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One of the originators of hard-boiled detective fiction, along with Dashiell Hammett, author Raymond Chandler and his gumshoe protagonist, Philip Marlowe, inspired countless future writers and generations of filmmakers. Born in Chicago, Chandler was raised in England by relatives after he and his mother were abandoned by his alcoholic father. After returning to the U.S and seeing horrific action as a soldier in World War I, he became a high-paid oil executive before publishing his first short story in Black Mask magazine. At the age of 50, he wrote his first novel, The Big Sleep, which was followed by such titles as Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye, each of which sold better than the one before. With success came the attentions of Hollywood, and although Chandler garnered Oscar nominations for his work on the noir classics, "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "The Blue Dahlia" (1946), his time with the studios was far from fulfilling. Over the years, Marlowe was portrayed on screen by several of Hollywood's most popular leading men, among them Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep" (1946), Elliot Gould in "The Long Goodbye" (1973) and Robert Mitchum in "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975). Though...
One of the originators of hard-boiled detective fiction, along with Dashiell Hammett, author Raymond Chandler and his gumshoe protagonist, Philip Marlowe, inspired countless future writers and generations of filmmakers. Born in Chicago, Chandler was raised in England by relatives after he and his mother were abandoned by his alcoholic father. After returning to the U.S and seeing horrific action as a soldier in World War I, he became a high-paid oil executive before publishing his first short story in Black Mask magazine. At the age of 50, he wrote his first novel, The Big Sleep, which was followed by such titles as Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye, each of which sold better than the one before. With success came the attentions of Hollywood, and although Chandler garnered Oscar nominations for his work on the noir classics, "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "The Blue Dahlia" (1946), his time with the studios was far from fulfilling. Over the years, Marlowe was portrayed on screen by several of Hollywood's most popular leading men, among them Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep" (1946), Elliot Gould in "The Long Goodbye" (1973) and Robert Mitchum in "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975). Though underappreciated during his lifetime, Chandler would later be revered for transforming the crime fiction genre into a prism through which the author eloquently cast his sardonic eye upon the state of America, its culture and people.
Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, IL on July 23, 1888 to Florence Thornton and Maurice Chandler. Shortly after he was born, the small family moved to Plattsmouth, NE to be near members of Florence's extended Irish-immigrant family. It was also around this time that Chandler's father, a railway engineer and chronic alcoholic, abandoned his wife and young son. Having no means with which to support herself and Raymond, Florence chose to return to her native Ireland in 1895. Her inglorious arrival earned Florence only the scorn of her judgmental family members, with whom she stayed for a time in Waterford, Ireland before taking her son to South London, where a well-to-do uncle of Raymond's begrudgingly agreed to take them in. Life in the U.K. was just another of many early culture shocks for the young boy, who excelled academically in his studies at Dulwich College, a revered public boys school. After leaving Dulwich and spending some time abroad in Europe, Chandler achieved British citizenship and began work as a civil servant - at the insistence of his patriarchal uncle - for the British Admiralty in 1907. The tedium of the work was unappealing to Chandler, however, and before long he quit in order to take up a brief, unsuccessful career as a journalist, book critic and poet. Feeling that his opportunities in London were increasingly limited, Chandler soon began looking back across the Atlantic as he contemplated his future.
After borrowing money from his unimpressed uncle, Chandler returned to the United States in 1912. Having nearly exhausted what little funds he had arrived with, he took on a series of odd jobs as he made his was across the country, visiting his Nebraskan relatives briefly on his way to San Francisco. By 1913, Chandler - along with Florence, who had joined him in San Francisco - had settled in Los Angeles and was working as a bookkeeper for a local creamery. After the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, the 28-year-old Chandler's sense of duty prompted him to enlist as a private in the Canadian Army. In 1917, he was sent to fight on the frontlines of France as a Canadian Gordon Highlander. Although he had just begun pilot's training with Britain's Royal Air Corps, Chandler was discharged when the war ended in 1919. Eventually, he returned to Los Angeles and his mother, who was by then living with Julian and Pearl Eugenie "Cissy" Pascal, the father and mother-in-law of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had joined the Canadian Army years earlier.
Before long, Chandler found himself entangled in an illicit affair with Cissy - a woman 18 years his senior - and after her amicable divorce from Julian, she and Chandler became a couple, much to the dismay of Florence, who strongly disapproved of the woman. So strong was Florence's opposition to the relationship that Chandler could not bring himself to marry Cissy until after his mother had passed away in 1923. In the meantime, Chandler had made a sudden and unexpected rise through the ranks at the Dabney Oil Syndicate. Initially hired as an accountant, a combination of serendipitous factors led to his being promoted to the executive level in a few short years. Although Chandler and his wife were living an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle on his oil executive's salary, it all came crashing to an end when an affair with a co-worker, excessive absenteeism, a suicide attempt and Chandler's drinking - which had escalated over the years - culminated in his being fired from Dabney in 1932.
Despite being unemployed in the midst of the Great Depression and having few prospects, Chandler's frugality in times of wealth served him well and allowed him time to regroup. At Cissy's insistence, he quit drinking and the couple enjoyed leisurely automobile trips up and down the California coastline. It was during this time that Chandler began picking up copies of the seminal detective magazine, Black Mask. Never a fan of the classical literature he had been exposed to during his Dulwich days, Chandler found himself drawn to the rough-hewn, more realistic writing he discovered in the "pulps." With his earlier writing aspirations reinvigorated, he began copying the style of the more popular detective stories and eventually drummed up the confidence to submit one to Black Mask in 1933. Although the plot of "Blackmailers Don't Shoot" was nearly indecipherable, the tale, featuring a detective named Mallory, showed enough promise for the magazine's editors to invite the neophyte writer to make further contributions. Honing his craft over the next several years, Chandler climbed the ranks of the Black Mask contributors and eventually went to work for its upstart competitor, Dime Detective by the late-1930s.
To learn the format of the detective genre, Chandler became as a student of the works of Ellery Queen author Erle Stanley Gardner. Creatively, however, he was most inspired by fellow Black Mask contributor, Dashiell Hammett, who Chandler admired for bringing a brutal realism and believable motivations to the murder-mystery, elements he felt had been sorely missing, especially in the works of their British predecessors. At last confident enough to take on the task, Chandler published his first full-length novel, The Big Sleep in 1939. He was 50 years old. With this book, Chandler unveiled his greatest literary creation and what would become the legacy of his work as an artist in the character of private detective Philip Marlowe. Characterized by Chandler as a tarnished knight in a decaying modern world, Marlowe was neither saintly nor irredeemably bad. He could be crass, rude - even a bit lecherous at times - but in all things, according to Chandler, he was a man of honor. Featuring a wide cast of characters that included the wealthy Sternwood sisters, various blackmailers and pornographers, The Big Sleep was marked by a labyrinthine plot and its lyrically evocative depiction of Los Angeles. And while not universally embraced by critics of the day, the book sold well enough to allow Chandler to leave the world of the pulps behind forever.
As he had done with his first novel, and would continue to do throughout the remainder of his writing career, Chandler "cannibalized" a number of his Black Mask short stories for his second book, 1940's Farewell, My Lovely. Continuing with the first-person narrative he had established in The Big Sleep, Chandler further sharpened Marlowe's acerbic wit in an amazing array of deftly deployed metaphors. Also of note were his increasingly detailed and atmospheric descriptions of Southern California, peppered with exceptionally literate allusions to events and trends of the day. In the minds of many literary scholars in the decades that followed, Farewell, My Lovely was Chandler's hardboiled masterpiece. At the time, however, sales of the book were unimpressive and Chandler, in need of continued income, quickly moved on to write his third novel, The High Window, which was published in 1942. It, too, failed to set the bestseller list on fire. Hollywood, though, had taken notice of the writer and, for better or worse, began to offer Chandler work at the studios.
Following the publication of 1943's The Lady in the Lake, which actually became a best-seller, Chandler was invited to work with venerated director Billy Wilder on an adaptation of fellow pulp writer James M. Cain's "Double Indemnity" (1944). It was a rocky collaboration, to say the least, with Chandler threatening to quit at one point during the constant tug of war between himself and the demanding director. Initially optimistic about the opportunity, Chandler quickly soured on Hollywood, in spite of the fact that "Double Indemnity" provided him with a generous weekly salary from Paramount, in addition to earning him an Academy Award nomination for his first screenplay. Nonetheless, the temperamental novelist's uneasy relationship with the movie business continued. Although a pair of earlier films had been loosely based on two of his books, Farewell, My Lovely was given a more faithful adaptation in "Murder, My Sweet" (1944), featuring popular song and dance man Dick Powell playing against type in the role of Marlowe.
Over the next few years, the money rolled in for Chandler, although the unsatisfying nature of the work at the studios, combined with easy access to liquor and women did little to improve his always depressive emotional state or his marriage to the increasingly frail Cissy. While working on his one and only original script for "The Blue Dahlia" (1946), Chandler was struck by a debilitating case of writer's block and told the film's producer, John Houseman, that he could only complete the script's climax if he wrote it while drunk. Houseman obliged with a case of scotch, and shortly thereafter, Chandler delivered the completed script. "The Blue Dahlia," a classic noir starring screen idol Alan Ladd as a returning G.I. wrongly accused of murdering his unfaithful wife, earned Chandler yet another Oscar nomination. Regardless, the writer was more disillusioned with Hollywood than ever before. Having definitively embodied Hammett's private eye Sam Spade five years earlier, Humphrey Bogart tried Marlowe on for size in a cinematic rendition of "The Big Sleep" (1946) for director Howard Hawks. Boasting the scripting talents of Leigh Brackett and fellow literary refugee William Faulkner and co-starring Bogart's off-screen love, Lauren Bacall, "The Big Sleep" offered Chandler relatively easy money, working as a consultant. The film performed well, but by that time he had had enough.
No longer enamored with Los Angeles in general, Chandler and Cissy moved south to the upscale seaside village of La Jolla in 1946, where, for the most part, he would remain for the rest of his days. Money had long since ceased to be a problem for Chandler and his wife, but the easing of financial concerns did little to reinvigorate him creatively. In addition to other windfalls, he was receiving royalties for a popular radio serial in 1947, which starred actor Van Heflin as the voice of Marlowe. That same year, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer adapted "Lady in the Lake" (1947) with a first-person point of view gimmick that literally told the story through the jaded eyes of Marlowe (Robert Montgomery), who was only seen in a few brief shots that showed him reflected in a mirror. Six years after the publication of his last novel, Chandler and Marlowe returned with The Little Sister in 1949. And although the book sold extremely well, it would be considered one of his weakest, least inspired works over the decades that followed.
Struggling to stay off the drink and reignite his passion for his work, Chandler lived a relatively sedate and secluded life with Cissy in their La Jolla home. This meant that in order for director Alfred Hitchcock to retain the writer's services on the script for his psychological thriller, "Strangers on a Train" (1951), he was often forced to make the trek south to meet with Chandler. Chandler's working relationship with Hitchcock proved even more turbulent than the one with Wilder. At one point Chandler called Hitchcock, "that fat bastard," within the director's earshot. Consequently, it was not long before Hitchcock had hired writers to completely rework Chandler's initial drafts, leaving little of his work in the final script. Despite the fact that both Hitchcock and Chandler wanted the novelist's name taken off the screenplay credits, the studio wanted the name recognition and insisted it remain. Regardless of the rocky road that led to the completed film, "Strangers on a Train" would be considered an undeniable classic of the genre.
Begun before his encounter with Hitchcock, Chandler completed his next novel two years later. His first full-length book not to be cannibalized from earlier short stories, 1953's The Long Goodbye was by far Chandler's most personal Marlowe tale. Expanding on the social commentary he had touched upon in The Little Sister, the lengthy, meditative novel was a pointed, yet elegant, an indictment of the rich and the detrimental effects of wealth on the country and its less privileged classes. As the title implied,The Long Goodbye also served as a melancholy rumination on a life, not always well-lived, as it neared its final act. The book - which later won an Edgar Award and was considered by many literary scholars to be the author's very best work - sold exceptionally well upon publication, but for Chandler, there was little to celebrate. For years his elderly wife, Cissy, had been suffering a rapid decline in health and had been virtually bed-ridden throughout his writing of The Long Goodbye. In December of 1954, Cissy Chandler died at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla from what was described as fibrosis of the lungs. She was 84 years old.
Without his wife of 30 years, Chandler was utterly distraught. He began drinking once again, more heavily than ever before, and sank deeper and deeper into depression. Things came to head when he attempted what was deemed a botched suicide attempt in 1955. In spite of his steadily declining physical and emotional condition, Chandler grew close to a number of women - all of them far younger than he - in the years that followed Cissy's death. One of them was Helen Greene, Chandler's international representative and close friend who he later became engaged to after they spent time together during an extended tour in London. Although his excessive drinking continued unabated, Chandler somehow managed to complete another novel. Reworked from an unproduced screenplay he had written a decade earlier, Playback, published in 1958, was a far cry from the soul-searching triumph of his previous effort. The following year, he began work on another novel, titled Poodle Springs. Although Chandler only finished the first four chapters, the book would be completed three decades later by poplar crime novelist and Chandler devotee, Robert B. Parker. Chandler died in La Jolla on March 23, 1959 due to the effects of pneumonia - a condition clearly brought on by his drinking and general self-neglect. It was both sad and telling that a mere 17 people attended his modest funeral service. Author Raymond Chandler was dead at the age of 70.
Although he had been a commercially popular author, even at the time of his death literary academics were unsure as to where Chandler placed in the pantheon of American writers. Was he merely a talented pulp stylist, or an insightful commentator on America who simply used the genre as a medium through which to explore broader themes? One thing was for certain - Hollywood was not done with Raymond Chandler or Philip Marlowe. Shortly before his passing, Chandler had helped promote the first television series based on his work, with actor Philip Carey in the role of "Philip Marlowe" (ABC, 1959-1960). A decade later, Chandler's rumpled knight reappeared in the feature film, "Marlowe" (1969), starring James Garner in the title role and boasting a brief appearance by martial arts legend, Bruce Lee. A few years later, iconoclastic director Robert Altman adapted "The Long Goodbye" (1973), with Elliot Gould as a contemporary Marlowe, who Altman directed as a man out of time in 1970s Hollywood. Though reviled by many Chandler purists for the extensive liberties in plot and character taken by screenwriter Leigh Brackett and Altman, the film went on to enjoy a solid reputation as an intelligent satire of the noir genre.
Although a little long in the tooth at this point, classic Hollywood tough guy Robert Mitchum convincingly portrayed the gumshoe in a pair of cinematic interpretations of Chandler's early novels. Mitchum first played Marlowe with the appropriately pulpy, period version of "Farewell, My Lovely" (1975), co-starring Charlotte Rampling, Harry Dean Stanton and Jack O'Halloran as the obsessed, love-struck giant, Moose Malloy. Less successful was the contemporary U.K.-set "The Big Sleep" (1978), in which Mitchum looked more suited to the role of dying patriarch General Sternwood than the private eye. Back on series television, Powers Boothe was perfectly cast as Chandler's detective in the critically-acclaimed "Philip Marlowe, Private Eye" (HBO, 1983-86), which made brilliant use of the writer's body of short fiction work, first published in the pages of Black Mask and
By Bryce Coleman
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