Our maniacal Autograph Hound pal Brian Leno got a surprise for Xmas — an item of Jack Dempsey ephemera. Let Brian explain it:
“A friend of mine was at a library book sale in North Carolina and found a promotional pamphlet for Jack Dempsey’s upcoming book Dempsey by the Man Himself. With some excerpts and photos. About six pages.
“I didn’t even know that thing existed.
“Trick was it was signed — and sitting in the trash pile.
“My friend snapped it up and mailed it to me. Can’t believe a Dempsey autograph was residing in the trash pile.
“It’s pretty beat up, right side tattered but the signature is nice and clear.
“I’ve already had it framed, so the tattered side is no longer in view.
“Looks pretty nice for a throwaway item.
“Every so often a library sale spits out some gold.”
You know people will argue the hell out of the idea of Neeson as Marlowe — hey, have fun — but you might want to check out the review. Very good.
My favorite line from the coverage: “Obviously, Neeson is also his own genre.”
Obvious, indeed. He’s carved out a late-career niche not dissimilar to what Charles Bronson did with his filmography.
Remember when Taken came out in 2008 and some critics were grousing that Neeson at 56 was too old for such a role? They got increasingly outraged as he entered his 60s and established a cottage industry of taking names and kicking ass.
How could he be doing this to his audience? they lamented.
I figured these reviewers for near imbeciles. They knew Neeson was in Schindler’s List in 1993 and Love Actually in 2003, but the pretense that he hadn’t soiled his career with action movies before Taken was ludicrous.
Earliest role I remember Neeson from was the fantasy action flick Krull (1983). Swords. Monsters.
And he played Patrick Swayze’s brother in the hillbilly action flick Next of Kin (1989). And as soon as he came off Kin, he starred as the scarred superhero in Darkman (1990), not short on action and explosions.
Soon after he did Schindler’s List he was back swinging swords in Rob Roy (1995). Give the guy props for doing all kinds of roles, but don’t pretend an actor in the Star Wars and Batman franchises should have passed on Taken.
Another way to look at it: thank the cinema gods Keanu Reeves signed on for John Wick.
Jeopardy! hasn’t hit the Hammett clew pile lately as much as it did back in the Golden Age of Alex Trebek.
But every now and then they just can’t avoid it. . . .
For the show broadcast December 23rd, the Double Jeopardy round sported a category called Rian Johnson Loves a Whodunit — and Whodon’t, right?
The whole row of statements featured Johnson — writer and director of the popular crime puzzler Lights Out from 2019. Plus the just-released this week Glass Onion: A Lights Out Mystery.
For the $2000 clew in the category — the big money — they featured a closeup of Myrna Loy and William Powell, with Johnson saying:
The loving relationship in The Thin Man between these two lead characters is endearing, and the only killing they do is of 12 martinis between them at a sitting.
Current multi-game champ Ray buzzed in with the correct answer: “Who are Nick and Nora Charles?”
Yeah, who else?
And if you stream Glass Onion, you’ll find that Nick and Nora aren’t the only Hammett sleuths familiar to Johnson (his first feature, Brick from 2005, is kind of The Maltese Falcon set in high school — the late great Bill Arney enthusiastically recommended it to me at the time).
Think it’s about the 2:03 time marker, around there, big showdown in a display gallery with tons of glass sculptures on pedestals. Keep your eyes peeled, it only shows up for a moment, but near actress Madelyn Cline (in the role of “Whiskey”) you’ll find another ref to the Sam Spade novel — with the Black Bird done in crystal.
On September 20, 2009 I took a shot of the hidden compartment Bill Arney had — mysteriously — set in the floor of the Sam Spade apartment.
I guess he figured, Why not?
Out of all the Herculean effort Bill put into preserving the place and recreating the Hammett era, the floor had to have been his masterwork.
Who even thinks about a floor, right? You stand on it. Transaction finished.
But during his seventeen year stint as Inhabitant of the Apartment, Keeper of the Shrine, and so forth, the floor jumped up in Bill’s face.
Earthquake retrofit work was going to be done on the entire building. Steel beam supports, the works.
They told Bill they were going to rip out most of the floor.
“And then what happens?” Bill inquired. “Do you put it back””
They’ll rip up the original woodwork, haul it out, pop in some plywood when ready, cover it with wall-to-wall carpeting and it’ll be very nice.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!!” — or something like that — Bill said.
An architect, an extremely detail-focused hobbyist (hand-painting tiny figurines from the Napoleonic Wars and the like), Bill proceeded to pull up all the flooring. He hand-numbered and cross-referenced each and every board.
And when the retro work was done, he put them all back in, in order.
Some shorter pieces ended up going in the west end of the room, on the floor below the windows overlooking Hyde.
As he was placing those last pieces, Bill realized he could make a hidden compartment, and he did.
Bill showed the hidey hole to the restoration crew hired to polish the place up when he moved late in 2009. He said they looked, with some minor oohs and ahs.
Bill glanced at me when he was telling the story and asked, “Do you know what they did with it?”
The corner outside the door into the kitchen in the Sam Spade apartment shows some of the roughest rough stage work as Bill Arney labored to get the place ready for a new inhabitant.
You can see some of the kitchen door to the right, and it was here that Joe Hagen scraped merrily away until he discovered another paint color original to Hammett’s stay in the late 1920s.
Look back to 2005, and find out how Joe entered the restoration fray:
“My involvement started one afternoon at Bill’s when he mentioned that the Friends of the Library were placing a plaque in a couple months and he would have wished that he could have the wood refinished before then.
“Now at this point he had only done some work around one door and maybe one of the windows.
“Bill was working full-time and I between jobs, and having already had a couple of beers, I offered to finish the job if he provided the beer while I worked!
“I was using a citrus-based paint stripper and between that and the Coors that I was using to sustain myself during this, I coined the term Maltese Mimosa.”
And the other color than Cherrywood Joe found under layers of paint on the kitchen door?
“Oddly enough, the color of the paint for the door was Nicotine Yellow! Bill was exceptionally happy with that.”
As a little Xmas present — and to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Bill Arney on September 28, 2021 — let’s take a look into the Sam Spade apartment in 891 Post Street.
The date was September 20, 2009. Things are in disarray, as after a decade and a half Bill Arney is preparing to leave the rooms. He’s working to complete most of the restoration work he’d begun seriously in 2005, when a plaque was placed on the front of the building to acknowledge that Dashiell Hammett once slept here.
In the shot at top I display the key that eased me into the apartment to take a few pics — the window behind me obviously showcases finished staining, while the large baseboards need more work. The walls need paint.
This window on the north face of the building overlooks Post Street. Off to my left just out of sight is the doorway into the tiny kitchen. Just visible to my right is the period padded rocker Bill acquired late in his tenancy, trying to match the descriptions of furniture in The Maltese Falcon.
Over the years Bill secured other authentic items — from light switches to a Murphy bed — as longtime tenants moved on and redecorators stripped the apartments down to spray paint them white. He mentioned that he got the last Murphy bed left in the building.
In the shot below, the bed — folded up into the wall — is on the left. With the mirror. This wall is across the room from the couch and the northside windows.
In the next image the Murphy bed peeps out on the bottom right, with a good view of the living room door (a.k.a. the bedroom door) that leads to the hallway with the bend in the passage that ends up at the main door of the apartment.
A longtime occupant of the building, Mark Murphy, reports that “it was Minwax Gel Cherrywood stain that Bill used on the baseboards and crown molding, as well as door jambs and window mullions, etc. I remember pretty vividly Bill talking about this on more than one occasion. Amazing to me that any product on this planet can still be got for a mere $3.78!”
Mark also tells me, “I wasn’t anywhere near as involved in the Hammett Suite Restoration Project as Joe Hagen was. As I recall, it was during a time when both Bill and Joe were out of work, and each spent many a day and night scraping, sanding, heat-gun melting and whatever other techniques were available to remove eight or nine decades worth of accumulated paint from the woodwork in that room.”
In his own apartment, Mark used the same stain they had uncovered after all the scraping. “They were much more careful than I was in my room, as I got a little overly aggressive at times and put some rather unsightly gouges in the wood.
“And then to have the hired restoration team just coat it top to bottom in that dark walnut color that almost completely hides the natural beauty of the wood!
“According to research I had done, California Redwood would have been the cheapest and most plentiful wood available at the time.
“Kind of heartbreaking, even if the contractors involved did do a really good job on the restoration in general. They just didn’t seem that concerned with historic accuracy.”
Although I was pretty casual about it, I did think about doing a little documentation when Bill Arney was still inhabiting the place — and in the thick of restoration.
The date was September 20, 2009.
Before heading in, camera sometimes flashing and sometimes not, it seemed appropriate to stop in The Ha-Ra Bar on Geary Street, about a block from my destination, for a pop. Make the mission kind of official.
Manning the stick was the legend that is Carl the Bartender.
Autograph Hound Super-Sunday once more, and from his extensive files of John Hancocks stacked on top of John Hancocks, Brian Leno sends in Kirk Alyn — the first actor to portray Superman in live action.
Brian noted, “Am enjoying the Warburton stuff. I’m jealous. Talking to some drunk derelict at the bar is not quite the same as you conversing with The Tick.”
Brian and I were chatting and I did a quick run-through of movie people I have met, from William Forsythe to Jackie Cooper. Didn’t count stars I saw but didn’t meet — such as Hugh Jackman opening his one-man play in San Francisco. I saw him for more than an hour but didn’t meet him.
Obviously if I went to Comic-Con a few times I could pile up the brief encounters, but my way is working well enough for me.
The only actor I mentioned to Leno that I saw in such a scenario was Kirk Alyn, at a comic con in New York City, early 70s. Handsome guy, tall, and he gets counted because we were the only two people on an elevator. Didn’t talk. Nodded.
What the hell, the first Superman. I’ll count him.
(Looking up dope on Alyn just now I was almost shocked to see that he had been married to Virginia O’Brien. While I appreciate Alyn’s cultural standing, Virginia O’Brien is one of my film favorites. Master of deadpan. Didn’t get to do enough movies.)
“Dug through my movie serial autographs and found Superman’s,” Brian writes, “since you said you saw him in an elevator, not a phone booth. Thought you might get a kick out of it.”
Brian was thinking that he himself had seen practically no celebrities — then he remembered some “I saw, didn’t meet.
“Went to a boxing match in Vegas years ago and Mr. T was there. Redd Foxx showed up with a young beauty on his arm. The best thing was Bo Derek. A beauty. Truly a Frazetta-like girl.
“Redd Foxx walked by where I was sitting and everybody started hooting and hollering, Hey Redd! He stopped and waved, seemed like a pretty good guy.
“Mr. T of course had more gold on him than a pirate ship.”
And by the way, Patrick Warburton got to play Superman too, in those commercials with Seinfeld, but they made him a cartoon. He could have played it live.
In 1977 Don Herron began leading The Dashiell Hammett Tour, now the longest-running literary tour in the nation. On this site you’ll find information on current walks — dates, where to meet, arranging tours by appointment — plus a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.