This month we are happy to introduce the first installment of a series of articles we plan to offer regularly on our website called Authors of the Past, where we hope to introduce you to out-of-print books by excellent writers who now speak only through the printed pages of their books. We hope these installments will be of interest to readers, collectors and booksellers who visit our site, and we welcome your feedback.I have chosen to begin this series with a profile on the author (Janet) Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985)
AUTHORS OF THE PAST :
Taylor Caldwell was born in Manchester, England and in 1906, while still a child, immigrated to the United States (Buffalo, New York) with her family. She had a rather unhappy childhood. Her parents were uninterested in her, and told her it would have been better had she not been born.
Perhaps because she was unhappy, she began writing at a very young age, even before leaving England at the age of six. She wrote plays, music and poetry for her Sunday school class in Buffalo. She married as a teenager and lived in the hills of Kentucky for five years with her first husband and daughter. After their divorce, she returned to Buffalo where she was a court reporter in the New York State department of Labor from 1924 to 1931. There she met Marcus Reback, a customs agent. She married him and had a second daughter. Most of her life as writer was spent at her home in Buffalo, New York.
She is well known for her historical fiction. Dear and Glorious Physician is a well-researched historical novel about the life of Saint Luke, his life as a physician, his doubts of God and religion and the ultimate triumph of his faith. The Earth is the Lord’s (1941) is a fictionalized account of the life of Genghis Khan; A Pillar of Iron (1965), is a fictional biography of Cicero, the senator and orator of ancient Rome.
Another book of Caldwell’s which is a favorite (and difficult to find) is Grandmother and the Priests, a tale about a girl who goes to live with her wealthy old Irish Aunt in England, and is entertained weekly by a group of priests who regularly come to the home as dinner guests and tell wonderful stories at the table. Her works also include mystery (The Late Clara Beame) and stories of families conflicted between love, money and power (such as Melissa and A Prologue to Love).
SURPRISING FACTS ABOUT TAYLOR CALDWELL:
The Romance of Atlantis, published late in her career, was based on her childhood dreams and writings of her life in Atlantis, and was originally written when she was twelve years old.
At one point in her life, she was quite depressed over the loss of her husband of 40 years, Marcus Reback. “I don’t wish to write anymore, only to die”. She was told by several psychics she would go on to write five more books…which she did.
She was considered to be psychic, and saw many psychics and a hypnotist at the encouragement of Jess Stearn. While under hypnosis, she revealed tales of past lives in other lands including England, France, Greece, and South America. Purportedly, it was her subconscious memories of these past lives which supplied all the extremely detailed historical information as she wrote. A book was written about her experience with regression to past lives under hypnosis: The Search for a Soul: Taylor Caldwell’s Psychic Lives by Jess Stearn. (One paperback copy available through our site).
She worked on Dear and Glorious Physician for forty years, traveling to the holy lands and Greece and conducting years of research. Although she wrote much about faith and God, and was raised as a Catholic, she was nearly agnostic for much of her life. It was her “nagging belief” in some form of life after death which inspired much of her writing and led her to agree to experimentation with psychics and a hypnotist. Her book Dialogue with the Devil (1967), comprised of conversations between Lucifer and Michael and weighing good against evil, may be a representation of the conflict in her own mind and heart on this matter.
Taylor Caldwell had two children and was married four times. She died in Greenwich, Connecticut on September 2, 1985.
Her literary awards include the National League of American Pen Woman gold medal (1948), Buffalo Evening News Award (1949), and Grand Prix Chatvain (1950). Her books sold over 30 million copies during her career.
Below is a Taylor Caldwell bibliography:
• DYNASTY OF DEATH, (1938)
• THE EAGLES GATHER (1940)
• TIME NO LONGER (1941)
• THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S (1941)
• THE STRONG CITY (1942)
• THE ARM AND DARKNESS (1943)
• THE TURNBULLS (1943)
• THE FINAL HOUR (1944)
• THE WIDE HOUSE (1945)
• THIS SIDE OF INNOCENCE (1946)
• MELISSA (1948)
• THERE WAS A TIME (1948)
• LET LOVE COME LAST (1949)
• THE BALANCE WHEEL (1951)
• THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1952)
• MAGGIE - HER MARRIAGE (1953)
• NEVER VICTORIOUS, NEVER DEFEATED (1954)
• YOUR SINS AND MINE (1955)
• TENDER VICTORY (1956)
• THE SOUND OF THE THUNDER (1958)
• DEAR AND GLORIOUS PHYSICIAN (1959)
• THE LISTENER (1960)
• A PROLOGUE TO LOVE (1962)
• GRANDMOTHER AND THE PRIESTS (1963)
• THE LATE CLARA BEAME (1964)
• A PILLAR OF IRON (1965)
• WICKED ANGEL (1965)
• DIALOGUES WITH THE DEVIL (1967)
• TESTIMONY OF TWO MEN (1968)
• GREAT LION OF GOD (1970)
• GROWING UP TOUGH (1971)
• CAPTAINS AND KINGS (1972)
• TO LOOK AND PASS (1973)
• GLORY AND THE LIGHTNING (1974)
• THE ROMANCE OF ATLANTIS (1975)
• CEREMONY OF THE INNOCENT, (1976)
• I, JUDAS (1977)
• BRIGHT FLOWS THE RIVER (1978)
• ANSWER AS A MAN (1981)
Pseudonyms: Marcus Holland; Max Reiner
A number of these books are available for purchase here on our website.
Kenneth Lewis Roberts (December 8, 1885 – July 21, 1957)
PHOTO by Harold Stein, NY
One of America’s most popular historical novelists, Kenneth Lewis Roberts was born in Kennebunk, Maine in 1885. He is perhaps best known as the author of Northwest Passage (Doubleday Doran & Co., 1937), an important historical novel set in early New England. He wrote many additional colorful and historically accurate novels, as well as non-fiction books (bibliography appears at end of this article).
He was educated at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York where for two years he was Editor in Chief of The Cornell Widow, a humor magazine. Graduating from Cornell in 1908, he worked as a reporter and columnist for the Boston Post. After serving in World War I as a Military Intelligence Officer, he worked as a correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post, writing on conditions in Europe, the United States and the Orient after the war. He gave up that position in 1928 when he began writing extensively researched historical novels. His first book Arundel, was about the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and was published in 1930. Over the next several years he wrote Lively Lady, Rabble in Arms, and Captain Caution.
At first his novels were not well received by critics, who panned them as weak in plot structure and character development, among other criticisms. But his fortunes turned around when Dartmouth College bestowed an honorary doctorate upon him in 1934. The President of Dartmouth lauded him as the preeminent author of historical novels about early American life, depicting the times with accuracy and giving new insights into the characters and personalities of important figures of the times. Colby College joined in shortly afterwards and also awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
The publication of Northwest Passage (1937) propelled him into the spotlight. Hugely popular, it reinvigorated sales for all of his previous novels as well. Northwest Passage made the best seller list in 1937. A year later Bowdoin College and Middlebury College gave Roberts honorary doctorate degrees. Before his death, Roberts was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his historical novels, particularly for Northwest Passage.
Kenneth Roberts often attributed the positive transformation of his literary reputation to Dartmouth College’s bold recognition of his work. In gratitude for this, when he died most of his manuscripts and papers were given to Baker Library at Dartmouth. This library holds the largest collection of Roberts source material in the world, occupying eighty-nine linear feet of shelf space and includes galley proofs, autographed books, research material, personal diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, memorabilia, and more.
He was a voracious reader, who often made lots of notes and comments in the margins of books as he read (most of these books from his personal library are also installed in the Roberts Collection at Dartmouth’s Baker Library).
Roberts was a man of wide ranging interests and passions. In addition to historical novels, he wrote non-fiction on subjects ranging from immigration to black magic. Later in his life he became deeply interested in “dousing” or “water-witching” and wrote several books on the subject, much to the chagrin of some of his friends and associates, who were not converts to the practice of using a divining rod to locate water. He formed a corporation called Water Unlimited with Henry Gross, a game warden who was gifted at water dousing. He also wrote a book by the same name. Gross and Roberts traveled the world advocating the practice and (often successfully) helping people locate water. Roberts endured quite a bit of mockery and ridicule for this practice at the time.
Books by Kenneth Roberts are still in great demand today, and fine first editions of many of his books command high prices. More importantly, his stories inspired many readers to become avidly interested in American History.
Kenneth Roberts died on July 21, 1957 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
For more information on Kenneth Roberts’ life and books, visit these links:
www.izaak.unh.edu/specoll/mancoll/roberts.htm (University of New Hampshire)
http://ead.dartmouth.edu/html/ml25.html#N10220 (Dartmouth College)
http://www.waterborolibrary.org/maineaut/r.htm#roberts (Waterboro Public Library, Waterboro, Maine)
Europe's Morning After (1921)
Why Europe Leaves Home: A True Account of the Reasons Which Cause Central Europeans to Overrun America (1922)
Sun Hunting: Adventures and observations among the native and migratory tribes of Florida, including the stoical time-killers of Palm Beach, the gentle and gregarious tin-canners of the remote interior, and the vivacious and semi-violent peoples of Miami (1922)
The Collector's Whatnot: A Compendium, Manual, and Syllabus of Information and Advice on All Subjects Appertaining to the Collection of Antiques, Both Ancient and Not So Ancient (1923) authored by Kenneth Roberts and Booth Tarkington using the pen names of Cornelius O. Van Loot, Milton Kilgallen, and Murgatroyd Elphinstone.
Black Magic: An account of its beneficial use in Italy, of its perversion in Bavaria, and of certain tendencies which might necessitate its study in America (1924)
Concentrated New England: A sketch of Calvin Coolidge (1924)
Florida Loafing: An investigation into the peculiar state of affairs which leads residents of 47 states to encourage Spanish architecture in the 48th (1925)
Antiquamania: The collected papers of Professor Milton Kilgallen, F.R.S., of Ugsworth College, elucidating the difficulties in the path of the antique dealer and collector, and presenting various methods of meeting and overcoming them / (1928); written by Roberts and illustrated by Booth Tarkington.
Arundel: A Chronicle of the Province of Maine and of the Secret Expedition Against Quebec (1930), also published as Arundel, Being the Recollections of Steven Nason of Arundel, in the Province of Maine, Attached to the Secret Expedition Led by Colonel Benedict Arnold Against Quebec
Lively Lady: A Chronicle of Arundel, of Privateering, and of the Circular Prison on Dartmoor (1931)
Rabble in Arms: A Chronicle of Arundel and the Burgoyne Invasion (1933)
Captain Caution: A Chronicle of Arundel (1934)
For Authors Only, and Other Gloomy Essays (1935)
Northwest Passage (1937)
It Must be Your Tonsils (1936, with pictures by Paul Galdone)
March to Quebec: Journals of the Members of Arnold's expedition (1938)
Trending into Maine (1938), essays on Maine legends, history, seafaring, food; illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
Oliver Wiswell (1940)
The Kenneth Roberts Reader (1945)
Lydia Bailey (1947)
Don't Say That About Maine! (1948)
I Wanted to Write (1949)
Henry Goss and His Dowsing Rod (1951); Henry Goss was a federal game warden in Maine whose gift of water dousing led to fresh water in Bermuda
The Seventh Sense (1953)
Boon Island (1955/1996), about actual shipwreck in early Maine history
Water Unlimited (1957)
The Battle of Cowpens: The Great Morale Builder (1957)
ROBERT G. NATHAN
There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday. – Robert Nathan
Novelist, poet, musical composer, screenwriter: Robert Nathan was all of these.
Author Robert Nathan is perhaps best known for his book Portrait of Jennie, a haunting romantic fantasy which was made into a 1948 movie produced by David O. Selznick. Selznick became so obsessed with the compelling story that he spent several years and millions of dollars on its production, casting his lover Jennifer Jones in the leading role. The setting for the book is 1930’s New York City, where a talented but starving artist falls in love with a beautiful young woman who seems to come from another time. This ageless book and movie has developed a cult following over the years, and both are in demand to this day. Much of Nathan’s writing has an essence of gentle fantasy and other-worldliness, delving into the mysteries of life.
Several other novels by Robert Nathan were made into films, including The Clock (1945, starring Judy Garland and Robert Walker) and The Bishop’s Wife (made into a 1947 film under the same title and starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven; remade again more recently as The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington). The Clock was a beautiful story in both book and film, filled with suspense and understated romance, as well as a sense of humanity. The Bishop’s Wife has long been a perennial Christmas-time favorite.
Nathan’s book One More Spring (1933) focused on the lives of a group of displaced people living in Central Park during the Great Depression, and how they helped each other cope with their bleak lives. It was made into a film directed by Henry King and released in 1935.
The Enchanted Voyage (1936), a story about the search for a missing soldier, was filmed as Wake Up and dream in 1946.
Nathan wrote prolifically, producing forty novels, two children’s books, two non-fiction books and ten books of poetry in his lifetime. He also wrote screenplays while working in Hollywood for MGM, including The White Cliffs of Dover (1943) and the movie adaptation of his own The Clock.
Born in New York City on January 2, 1894 into a fairly wealthy family, he attended Harvard University, although he never graduated. He did begin writing short stories and poetry while enrolled there, and married his first wife while in his junior year. He soon dropped out of Harvard to support his family with a job in advertising. During this time he wrote his first novel Peter Kindred (1919) which was semi-autobiographical in nature. It didn’t fare well with the critics, but during the 1920’s he wrote seven more novels, including his very successful The Bishop’s Wife. Through his continuing output of well-received novels and anthologies of poetry, he became a highly respected writer during the 1930’s and 40’s.
Nathan had a distinctly musical side. He composed a violin sonata and music for the works of Walt Whitman, A. E. Housman, and Dunkirk (all were performed in New York City). His own poems were set to music by leading composers of that era.
Married seven times, Nathan’s first five marriages ended in divorce. His sixth wife died and in 1970 at the age of 76 he married British actress Anna Lee. The marriage was a happy one for both of them and endured to the end of his life, when he passed away at age 91.
Peter Kindred, 1919
The Puppet Master, 1923
The Fiddler in Barly, 1926
The Woodcutter’s House, 1927
The Bishop’s Wife, 1928
There is Another Heaven, 1929
The Orchard, 1931
One More Spring, 1933
Road of Ages, 1935
The Enchanted Voyage, 1936
Winter in April, 1938
Journey of Tapiola, 1939
Portrait of Jennie, 1940
They Went On Together, 1941
Tapiola’s Brave Regiment, 1941
The Sea-Gull Cry, 1942
But Gently Day, 1943
Mr. Whittle and the Morning Star, 1947
Long After Summer, 1948
The River Journey, 1949
The Innocent Eve, 1951
The Married Look, 1951
The Train in the Meadow, 1953
Sir Henry, 1955
So Love Returns, 1958
The Rancho of the Little Loves, 1956
The Color of the Evening, 1969
Digging the Weans, 1960 (chapbook)
The Wilderness-Stone, 1961
A Star in the Wind, 1962
The Devil With Love, 1963
The Fair, 1964
The Mallott Diaries, 1965
The Elixir, 1971
The Summer Meadows, 1973
Heaven and Hell and the Magas Factor, 1975
The Snowflake and the Starfish, 1959
The Concert, 1940
Journal for Josephine, 1943
Youth Grows Old, 1922
A Cedar Box, 1929
Selected Poems, 1935
A Winter Tide: Sonnets and Poems, 1940
Dunkirk: A Ballad, 1942
Morning in Iowa, 1944
The Darkening Meadow, 1945
The Green Leaf, 1950
The Married Man, 1962
Evening Song: Selected Poems 1950-1973, 1973
Many of Robert Nathan’s books are available on our website!
British author Margery Sharp (1905-1991) had a long and successful career as a writer of both adult and children’s fiction, and several plays. She is perhaps best known for her children’s books, particularly the series which began with The Rescuers (1959), the delightful tales of a family of smart and daring mice which was adapted into an animated movie by Walt Disney. Margery Sharp wrote additional outstanding children’s books—fourteen in all.
In her book Children’s Writers, Margaret Greaves commented: “Only a child who reads well can fully enjoy these books, for their subtlest appeal is that of language itself, a delight in words and the rhythm of words for their own sake. These are books for the connoisseur, and blessedly have no design at all upon the reader except that of entertainment.”
But her novels for adults (26 of them) are magical as well, for Margery seemed to understand the nuances of the nature of mankind and was able to create very honest and human characters in her books. Her stories also have intelligent subtle humor and irony woven throughout.
One of my favorites is The Flowering Thorn (1932), the story of a fashionable young woman who has everything she wants (materially) and is living the “good life” in a London apartment, flitting from party to party and hanging out with her oh-so-gorgeous friends. Because of a brief lull in her enjoyment of these activities, and a set of circumstances which presents itself to her at a vulnerable moment, she impulsively decides to adopt a young boy whose mother has just died.
This sets off a chain of events, starting with the loss of her exclusive apartment (they don’t accept children), eventually leading to her taking a small cottage in the country--all of this to the utter shock and disbelief of her friends and family. Her snooty friends promise to visit her there (which happens only once, with rather disastrous results) and she struggles both inwardly and outwardly over her impetuous and life-altering decision and new circumstances. She really knows nothing about children or life in the country. She is aware of the stigma of being a single woman with a child, a child who many logically assume is her own issue and an illegitimate one at that. In the end, she comes to learn a great deal about life and friendship. The book also passes along some surprising and shrewd insights on what really is important in raising a well-adjusted child.
I haven’t read all of Margery’s books, but I have never read one I haven’t liked! The Foolish Gentlewoman was both humorous and wise; and I thoroughly enjoyed Britannia Mews. Most of these books are out of print but still obtainable at reasonable prices and can be located without too much difficulty. A few of the early ones are harder to find, and her first and exceptionally well written novel Rhododendron Pie is rare indeed.
Margery’s “Rescuer” books for children are listed below:
Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines
Miss Bianca in the Orient
Miss Bianca in the Antarctic
Bernard into Battle
Bernard the Brave
Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid
Additional children’s books are:
Lost at the Fair
The Magical Cockatoo
The Children Next Door
Rhododendron Pie (1930) - First novel, extremely rare
Fanfare for Tin Trumpets (1932)
The Nymph and the Nobleman (1932)
The Flowering Thorn (1934)
Sophy Cassmajor (1934)
Four Gardens (1935)
The Nutmeg Tree (1937)
Harlequin House (1939)
The Stone of Chastity (1940)
Three Companion Pieces (1941)
Cluny Brown (1944)
Britannia Mews (1946)
The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)
Lise Lillywhite (1951)
The Gipsy in the Parlour (1954)
The Eye of Love (1957)
Something Light (1960)
Martha in Paris (1962)
Martha, Eric and George (1964)
The Sun in Scorpio (1965)
In Pious Memory (1967)
The Innocents (1972)
The Lost Chapel Picnic and Other Stories (1973)
The Faithful Servants (1975)
Summer Visits (1977)
Meeting at Night (produced in London, 1934)
Lady in Waiting (produced in New York, 1940; London, 1941)
The Foolish Gentlewoman (produced in London, 1949, 1950)
The Birdcage Room (Play for television, 1954)
Old Scrolls Book Shop stocks books by Margery Sharp whenever we can locate them in clean, solid condition and generally have at least two or three available in collectible condition
WHO IS AYN RAND?By Catherine Petruccione.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian born novelist and philosopher who is most famous for writing The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These two novels are strong tributes to similar themes on the power of the individual and the continuing struggle of creativity and excellence over mediocrity and apathy in society. This theme became a crusade in the wake of Ayn Rand’s writing, with followers forming societies such as The Atlas Society and The Ayn Rand Society, which adopted Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and still exist today (for a definition of Objectivism, visit the website of The Ayn Rand Society at (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_intro
“Who is John Galt?” was a question repeated across the country in the book Atlas Shrugged, referring to the enigmatic male hero, whose identity is discovered only after an extended quest by Dagny Taggart, the heroine of the novel. Galt, an ingenious inventor whose work was thwarted by the greed and dysfunction of a bureaucratic society that designed to reward mediocrity, begins taking actions from behind the scenes to prove a point: that if the creative accomplishments of self-motivated individuals are removed from the world, the world falls apart.
Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957 and has seemed timely to me no matter the era in which I have read it, which says a lot for the novel. For instance, the last straw for the character John Galt is when he is foiled in his effort to produce his design for a revolutionary new motor powered by static electricity, in spite of the fact (or because) it has the potential to completely replace the gas combustion engine and has the power to change the world. Sounds more relevant than ever, doesn’t it?
The Fountainhead was Rand’s first big success (published in 1943) and was made into a decently adapted (screenplay was done by Ayn herself) Warner Brothers film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal in 1949. The main character here is Howard Roark, a brilliant architect who refuses to compromise his ideals, even when it costs him money and fame. Roark’s work is always under threat from “second-handers,” the ubiquitous others who are either afraid or jealously unwilling to recognize the quality in the creations of their fellow men. Dominique, the female heroine who becomes involved with Roark, abandons her once dearly held ideals of individualism but eventually returns to them to find fulfillment and happiness.
Because of her Russian roots and exposure to the effects of Communism, Ayn Rand understandably worshiped the ideas of capitalism and self-reliance. Although readers may not agree with all of Ayn Rand’s philosophies, there are large and undeniable truths in her writing. Her books are well worth reading and will probably be valued, read and re-read for generations to come.
Selected Published Works by Ayn Rand
(from The Atlas Society website: http://www.atlassociety.org/cth--1672-AynRandBibliography.aspx
We the Living. New York: Macmillan, 1936. Second edition, New York: New American Library, 1959. 60th anniversary edition, New York: Dutton, 1995. Paperback edition, New York: New American Library, 1996.
The Fountainhead. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943. 50th anniversary edition, New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1993. Paperback edition, New York: Signet, 1996.
Anthem. Los Angeles: Pamphleteers, Inc., 1946. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1953. 50th anniversary edition, New York: Dutton, 1996. Paperback edition, New York: Plume, 1999.
Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957. 35th anniversary edition, New York: Dutton, 1992. Paperback, New York: Signet, 1996.
The Early Ayn Rand: A Selection from Her Unpublished Fiction. Ed. by Leonard Peikoff. New York: New American Library, 1984. Includes short stories, plays, and selected excerpts of material deleted from her novels.
Night of January 16th. New York: World Publishing, 1968. Paperback edition, New York: Plume, 1987.
Ideal. (Published in The Early Ayn Rand.)
Think Twice. (Published in The Early Ayn Rand.)
Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man’s values, it has to be earned.
~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
SAMUEL DASHIELL HAMMETT:
“Three times I have been mistaken for a Prohibition agent, but never had any trouble clearing myself.”
– Dashiell Hammett, from the “Memoirs of a Private Detective” (Smart Set magazine, March 1923)
Hammett was a hard-drinking, genius of a writer who left us with five outstanding works of detective fiction novels, many short stories, and the hard-boiled detective character who has been much imitated. No other writer has quite been able to conjure up the likes of Sam Spade, the Continental Op or Nick Charles. Hammett is widely regarded as the finest mystery writer of all time.
He grew up in Baltimore and Philadelphia, quitting school when he was 13 years old to take a series of odd jobs. From 1915 to1921 he worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, first as a clerk and later as an operative. The experience and knowledge gained from this job influenced much of his fiction. He enlisted in the army twice; once in 1918 when he joined the Ambulance Corps and subsequently came down with the Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis, and yet again in 1942 although he was by then in his mid-forties. Despite this service he was brought on trial during the Joe McCarthy era for being suspected of un-American activities, and sent to prison for refusing to answer questions put to him during the hearings.
Early in his life he met Josephine Annis Dolan, a nurse at the Public Health Service hospital in Tacoma, Washington while he was being treated for his near-fatal case of Tuberculosis. They married and had two children, daughters Josephine and Mary Jane. He was a loving father, but he had philandering ways. When the family was later separated by Health Services (because of his diseased lungs), Dashiell and his wife were allowed to see each other only on weekends, and the marriage faltered. He soon had a romance with Nell Martin, a writer, which lasted about a year. He dedicated the book The Glass Key to her.
Then in 1930 along came Lillian Hellman. She was a script reader for MGM, also determined to be a writer, and when she and Hammett met there was instant attraction. They began a love affair which last 30 years until his death in 1961. She was the essence of the character Nora in his book The Thin Man, and if you are familiar at all with the intellect and charm of that character, you will understand why Lillian won Hammett’s heart. Independent, witty and wise, she was able to weather all of the pinnacles and deep valleys of their shared life.
Hammett’s first published story “The Parthian Shot” appeared in Smart Set magazine in October 1922. But his breakthrough began when his detective stories began being published in Black Mask, a popular mystery and crime fiction magazine. His invention of the character the Continental Op, a small fat man in his forties who went by no other name as he worked for the Continental Detective Agency, set him on his course to become a renowned crime fiction writer.
All of his novels were published by Alfred A. Knopf. The first was Red Harvest, published on February 1, 1929. Originally titled Poisonville by the author, it was changed before publication at the behest of the publisher. This was followed by The Dain Curse (July 19, 1929). Both of these books featured the Continental Op as his detective character. On February 14, 1930, Knopf published The Maltese Falcon, which was to become Hammett’s most famous work. The book was a huge success, and was made into a film three times by Warner Brothers. In 1931 it was titled The Maltese Falcon but also known as Dangerous Female, directed by Roy Del Ruth, and starred Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. In 1936 it was filmed as Satan Met a Lady, directed by William Dieterle and starring Warren William and Bette Davis; finally in 1941 and again under the original title it was directed by John Huston and the cast included Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre. This last film has of course become a classic, and the first edition of The Maltese Falcon is one of the most coveted and elusive items in modern first edition collecting. The Glass Key (April 24, 1931) and The Thin Man (January 8, 1934) were also published by Alfred A. Knopf. All of these novels are considered collectable. The Thin Man was a great success and spawned six movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. These movies were extremely popular in their time and are still a real pleasure to watch today. The intelligent, humorous banter between Nick and Nora seems more fresh and sparkling than any conversation between couples in modern movies. Although several volumes of his short stories were subsequently published, The Thin Man was Hammett’s last novel.
He had experienced a period of marked success and popularity, money, notoriety and friends, but his health went into decline and he longed to do a different kind of writing. His political leanings had caused him great difficulties. Toward the end of his life he was living as a recluse in a small cottage in Katonah, New York. He was not eating, barely even drinking his martini each day. He was still loved and cared for by Lillian, but he became almost catatonic, although toward the end of his life he was working on Tulip, a novel that remained unfinished.
In the introduction to the book Dashiell Hammett: Five Complete Novels, Lillian Hellman wrote:
“I have been asked many times over the years why he did not write another novel after The Thin Man. I do not know. I think, but I only think, I know a few of the reasons: he wanted to do a new kind of work; he was sick for many of those years and getting sicker. But he kept his work, and his plans for work, in angry privacy and even I would not have been answered if I had ever asked, and maybe because I never asked is why I was with him until the last day of his life...But five novels is no small amount to leave behind and I hope he would have been pleased that they are all together again.”
Hammett died of lung cancer in New York at Lenox Hill Hospital on January 10, 1961. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.