings.

Hammett put a humorous twist on this one and added another frightened little man character to his fictional stockpile.

“Tom Doody” was among the last of Hammett’s stories reprinted in the pages of EQMM, appearing in the November 1957 issue. Dannay included it in his final volume of Hammett stories, A Man Named Thin (1962). He applied a light pencil to the story with the most significant change being the title; he published it as “Wages of Sin”. Neither title is all that compelling, but it’s a slight story in any event.

“The Joke on Eloise Morey” is the better of these two, but that’s not saying much. Eloise is the domineering, unpleasant wife of Dudley Morey, a failed artist with a sensitive nature to match. She takes great pleasure in detailing just what a miserable failure he is, to the point of driving Dudley to suicide. Hammett exercises no subtlety in telegraphing the “joke” to the reader.

The most interesting aspect of the story is the editing done to it by Dannay before he reprinted it in The Creeping Siamese (1950). He made several inexplicable word changes (e.g., “scornful” for “acrid”), deleted words and phrases for no discernible reason, updated some language (e.g., changing “little iron stove” to “open fireplace”), and protecting readers’ sensitivities from Hammett’s raciness (deleting “virginal” from the description of Dudley’s blank canvas).

I’ve followed my usual style of noting the edits: page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the edited text; Hammett’s original text is underlined. The page numbers refer to A Man Named Thin (“The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody”) and The Creeping Siamese (“The Joke on Eloise Morey”).  Both stories were reprinted in Lost Stories (2005) using the pure texts.

“The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody”

Page       Line        top/bottom      Text

31           3             bottom            Wages of Sin The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody

31           1             bottom            with the protruding lower lip and the black bow tie.

33           3             top                   You were very nearly acquitted, at that; weren’t you?

33           10           bottom            she took especial pains with the story

34           16           top                   a fifteen-by-thirty field of glaring virginal white

35           12           top                   The truth of it was that there were no crimes prior [should be the start of a new paragraph].

“The Joke on Eloise Morey”

56           15           bottom            Her husband winced blanched, cringed under the last of each scornful acrid word, but said nothing.  He could not say anything. His was far too sensitive, too delicate, a nature mechanism to permit of any of the answers he might have made

56           11           bottom            As always, his silence, his helplessness, the evident fact that he did not know what to do or say, spurred her on to greater cruelties.

57           6             top                   He turned and stumbled blindly through the doorway. [This should be followed by a section break].

57           7             top                   Alone, she raged up and down the room with the lethal, cushioned step of a panther some great forest cat.

57           7             bottom            be a lot of unpleasant publicity, with her name displayed in not too flattering a light. Then too, it would be hard upon her to think that she had driven him to it; though, of course, his failure with his work was more directly responsible. Still— She decided to go to his studio at once. [Dannay made this last line the beginning of a new paragraph; in the original, it was a single paragraph].

58           4             top                   The line ran past the building in which he had his studio, and she would get there sooner than if she called a taxicab.

58           5             top                   when she stepped from the car she She left the car at the corner above the studio and

58           15           bottom            Eloise crossed the room slowly [Should be preceded by a section break]

58           11           bottom            The revolver had fallen over against the wall, under a window. He still wore his topcoat and gloves.

58           8             bottom            It was all over now [Should be part of the preceding paragraph].

58           6             bottom            She tore it open and read the inclosed letter.

59           10           top                   She went to the old-fashioned, open fireplace, little iron stove in the corner in which a feeble coal fire burned,

59           16           top                   some of them mentioned his name as if recognizing him.

59           11           bottom            for which she was grateful. She sat on the edge of the couch looking with cold, inscrutable eyes at her hands clasped about a handkerchief in her lap.

59           10           bottom            Someone Some one knocked on the door

59           6             bottom            DdetectiveSsergeant Murray

60           15           top                   Only take a few minutes [Should be followed by a section break]

60           16           bottom            “Just wait a couple minutes here,” he said.  “I’ll see if I can hurry things up.”

61           3             top                   This morning you had a row peach of a battle.

61           12           top                   She had the sensation of a heavy net, sinuous, clammy, inescapable, closing about her.

61           15           bottom            And I find that your husband was a Catholic, the same as I am, and I guess maybe just as set against divorces

61           7             bottom            “You fools!” she cried, “You –” [Should be a separate paragraph]

61           3             bottom            the letter she had burned in the fireplace little iron stove.

Next up, perhaps my favorite of Hammett’s early stories, “Holiday”, from the July 1923 issue of The New Pearson’s.

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