Hammett: “A pity that this should be called a detective story”

Evan Lewis is digging around in electronic newspaper archives again, and today he’s featuring several newsprint items related to the 1930 publication of that instant classic known as The Maltese Falcon.

Fun — and even educational — stuff. One highlight: the March 16 1930 interview blurb indicating that Hammett planned to spend half the year in New York City, and the other half in Frisco with his wife and two young daughters. The way it worked out, he spent part of the year in and around New York, and the rest in the vicinity of Los Angeles — moving his family to SoCal for convenience.

Adios, Frisco. After leaving here, you can find only a handful of occasions where he returned on brief visits.

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Death Lit: Reviewing That Neo-Noir

After I put up the link to my review of the most recent Donald Westlake reissue, I had the thought that I’d reviewed several other books since the previous one I’d linked to.

Checked, and found four titles. Oops. They come and they go, I guess.

But the proof I covered just before the new Westlake popped to life after the Westlake. Looks as if it’s circa 90% my wordage, so hop on over if you want to check it out.

I do like my line, “If this were a spaghetti western, it would be all staring and no gunplay.”

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Rediscovered: San Francisco — and California — Mysteries

Just got tipped off to a recent interview with librarian Randal Brandt on CrimeReads, if you’d care to drift over and check it out.

Randal took up the search for mysteries set in San Francisco after I donated my collection to Bancroft Library, and now it sounds as if they’re after crime fiction covering all the big burgs and tiny hamlets in the state, the valleys and the ranges — the works. They’ve even got a rich donor or two giving them some pocket change, which can’t hurt.

Anyway, the latest updates on the state of the collection. Randal even drops my name in passing.

Why not?

I was the pioneer who blazed the trail for those Mean Streets.

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Hammett: Working the Electronic Morgue

Speaking of the epic sale of Otto Penzler’s mystery library, you may recall that I used Evan Lewis as my man on the street covering the events, since he was interested in hunting down the auction lists and putting up images on his blog and so on — and I’m not. But my reputation for being lazy precedes me.

I linked to his list of final sales prices on the Hammett items. The trade paperback of $106,000 Blood Money that Hammett inscribed to Lillian Hellman bid out at $12,500 — currently it is back on the block, tagged at $27,500. Surf over and savor the inscription, plus the bookseller provides a nice little history of known Hammett-to-Hellman copies.

Evan meanwhile keeps Hammetting on. Just the other day he did that thing of digging around in online newspaper files — which we’ve had plenty of on this blog c/o the late great John D. Squires, Terry Zobeck and others. Evan pulls a cool roster of Hammett print blurbs from 1927-1929, stuff I don’t recall seeing before.

But of course Hammett was all over the newspapers, for years — or, as John D. Squires used to say, until you really start digging, you honestly have no clew what is out there, or how much.

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Hammett: More Zobeck v. Otto

Terry Zobeck popped in a micro review related to the sale of Otto Penzler’s mystery library a few months ago, which sucked all the oxygen out of the room for awhile.

The word, from Terry:

My copy of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Obsession arrived in the mail today. 

His reminiscences of the high points of his collection — how he came to obtain them and their importance to his collection — now all auctioned off. 

Three of Hammett’s books make it, more than anyone else (Chandler and Anna Katharine Green each get two). 

He writes about his copies of Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon and $106,000 Blood Money, the latter inscribed by Hammett to Lillian Hellman, the only Hammett book inscribed thus that Penzler ever saw.

A really fine little book limited to 250 copies.

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Death Lit: A Couple of Westlakes

— but both Westlakes are in the same book.

Just like I did almost exactly a year ago, I got to review a repackaging of a Donald E. Westlake — originally titled Enough, back in 1977.

If interested in that sort of thing, surf over and check out the blurbage. Looks as if my wording made it through editorial very much intact. Someone else, however, added the last sentence. Doesn’t hurt anything.

And I’d agree the short novel that leads off the book is kind of a perfect intro to Westlake. Cooking on all the crime/mystery angles. Funny, with that hard-edge of brutality you don’t want to hit your head against.

Plus, if you give it a glance, you can look for the reference to Willeford I slipped in, to mark my territory.

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Hammett: Unearthed — The Samuels’ Campaign

We haven’t seen a lot of Tenderloin Terry Zobeck recently, but you know he’s out there, ever sleuthing the Mean Streets. He’s been working on finalizing his biblio of Lawrence Block, but when he gets scent of a Hammett quest, he’s willing to drop everything (except maybe smoking and drinking) to get on it.

Here’s Terry:

About two years ago, Mean Streets visitor Marc LaViolette contacted Don with a question that Don passed along to me. His eagle eye had noticed that the bibliography included with Richard Layman’s Discovering the Maltese Falcon included a sixth article by Hammett from Western Advertising — “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”.

Marc wanted to know if I had a copy, since I had written about Hammett’s Western Advertising pieces for Mean Streets.

I was completely ignorant of it. My only excuse for not being aware of it is that Discovering the Maltese Falcon is a reprint of Layman’s Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon, originally published for the academic community by Thompson Gale. And while I own the latter, I never read it since I’ve owned the former for several years — but the earlier edition does not mention this piece in the bibliography of Hammett’s work.

Marc’s question immediately sent me to my shelves. Taking down the bound 1927 volume of WA I hurriedly turned to the table of contents for the October issue. Nothing.

Then I thought, perhaps it was an ad for Samuels.

I looked through the entire issue. Nothing.

I then noticed that some long-forgotten librarian had excised several pages from each issue of my bound copies, including the List of Advertisers and several pages of ads. I reported my findings to Marc and Don and promised to go to the Library of Congress to check their copies, which I hoped were not mutilated.

Yesterday, I finally got back to the LOC to look into the existence of the “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”.  I searched every issue from 1926 through 1928. 

Unlike my bound copies of Western Advertising, the LOC’s did have the List of Advertisers. Again, nothing. 

Samuels appears not to have placed an ad in Western Advertising in these years — especially puzzling since Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett includes a letter which Layman presumes to be from June 1927, in which Hammett tells his wife Jose that “I haven’t got my copy yet, but I hear Western Advertising reprinted another of my ads this month. Getting to be a habit.”

This morning I pulled down my copy of Letters and re-read that letter and it struck me for the first time that Hammett writes “reprinted”; not “printed”.

I then had one of those inexplicable instances of inspiration.

I recalled that each issue of Western Advertising had a feature called “Advertising Review of the Month” which reprinted what they considered to be especially effective recent examples of advertising.

With shaking hands, I turned to June’s issue. Nothing.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t June’s issue — Layman wasn’t sure of the date of the letter. I checked earlier issues, and there in the April 1927 issue is a reprint of an ad for Albert Samuels Jewelry!

The other significant point about Hammett’s letter is that he writes “Getting to be a habit”, suggesting that Western Advertising had reprinted other of his ads. More searching for me — details to follow.

Back to “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”. Perhaps this was an ad that also was reprinted.

I turned to the October issue and searched the two pages of small images of reprinted ads in that month’s “Advertising Review of the Month”. Nothing.

My disappointment was profound. Could Layman have been mistaken? Perhaps it actually appeared in a local newspaper and he simply got it confused.

I sat idly turning pages of that issue thinking about my next step when my eye was drawn to a full page of striking reprints of ads, shown below. They were from Albert S. Samuels Co. Jewelers!

I have no excuse for how I missed this before other than I was looking for ads featuring lengthy prose copy, like the one that Layman reproduces in one of his Hammett volumes.

These ads, on the other hand, feature striking images with little text.

However, there is no mention of Hammett associated with these reprints. The caption that appears at the bottom of the page reads:

In this campaign the Albert S. Samuels Company has not attempted to picture jewelry faithfully, but rather to suggest it in unusual ways. Striking art, simple layout, good typography, short copy-these have been the dominating principles of an effective series of advertisements, the results of which are described in the accompanying article.

My pulse raced at the words “accompanying article” as my eyes shifted to the opposing page only to be disappointed and slightly confused by the title and author: “Making Retail Advertising Stand Out: How two Western stores have made their advertising more profitable in use of unusual ideas in art and copy” by Hugh Crane.

Huh? Who the hell was Hugh Crane and what happened to “How Samuels’ Campaign Developed”?

The ads made sense and the topic of Crane’s article seemed to fit. I began to read the extremely dry article — no Hammett.

Then I turned the page and there on page 61 was the sub-header “How Samuel’s Campaign Developed”. Eureka!

But where was Hammett?

My question was immediately answered by the first sentence:

Let Dashiell Hammett, advertising manager of the Samuels’ stores, and R. J. Ralph, advertising manager for Hastings’ [the second store whose advertising is one of the subjects of the article], tell their own stories of the ideas and purposes behind their advertising programs.

And here is Hammett’s story:

After a campaign of this kind has been in progress for some time, it is easy to advance reasons for its adoption, and to establish a theoretical basis to justify it. With some tangible evidence of results at hand, we can easily say: “In our wisdom, we decided upon such a course for such and such reasons.” But to be perfectly candid, we have actually worked out our present methods mainly by trying one thing and another, checking as carefully as possible on the returns, eliminating the unprofitable, and holding fast to that which was good.

In the beginning, we were convinced that we wanted something new. The old style of copy and illustration was worked to death. But more than that, it is apparent that jewelry is a product which can not be satisfactorily pictured in newspaper advertising. A diamond ring, a salad fork, may be beautiful things in themselves by virtue of chaste lines, the lustre of metal and the sparkle of the jewel. But these things do not show in a drawing. We turned, therefore, to a style of illustration which makes no attempt to reproduce literally, but which suggests the atmosphere of jewelry.

We found that the bizarre drawings, supported by carefully planned typography, were effective. We discovered still other advantages — that their grotesqueness made them more forceful in getting attention, and enabled us to dominate the page with smaller space. A casting up of accounts revealed a surprising thing: we were actually saving money by spending more of it for art and typography. By investing more in the preparation of the copy, we were able to accomplish more with a small advertisement than with a larger one built along traditional lines. This saving we put into more frequent insertions.

In commenting on our advertising, our friends frequently assume that we are appealing primarily to an upper stratum of buyers, which we attempt to interest by modernistic technique. Not at all. We find that this type of message appeals to the ordinary run of people, who enjoy it, remember it, act on it. We are not limiting our invitation to our store to any one class. We simply have desired more good customers, and our advertising has helped us get them. In spite of materially increased competition, our stores have shown large gains since this advertising was instituted. Our Oakland store has shown an increase of 29 per cent; our two stores in San Francisco have gained 18 and 40 per cent respectively.

The ads are indeed visually striking. This is especially remarkable in that Hammett was relatively new to the advertising game. That he should be capable of directing such a visually appealing approach and to express the concept so fully is a testament to his innate skills and abilities.

In Jo Hammett’s memoir of her father she notes that he was something of an amateur artist, so he presumably had the artistic sensibility to realize the appeal of such an advertising approach.

The issues of Western Advertising document that Samuels also was running more traditional ads, such as the one they reprinted in the April 1927 issue, shown at top. I’ll now be looking through my bound volumes for other examples.

Stay tuned.

My sincere thanks to Marc for putting me on the scent. Sorry it took so long to run it down.

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Rediscovered: Straubomination and Others

What could we do for Autograph Hound Super-Sunday?

How about an exciting return to the Quest for the Worst Autograph Ever?

Remember the other week when John D. Haefele sent in an image from a Karl Edward Wagner book he’d forgotten he had in his collection? None of us could figure out what one of the words was in the inscription. Could have been anything, as far as I was concerned.

But then Ramsey Campbell dropped me a note saying the indecipherable squiggle was nothing less than the autograph of author Peter Straub. I’m taking Ramsey’s word for it. I don’t know.

Noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook saw the light: “The Peter Straub signature makes perfect sense now that it’s been pointed out. I thought that Karl was just having a bad handwriting day — ‘his writing’ there did not resemble the inscriptions in my books, where his writing was much neater.

“The fact that it was NOT Karl’s handwriting should have been obvious.

“I guess that at this point Straub is in second place as the sloppiest autograph. I think that Brian Leno and I have both given the crown for number one to James Ellroy.”

The revelation gave Haefele himself the biggest surprise: “I have a Straub signature?! I’m sure I would never have known — the seller of my book certainly didn’t.”

I got into cogitation mode, thinking, wait a second, I believe I have a Straub auto, too. Sure enough. In the signed slipcased state of the litcrit collection Fear Itself from 1982. At least, I’m guessing the indecipherable blob-like squiggle as seen above is Straub’s mark, if only by process of elimination. Come on, you can spot it in about two seconds.

The only other guy it could have been was George Romero, but I don’t think the zombiemeister signed the sheets on that one.

If I’m wrong, someone let me know.

I did some light editing on the collection, trying to tweak the Charles Grant piece so it made sense — and I distinctly remember Tim Underwood hiring me to police Fritz Leiber’s “essay,” which was just miscellaneous reviews of King he’d copied and put in a folder. Tim said, “Edit this stuff as if Fritz has moved to Afghanistan and you’ll never see him again.”

Almost all the other signatures are clear enough, except perhaps Alan Ryan’s — a second tier horror writer of the era — in blue just under King’s. By process of elimination, not hard to figure out, but if you just saw it on a blank sheet somewhere I’m sure the level of uncertainty would skyrocket.

The rest can be read easily — and the Stephen King has a nice John Hancockian paraph off the Stephen.

I haven’t looked into this book in decades and have absolutely no memory of thinking, at the time, one way or the other about the Straub auto. Whatever you’re thinking now, though, is probably what I was thinking then.

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Hammett: Jeopardy! Won’t Let Go

Yeah, Jeopardy! has a thing going for Hammett clews — and who can blame them? He’s famous, for closing in on a century now, and you can creep in via the books, the movies, the life.

Yesterday — S36E55 — they hit it again. The first clew in the first column was the first one selected. Black-&-White Films. For $200 pose a question covering this statement:

In “The Maltese Falcon” this actor tells Mary Astor, “If you. . . were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere”

The current champion jumped on it with: “Who is Humphrey Bogart?”

I wonder if they’d have discounted her response if she’d kept her lips together, taken a deep pull off her cigarette, pushed the fedora back on her brow and said: “Bogie. Who’s Bogie?”

Posted in Dash, Film, News | Tagged , , |

Death Lit: Reliquaries of the Weird

The other day Brian Leno mentioned that he’d heard good things about the novel Relic by Preston & Child — but even more specifically, he got the major tip-off from me.

Brian notes, “You told me about this book over the phone a year or so ago, so I bought it. You ain’t steered me wrong yet.”

I try to tailor the recommendation to the recommendee, figuring a devoted fan of cozy cat-mysteries isn’t the audience for, oh, my newest favorite, the noir gunslinger Jean-Patrick Manchette. Leno and I must have been discussing pulp fiction — perhaps even neo-pulp fiction — and Relic jumped to mind.

I saw the 1997 movie — not great, but okay — and somehow happened across a paperback of the 1995 novel. Why not? I had a moment free.

I found the novel much, much better than the movie and could not believe that the movie cut out the role of Pendergast, an FBI guy who for all practical purposes may as well be Sherlock Holmes. My god, the best character. I could not believe it, and I still cannot believe it — who’d buy rights to The Hound of the Baskervilles and then delete Sherlock? What genius does that?

It’s been over twenty years since I read the book and a long time since I may have caught some of the film in passing on TV, so I figured I’d better check my memory. No Pendergast listed as a character in the credits. Unbelieveable.

I got interested enough to read the next book in the series, Reliquary — even hotter, full pulp in modern guise. Some bestsellers toy around with pulp elements, such as The Firm by John Grisham. I read that one early on, and kept thinking that mysteriously lurking behind the scenes had to be Nazis. No Nazis. Grisham pulled his punch. (I skimmed another of his books later, the completely padded one where the kid witness won’t talk for three hundred pages, then he talks, and The End. What crap.)

I think about diving back into the expanding Pendergast series sometime, I can see blazing through a couple here and there much like I do with The Shadow. The books don’t need me, they’re bestsellers, and highly regarded in circles of pulp readers. I’ll get to it, if I get the chance — and I did go through the solo Preston novel about the fossil dinosaur awhile back.

Other guys I know have kept more on top of this scene, such as Tom Krabacher — longtime contributor to the pulp a.p.a. PEAPS — who renders this verdict: “The first few Pendergast novels were clever, but after Brimstone they seemed to go stale. Some of the P&C early non-series novels — Riptide, Thunderhead — were also worth reading.”

Looks as if Leno has at least a solid five or six books to plow through, if he likes Relic.

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