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Famous Like Me > Writer > H > Dashiell Hammett

Profile of Dashiell Hammett on Famous Like Me

Name: Dashiell Hammett  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 27th May 1894
Place of Birth: St. Mary's County, Maryland, USA
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Dashiell Hammett

"Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people who do it for a reason, not just to provide a corpse; and with means at hand, not with handwrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish."

Raymond Chandler, in The Simple Art of Murder

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of "hard-boiled" detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (The Dain Curse).

Early life

Hammett was born in St. Mary's County in Southern Maryland on the Western Shore of Maryland. His parents were Richard Thomas and Annie Bond Dashiell (the name being an Americanization of the French De Chiel). "Dash" left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before working for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He served as an operative for the Pinkerton Agency from 1915 to 1921, with time off to serve stateside in the Motor Ambulance Corps. However, the agency's role in union strike-breaking eventually disillusioned him. In Butte, Montana, a leading union organizer named Frank Little was viciously murdered. Pinkerton agents were thought to be involved, although the crime was never solved.

During World War I, Hammett joined the American Field Service in France but did not volunteer for dangerous ambulance duty. After entering the U.S. Army, he was assigned to an ambulance company but he contracted tuberculosis and spent the war as a patient in a hospital in America.

After the war, he turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.

His work

His work was published primarily in the pulp magazine Black Mask under the editorship of Joseph Shaw. Hammett's first story published in Black Mask was "The Road Home" under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson in December 1922. The Continental Op was introduced in the October 1923 issue of Black Mask in a story titled "Arson Plus." The Continental Op would eventually appear in 28 stories and two novels. In 1932, he also wrote the comic strip Secret Agent X-9, which was drawn by Alex Raymond.

Many of his books were adapted to film, most notably The Maltese Falcon (the 1941 film version, directed by John Huston). The dialogue in his novels was often incorporated verbatim into the screenplay. He was also asked to doctor scripts for Hollywood, which brought him even more money than his novels; however the situation of a script writer, as described in the essays of Raymond Chandler and in the film Barton Fink, was a source of deep frustration to him.

His own favorite among his novels is said to have been The Glass Key. His most bloody and macabrely humorous work is Red Harvest a story of political corruption and gang war in the town of "Poisonville".

Later years

In 1931, Hammett embarked on a thirty-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. He wrote his final novel in 1934, and devoted much of the rest of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong anti-fascist throughout the 1930s and in 1937 he joined the American Communist Party.

In 1942, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army after the United States entered World War II. Though he was a disabled veteran of WWI, and a victim of tuberculosis, he pulled strings in order to be admitted into service. He spent most of WWII as a sergeant in the Army in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper.

After World War II, Hammett joined the New York Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization that was considered by some to be a communist front. When four communists related to the organization were arrested, Hammett raised money for their bail bond. When the accused fled, he was subpoenaed about their whereabouts, and in 1951, he was imprisoned for 6 months for contempt of court after refusing to provide information to the court.

During the 1950s he was investigated by the Congress of the United States (see McCarthyism). Although he testified to his own activities and was blacklisted, he refused to divulge the identities of American communists.

Hammett died in Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. As a veteran of two World Wars, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


  • Red Harvest (published on February 1, 1929)
  • The Dain Curse (July 19, 1929)
  • The Maltese Falcon (February 14, 1930)
  • The Glass Key (April 24, 1931)
  • The Thin Man (January 8, 1934)
  • The Big Knockover (a collection of short stories)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Dashiell Hammett