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.
The latest and greatest edition to self-guide you up and down the mean streets.
Willeford: The Book
Includes the first “Mr. Hunt” story, “Knives in the Dark.”
At least I presume the image above connects to NoirCon. That’s how I read the clews.
I only attended the very first NoirCon, in 2008, where I was amazed that for the Charles Willeford “panel” they had some academic talking on and on (I don’t remember a single trenchant thing he said) while they had as attendees both me and Guest of Honor Dennis McMillan, and both of us actually knew Willeford. What a fucking stupid waste of time, and resources. But, hey, if that’s what the crowd demanded. . . , jeez, what a dumb crowd.
Kent Harrington must have been poking around in his files and felt like sharing. I bumped into him at the Noir Festival in the Castro when The Rat Machine was new — Kent has emerged as the member of Posse McMillan I most frequently encounter in recent years.
I’ll doubtless see him again soon, in connection with his latest San Francisco crime novel, Last Seen, due out in early May. He’s having a couple of Zoom events to promote it, but I’ll grab my copy in person.
Sequel to Last Ferry Home, Last Seen is your typical kind of wild Kent extravaganza. One angle that struck me reading an advance proof was that Kent took the character that I remember as the most average (and so kind of boring) from the first book and went berserk with a new backstory.
Who knows what will happen if he makes the narrative into a trilogy?
Two or three emails back the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook mentioned to me that Hammett had gone to France during the Great War.
I told him, not as far as I know.
But now there’s some evidence for his idea — if you can call a newspaper article evidence.
Evan Lewis used newsprint from 1939 on his blog today, and alongside mentioning the trip to France, Hammett tells reporter Willa Gray Martin that he likes to kill off characters that bore him, and refers to a recent dustup with Tallulah Bankhead.
Without checking into it, I think Evan has located an otherwise “lost” interview with Hammett. Not a major interview, but it’s got some info worth pondering over. Every scrap interesting, of course.
I wonder if the reporter just got the info about France wrong — or it is entirely possible that Hammett told her he was shipped overseas. That era, 1939, with war drums beating in the distance, he might have thought it sounded good.
And by the way, in recent months Evan has been tossing up various newspaper articles on his blog — search under Hammett Herald-Tribune. Some center on specific Thin Man movies, selected topics. I haven’t bothered to mention most of them, although I do try to keep current cross-reference to any actual stories reprinted in the papers.
This interview, however, definitely worth a look.
In the back of my mind lurked the idea that Jeopardy! might retire clews about Hammett and Sam Spade in the post-Alex Trebek era.
But as I’ve said before, Hammett kind of serves as one of their standards — not as constant as State Capitals and the Periodic Table of Elements, but for one guy with a life and a few books and some movies, he keeps popping up.
For Season 37 Episode 126 on March 22 — the first segment guest-hosted by Dr. Oz — they used the category MacGuffin.
The $400 clew:
In a 1941 movie Humphrey Bogart called this title MacGuffin “The stuff that dreams are made of”
The champ of the moment responded, “What is The Maltese Falcon?”
Terry Zobeck pops along the news from The Rap Sheet that unbeknownst to us Sam Spade moved to France and is about to get into some 1960s colonial action, as in a Jean-Patrick Manchette novel! Well, hell, I wasn’t expecting that, at all at all. But I can’t say I’m actually surprised.
Spade, details the report, “has been quietly living out his golden years in the small town of Bozuls in the South of France. It’s 1963, the Algerian War has just ended, and in a very short time, so, too, will Spade’s tranquility.”
Casting Clive Owen as our boy Sammie is a plus, for my tastes — he was excellent in Shoot ‘Em Up.
For the rest of it, I suppose that depends on how the idea gets brought off. (I am reminded that I still haven’t bothered catching the recent film of Willeford’s The Burnt Orange Heresy.)
Brian Leno timed this one nicely! I thought he might take another week or two for a formal (or as formal as Leno gets) review of Lovecraft: The Great Tales. But no.
For the eighty-fourth anniversary of the death of H.P. Lovecraft on this day in 1937 — very nice timing — herewith the word from the author of Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation and Ringside with Robert E. Howard:
I was fifteen when I first read “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” It hit me like a Rocky Marciano uppercut.
During that period of my life I haunted a small bookstore in Bismarck called the Town Crier, and in the paperback racks I found the Beagle Books edition of The Lurking Fear.
It wasn’t my first introduction to H. P. Lovecraft, but it was the book that propelled me into full Lovecraftian fan-mode.
Soon I was building a library of the Providence Gentleman’s tales, but I was also searching for information about the man himself, and that, living in a small city, was a bit harder to attain. Fanzines had a few articles, and I read what I could find. But most were, as to be expected, written poorly by fans who really weren’t able to tell me much of where this singular writer found the inspiration for his classic tales. Later academic and quasi-academic junk, as tasteless as a hot dog without mustard, had no narrative flow and spent too much time on Lovecraft’s ancestry and other meaningless issues. Most of this stuff only functioned as a pretty good sleep aid.
All that changed a couple of weeks ago when the mail carrier dropped off John D. Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales.
At first the book appears overwhelming. Even somewhat daunting. It clocks in at over 750 pages and nobody is going to read it at one sitting. A casual glance through the Works Cited and Selected Index let’s the reader know that he’s dealing with an author who has explored, deeply, the works of the Rhode Island Bard.
To borrow Willis Conover’s title from his Lovecraft study, really and finally we have Lovecraft At Last. The time spent on the reading and research inspires awe. Years of devotion, years of work. One example of what long-time fans have awaiting them: the discussion of Lovecraft first encountering Robert W. Chambers and his masterpiece The King in Yellow — and what stories that meeting spawned. The same spadework applies to many other wordsmiths, including Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. “The Great God Pan” and “Wendigo” are not forgotten in this study.
Haefele provides new insights of which most readers may not be aware — the chapter detailing Lovecraft’s first reading of William Hope Hodgson, for example. In great detail, he shows how the momentous collision of these two equally great writers helped provide the fuel for HPL’s classic “The Shadow out of Time.” As a life-long fan of Hodgson this section was undoubtedly my favorite and compels me, once again, to board Hodgson’s derelict ships and stick my toe into his eldritch waters, and do some serious rereading.
And of course that means “The Shadow out of Time” also goes back in the pile, awaiting reacquaintance.
The final years of Lovecraft are not neglected, either. It is painful to read portions of HPL’s letters where his self-doubt cripples his literary output to the point he is reluctant to submit his new manuscripts, certain of rejection by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright.
At this same time, while Lovecraft physically suffers due to lack of funds, Wright reprints earlier tales of Lovecraft’s, for which the writer would receive no royalties. Lovecraft: The Great Tales provides proof that it’s past time to reassess the editorial caprices of Farnsworth Wright.
A monumental work, Haefele’s investigation into his subject is prodigious. Yet the information flows smoothly from a pen familiar with the narrative drive needed to move the reader always forward. Never boring. Your mind will focus on Lovecraft and bring back fond memories of your first encounter with this great master of the fantastic.
Haefele’s book will take you over, like Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.
But in a good way.
Proust-like, once again I go back to that small bookstore, with the smell of new books filling the air, and fumble in my pockets for 95 cents, never dreaming that for less than a buck I’m about to embark on a lifelong journey.
Brian Leno pokes merrily along in John D. Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales, and mentions something he found on page 715:
Just finished the “Haunter of the Dark” chapter, which reminded me tomorrow is the anniversary of HPL’s death.
Last paragraph really put the nail into Farnsworth Wright. He may have looked out for some of “his” writers but Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft were not in that category.
(Haefele’s Derleth Mythos book clocked in at number four in the eBook category at 5 this morning. Hate this goddamn time change.)
I told Brian Leno he could do a formal review for Mean Streets of John D. Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales whenever he finishes. But of course, no one will be sitting down and reading that monster of litcrit in an afternoon. So I decided some random updates from Leno, asides in email, might act as a placeholder. He’s got his tablet out as he goes, getting all jiggy and interactive with it:
February 26 2021
Got the Haefele equivalent of Moby Dick this morning. Saw the mail carrier coming, knew what he had, and saw he was having trouble hefting this cornucopia of Lovecraftian goodies. Beautiful book.
I’ve read bits and pieces already and the narration seems as smooth as polished glass.
Wrote Haefele a short note yesterday, thanking him for the kind mentions in his book, thought it only appropriate and good manners.
I did mention to him that I’m amazed at the research and the time that went into his book, and I ain’t blowing smoke trying to impress anyone.
I’ve read a little of Joshi’s Lovecraft bio and was extremely put off by the beginning horseshit. Finding out that Lovecraft’s six times removed grandfather sailed the Mayflower as Captain and settled down as a farmer with his wife telling the neighbors what a small pecker he had does not tell me much about Lovecraft.
(Actually the above story would have caught my interest, and of course I’m exaggerating. But you know what I mean. The Rob Roehm school of biography is not one that engages my attention.)
Right now I’m settling in to the Merritt part of Haefele’s book, and I’m itching to reread old Abraham Merritt — and might even give Dunsany another chance.
This is what I like books to do. Inform me and then compel me to reread stuff I enjoyed years ago, or help me discover new authors.
If I die in the midst of reading a good book I will be disappointed — dear god at least let me finish it before I croak! Got books piled on the floor that I’m just waiting to get into.
Of course Great Tales isn’t going to let me get to those anytime soon, and by then this book will make me add Hodgson, Smith and Lovecraft to the pile.
It just keeps going on. Hopefully I will live long enough to read everything I want to — wouldn’t that be nice?
March 2, later
This must be the place where Merritt took HP for a meal. Players Club, New York. Neat reference from Haefele, pg. 121.
Wonder what kind of cheese Lovecraft had with his crackers?
Interesting piece albeit a bit biased against HPL and his hatred of Red Hook. Cool pictures, though.
As you can see, I’m having fun with Great Tales. I like it, and it is really taking off. I will probably be pestering you with like emails as time goes by, hope you don’t mind.
Anyone who doesn’t find something in this book that catches his fancy is an utter moron and should be cast away from society.
Found this on pg. 205 of LGT. “In one of only a handful of original observations on the fiction of an author he has devoted his life to, S. T. Joshi…”
March 4, later
Didn’t get too much reading done today, but am getting ready to enter Pickman’s studio.
That line about Joshi I quoted earlier was a dandy. Started off almost subtle and then quickly became a sledgehammer blam!
Did get a little reading in. On Dream-Quest right now, not one of my favorite Lovecrafts. Looking forward to Charles Dexter Ward, which, along with Innsmouth, is one of my favorites. Who knows — it’s entirely possible that Haefele might get me to reread Dream-Quest.
On page 421 Haefele writes that Farnsworth Wright considered himself a “connoisseur of sonnets.” While Wright was rejecting some of Lovecraft’s poetry (and others) he was busy publishing some of his own (sonnets or not I don’t know) under the name Francis Hard.
When I read of Wright’s rejections I get irritated all over again at his blind eye to some really great stuff. I don’t remember reading any of Wright’s poetry, but I’ve read at least one of his stories and, trust me, the only thing about the story I can remember is that I can’t remember anything about it. Must have been really bad.
(Frank Owen, the guy who wrote Chinese stories for Weird Tales, also wrote poetry under the pseudonym Hung Long Tom. So we got a Francis “Hard” and Tom who is “Hung Long.” Didn’t Wright ever notice how his editorial policies were, at times, hurting readership and just plain dumb?)
Just some reflection LGT sparked.
Just starting on the Hazel Heald section, close to page 600. Just wrapped up the Howard chapter and the bit on Whitehead.
Really, really enjoyed the Howard section. Nice to see Haefele tackle the myth that all was sugar between HP and REH.
Lovecraft is flat busted, has to move and tie in with an aunt to rent some digs, and here we have Howard selling multiple stories of all flavors to different pulps — and some jackasses try to tell me that Lovecraft wasn’t perhaps a bit bitter about that?
Of course more going on there, but it did my soul good.
No doubt big ticket, because Ed Gobbett was a big time collector, so open your wallets if you want in on the sale of his pulps and other treasures.
But who knows, you might get lucky — and if you’re satisfied with a catalog Adventure House offers a full-color look-behind-the-scenes for $20ish. Later a PDF version will be available gratis.
While his trove contained tons of pulps, I always think of his library as Robert E. Howard-centric. He had more than one copy of REH’s first book from 1937, the posthumous A Gent from Bear Creek. He tracked down the wood-pulp mags where REH saw print in his lifetime.
Gobbett was even in on my first big splash into the Howardian litcrit pond, when the essay “Conan vs. Conantics” showed up in the zine REH: Two-Gun Raconteur in 1976. The next issue saw me grappling with L. Sprague de Camp in the letters column, plus a very few other people chipped in. Gobbett sided with me.
Without looking it up, back then I believe Ed was going by the name Dale Gobbett, but no question it was the same Gobbett.
In memoriam, then, for a guy who had my back.
Remember back in 2012 when a bunch of us heard the name Jack Benny and “wireless hero” during a screening of Roadhouse Nights from 1930? Only problem was that Jackson wasn’t supposed to be on the radio before 1932.
But still, the reference remained inexplicable.
Curiosity here at Up and Down These Mean Streets never sleeps (it has nothing, however, against profound napping), so when The Virtual Jack Benny Convention streamed a few weekends back we sent in our Jack Benny Research Team to ask the tough questions. I even caught some of the action. The interview with Dennis Devine — son of Andy Devine — was especially interesting (he does a great voice impression of The Duke).
The answer showed up afterwards on the Facebook page for the International Jack Benny Fan Club.
Zach Eastman put it out there and got responses from Don M. Yowp and Hope Sears. Let’s quote Yowp:
Hello, all. Zach sent me a note asking if I had any clue about a Ben Hecht script reference to Jack Benny as “The Wireless Hero.”
I did (not a lot) of digging and it would appear Hecht was referring to Jack Binns. He was nicknamed “The Wireless Hero” in 1909. He was the wireless operator on the Steamship Republic that was hit by another ship. He stuck at the wireless for 48 hours, guiding rescue ships and saving the lives of the passengers. That made him a celebrity for many years.
Yeah, I’m satisfied that’s the answer. Obviously none of us movie-goers a century later had heard of Binns, so our minds tricked us into subbing in “Benny” in his place.
Pretty cool, though. Got to love history. And now I know Jack Binns, Wireless Hero.