An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland on May 27, 1894 to a family long in the county. After working as a youth to help support his family, he left home in 1914 and worked as a detective before enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War I. His contraction of influenza in 1918 led to tuberculosis, for which Hammett was treated in military hospitals on the west coast.
In one of these hospitals he met and married a nurse, Josephine (Jose) Dolan. Following his discharge in 1921 they moved to San Francisco, where he found work as an advertising copy writer. Soon he began writing fiction for publication, quickly gaining a following for his gritty detective writing in Black Mask magazine. Due to a relapse of tuberculosis, Hammett began living apart from his wife and two children, but continued with his increasingly well-received writing career.
In 1930 Knopf published Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, and his fame as an American author was made. He met Lillian Hellman in 1931, and though both were married at the time, they began a relationship that lasted until Hammett's death. His The Thin Man (1934) is in some sense a roman à clef based on their life together. Following the publication of The Thin Man Hammett's literary production essentially ceased, for reasons still debated.
In the years between 1935 and 1941 Hammett's life was marked by creative false starts, leftist activism, and increasingly severe alcohol abuse. After Pearl Harbor, however, he enlisted in the army and served for most of the war years in Alaska, a time that is generally regarded as one of personal contentment for Hammett, even though his literary work was limited to editing a serviceman's newspaper in the Aleutians.
Upon his discharge from military service in 1945 Hammett returned to New York, where his attempts at resuming a writing career were hampered by political persecution, poor health, and his drinking problem. Following a prison term in 1951 for refusing to answer questions posed by the congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities he lived a retired life, supported by Lillian Hellman and other friends. Dashiell Hammett died at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital on January 10, 1961.
The papers of Dashiell Hammett include manuscripts and personal correspondence, along with a small group of miscellaneous notes. The material dates from the years 1923 to 1974 and has been arranged into two series, I. Works and II. Correspondence.
Included among the manuscripts comprising Series I. are numerous drafts of short stories written between 1923 and the early 1930s, several of which remain unpublished. The Secret Emperor, an unfinished novel present in the series, is written on the versos of discarded manuscript pages of a number of Hammett's short stories. Accompanying The Secret Emperor are plot summaries and descriptions of characters. Tulip, another unfinished novel, dates from about 1952 and is the author's latest known surviving literary effort.
Hammett's 1942 manuscript for the film version of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine is to be found here; it is the draft which was subsequently revised by Hellman for the 1943 film production.
Also present in the series is The Continental Op, a 1974 short story collection edited by Steven Marcus which does not duplicate the contents of the 1945 collection of the same title. The drafts present in the Hammett papers comprise typescripts of Marcus' introduction along with photocopies of pages from earlier published editions of the stories. Galleys and page proofs of this 1974 collection are located in the Lillian Hellman Papers.
Series II. consists, in the main, of letters Hammett wrote to Lillian Hellman between 1935 and 1958 and to Margaret Frohnknecht Kober in the years 1942 to 1951. Many of these letters were written during Hammett's wartime service in Alaska as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army and detail his experiences in and observations of that remote theater of operations. Other letters, some of which are present in facsimile, are addressed to Kermit Bloomgarden, Nancy Bragdon, Jo Hammett, and Herman Shumlin. Carbons of letters to Black Mask and The Forum, both from 1925 or 1926, were recycled by Hammett in typing The Secret Emperor.
Open for research
Gifts and purchase, 1967-1975 (R3521)
Bob Taylor, 2006
Dashiell Hammett Papers--Folder List