|Birth Day:||May 27, 1894|
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Hammett enlisted in the United States Army in 1918 and served in the Motor Ambulance Corps. He was afflicted during that time with the Spanish flu and later contracted tuberculosis. He spent most of his time in the Army as a patient at Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, where he met a nurse, Josephine Dolan, whom he married on July 7, 1921, in San Francisco.
Hammett was first published in 1922 in the magazine The Smart Set. Known for the authenticity and realism of his writing, he drew on his experiences as a Pinkerton operative. Hammett wrote most of his detective fiction while he was living in San Francisco in the 1920s; streets and other locations in San Francisco are frequently mentioned in his stories. He said that "I do take most of my characters from real life." His novels were some of the first to use dialogue that sounded authentic to the era. "I distrust a man that says when. If he's got to be careful not to drink too much, it's because he's not to be trusted when he does".
Because of a disagreement with editor Philip C. Cody about money owed from previous stories, Hammett briefly stopped writing for Black Mask in 1926. He then took a full-time job as an advertisement copywriter for the Albert S. Samuels Co., a San Francisco jeweller. He was wooed back to writing for the Black Mask by Joseph Thompson Shaw who became the new editor in the summer of 1926. Hammett dedicated his first novel, Red Harvest, to Shaw and his second novel, The Dain Curse, to Samuels. Both these novels and his third, The Maltese Falcon, and fourth, The Glass Key, were first serialized in Black Mask before being revised and edited for publication by Alfred A. Knopf. The Maltese Falcon, considered to be his best work, was voted #2 of The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time. by the Mystery Writers of America and is dedicated to his wife Josephine.
For much of 1929 and 1930, he was romantically involved with Nell Martin, a writer of short stories and several novels. He dedicated The Glass Key to her, and in turn, she dedicated her novel Lovers Should Marry to him. In 1931, Hammett embarked on a 30-year romantic relationship with the playwright Lillian Hellman. Though he sporadically continued to work on material, he wrote his final novel in 1934, more than 25 years before his death. The Thin Man is dedicated to Hellman. Why he moved away from fiction is not certain; Hellman speculated in a posthumous collection of Hammett's novels, "I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker." In the 1940s, Hellman and he lived at her farm, Hardscrabble Farm, in Pleasantville, New York.
Hammett devoted much of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong antifascist throughout the 1930s, and in 1937 joined the Communist Party. On May 1, 1935, Hammett joined the League of American Writers (1935-1943), whose members included Lillian Hellman, Alexander Trachtenberg of International Publishers, Frank Folsom, Louis Untermeyer, I. F. Stone, Myra Page, Millen Brand, Clifford Odets, and Arthur Miller. (Members were largely either Communist Party members or fellow travelers.) He suspended his anti-fascist activities when, as a member (and in 1941 president) of the League of American Writers, he served on its Keep America Out of War Committee in January 1940 during the period of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
A the beginning of 1942, he wrote the screenplay of Watch on the Rhine, based on Hellman successful play, which received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). But that year the Oscar went to Casablanca. In early 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett again enlisted in the United States Army. He was a disabled veteran of World War I, a victim of tuberculosis, and a Communist, but he pulled strings to be admitted. However, biographer Diane Johnson suggests that confusion over Hammett's forenames was the reason he was able to re-enlist. He served as an enlisted man in the Aleutian Islands and initially worked on cryptanalysis on the island of Umnak. For fear of his radical tendencies, he was transferred to the Headquarters Company where he edited an Army newspaper entitled The Adakian. In 1943, while still a member of the military, he co-authored The Battle of the Aleutians with Cpl. Robert Colodny, under the direction of an infantry intelligence officer, Major Henry W. Hall. While in the Aleutians, he developed emphysema.
After the war, Hammett returned to political activism, "but he played that role with less fervour than before". He was elected president of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) on June 5, 1946, at a meeting held at the Hotel Diplomat in New York City, and "devoted the largest portion of his working time to CRC activities".
In 1946, a bail fund was created by the CRC "to be used at the discretion of three trustees to gain the release of defendants arrested for political reasons." Those three trustees were Hammett, who was chairman, Robert W. Dunn, and Frederick Vanderbilt Field, "millionaire Communist supporter." On April 3, 1947, the CRC was identified as a Communist front group on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations, as directed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9835.
The CRC's bail fund gained national attention on November 4, 1949, when bail in the amount of "$260,000 in negotiable government bonds" was posted "to free eleven men appealing their convictions under the Smith Act for criminal conspiracy to teach and advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force and violence." On July 2, 1951, their appeals exhausted, four of the convicted men fled rather than surrender themselves to federal agents and begin serving their sentences. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued subpoenas to the trustees of the CRC bail fund in an attempt to learn the whereabouts of the fugitives.
Hammett testified on July 9, 1951, in front of United States District Court Judge Sylvester Ryan, facing questioning by Irving Saypol, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described by Time as "the nation's number-one legal hunter of top Communists". During the hearing, Hammett refused to provide the information the government wanted, specifically the list of contributors to the bail fund, "people who might be sympathetic enough to harbor the fugitives." Instead, on every question regarding the CRC or the bail fund, Hammett declined to answer, citing the Fifth Amendment, refusing to even identify his signature or initials on CRC documents the government had subpoenaed. As soon as his testimony concluded, Hammett was found guilty of contempt of court.
By 1952, Hammett's popularity had declined as result of the hearings. He found himself impoverished due a combination of the cancellation of radio programs, The Adventures of Sam Spade and The Adventures of the Thin Man, and a lien on his income by the Internal Revenue Service for back taxes owed since 1943. Furthermore, his books were no longer in print.
During the 1950s, Hammett was investigated by Congress. He testified on March 26, 1953, before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his own activities, but refused to cooperate with the committee. No official action was taken, but his stand led to him being blacklisted, along with others who were blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism.
Hammett died in Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on January 10, 1961, of lung cancer, diagnosed just two months before.
Hammett's relationship with Lillian Hellman was portrayed in the 1977 film Julia. Jason Robards won an Oscar for his depiction of Hammett, and Jane Fonda was nominated for her portrayal of Lillian Hellman.
Frederic Forrest portrayed Hammett semifictionally as the protagonist in the 1982 film Hammett, based on the novel of the same name by Joe Gores.
Sam Shepard played Hammett in the 1999 Emmy-nominated biographical television film Dash and Lilly along with Judy Davis as Hellman.
In 2011, magazine editor Andrew Gulli found fifteen previously unknown short stories by Dashiell Hammett in the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.
Currently, Dashiell Hammett is 129 years, 0 months and 12 days old. Dashiell Hammett will celebrate 130th birthday on a Monday 27th of May 2024.
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