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Dashiell Hammett
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Dashiell Hammett

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).

Life

Hammett was born in St. Mary's County on the Eastern 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 becoming an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

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 was published primarily in the pulp magazine Black Mask under the editorship of Joseph Shaw. 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.

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 tuburculosis, 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 subpoened 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 US Congress. Although he testified to his own activities and was blacklisted, he refused to divulge the identities of American communists.

As a veteran of two World Wars, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Works