Anyone who wants to show up, willing to hand over a tenspot, is welcome to join in the Dashiell Hammett Tour offered on Palm Sunday — that’s Sunday March 16 with a noon start at the Main Library as usual. No reservations required or taken, just make the scene by noon and walk that hard-boiled walk.
The tour this month is offered in memoriam the great absurdist crime writer Charles Willeford, who died on Palm Sunday — March 27, 1988 — twenty years ago. Don of course did the book Willeford on his life and works, and as always recommends Willeford’s writing — books such as Miami Blues, The Burnt Orange Heresy, Cockfighter — as among the essential crime fiction anyone with taste needs to read. Just recently William Denton, founder of the noir and hard-boiled chat group RARA-AVIS, drifted into town and Don as a courtesy to a fellow Willeford fan took him around to see some Hammett sites and also tossed in the Powell Hotel on Powell Street, where Willeford said he stayed when he wrote his first novel. Don gets queries about Willeford at this website pretty often, with some folk late last year fired up with the idea that they might be able to track down some of the paintings and other artwork Willeford is known to have created. Don took the question to Willeford’s widow Betsy, who answered: “I never saw any of them, except the Tab Hunter construction he entered in the college faculty art show. He may have thrown them away himself, or Mary Jo may have tossed them out the window of their apartment. I’d asked him about the paintings a few times but he didn’t give me a direct answer, so I stopped asking.” Mary Jo Willeford was the second wife, who purged Willeford’s collection of books when he was hospitalized at one point — this was when they were living in the apartment building that serves as the model for the building where the characters live in the long novel The Shark-Infested Custard. Over the years Don has been amused by the various guys who have read his book and gone on rants suggesting that if they had been there to interview Willeford, they would have gotten much more info out of him than Don did. These guys are genuine saps who just don’t understand the accurate picture Don drew of Willeford’s personality. If Willeford didn’t want to answer a question, sorry, he just didn’t answer the question — didn’t matter if you were his own wife, he just clammed up — though if he thought you were a likely candidate for some serious kidding, he’d tell you whatever he felt like at the moment. Yeah, he was a tough interview, but ranks as one of the all-time greats. Twenty years after his death, the cult for his work remains as strong as ever.
Next up for Don is an appearance at NoirCon I in Philadelphia where he’ll be hanging around from April 3 through 6 — we believe the panel about Willeford that he’ll sit in on is the morning of Sunday the 6th. Say hello if you feel like it, and if you have a question about Willeford and related topics, bring it to the bar and let fly.