Biography of Famous American Author Dashiell Hammett

About the famous American author Dashiell Hammett, biography and history of the detective story writer

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961). Dashiell Hammett is considered the originator of the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction. His heroes are tough private eyes who are friends of neither the police nor the criminal, but have the respect of both. His stories and novels are so filled with violence that some critics have questioned their realism.

But Hammett's fiction was based on experiences that he himself had had while working as a Pinkerton detective for 8 years. He found being a detective exciting, a welcome change from the other occupations (newsboy, messenger boy, railroad laborer) he had tried after dropping out of school at 13. He worked on a number of famous cases, including those involving "Fatty" Arbuckle and Nicky Arnstein. He earned his 1st promotion by tracking down a man who stole a Ferris wheel.

When W.W. I began, Hammett entered the Army and was assigned to the Motor Ambulance Corps. He contracted tuberculosis, and while it ruined his health, it turned him into a writer. As he was recovering from his illness, he began writing detective stories. Many of those early short stories (and subsequently almost all of his novels) were published in Black Mask, a famous pulp magazine of that era.

Although having his works published in Black Mask was gratifying, the money he received was limited. He ate the cheapest food--sometimes none at all. Often he lived on nothing but coffee, soup, and cigarettes. All the while, he was still battling tuberculosis.

When Hammett's 1st novel, Red Harvest, was published in 1929, it marked the beginning of realistic, hardhitting detective fiction in America. And when he wrote The Maltese Falcon, he reached the zenith of both critical and public acclaim. His hero in The Maltese Falcon was Sam Spade, the cool and crafty private eye who solved impossible cases, guzzled booze, and bedded down with all his women.

Hammett himself soon gained renown as a ladies' man, spending much of his money entertaining women. He was an attractive man, slender and 6' tall, with streaks of gray through his dark hair and a narrow moustache.

Hammett's political views were left-wing, and he became involved in several antifascist causes. He supported the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.

In 1951, when he was subpoenaed to testify in a case involving 4 communists, Hammett refused to answer questions identifying the contributors to the defendants' bail-bond fund. He was held in contempt of court, sentenced to 6 months in prison and served 5 of them.

Hammett usually wrote late at night and worked into the dawn. Often when he felt he was at a crucial point in the book, he would write for 36 consecutive hours.

He often said that he had no particular admiration for his own detective novels, but that he did respect the works of Hemingway and Faulkner--the "straight" novelists.

Hammett's doctors diagnosed cancer of the lungs in November of 1960. Two months later Hammett was dead.

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