Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler
Born July 23, 1888(1888-07-23)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died March 26, 1959(1959-03-26) (aged 70)
La Jolla, California, United States
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American (1888–1907, 1956–59)
British (1907–56)
Period 1933–59
Genres crime fiction, suspense, hardboiled

Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959) was an American novelist and screenwriter.

In 1932, at age forty-five, Raymond Chandler decided to become a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression. His first short story, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot," was published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep was published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler published just seven novels during his lifetime. In the year before he died, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died on March 26, 1959 in La Jolla California.[1]

Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American hard-boiled detective fiction, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction, especially in the style of the writing and the attitudes characteristic of the genre. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, is considered by some to be synonymous with "private detective," both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe.

Some of Chandler's novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered by to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as "arguably the first book since Hammett's The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery".[2]


Early Life

Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1888, but spent his early years in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, living with his mother and father near his cousins, aunt (mother's sister) and uncle. After they were abandoned by his father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for the railway, and to obtain the best possible education for Ray, his mother moved them to London, England in 1900[3] Another uncle, a successful Quaker lawyer in Waterford, supported them,[4] while they lived with his maternal grandmother. Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College, London (a public school whose alumni also include the authors P.G. Wodehouse[4] and C. S. Forester). He spent some of his childhood summers in Waterford with his maternal family. [5] He did not attend university, instead spending time in Paris and Munich improving his foreign language skills. In 1907, he was naturalised as a British subject in order to take the civil service examination, which he passed, and then took an Admiralty job, lasting just over a year. His first poem was published during that time.[6] Chandler regained his US citizenship in 1956 [6]).

Chandler disliked the servility of the civil service and resigned, to the consternation of his family, becoming a reporter for the Daily Express and the Bristol Western Gazette newspapers. He was an unsuccessful journalist, published reviews and continued writing romantic poetry. Accounting for that time he said, "Of course in those days as now there were… clever young men who made a decent living as freelances for the numerous literary weeklies…" but "…I was distinctly not a clever young man. Nor was I at all a happy young man."[7]

In 1912, he borrowed money from his Waterford uncle, who expected it to be repaid with interest, and returned to America, visiting his aunt and uncle before settling in San Francisco for a time, where he took a correspondence bookkeeping course, finished ahead of schedule, and where his mother joined him in late 1912. Eventually they moved to Los Angeles in 1913. [8] Along the way he strung tennis rackets, picked fruit and endured a time of scrimping and saving. Once in Los Angeles he found steady employment with The Los Angeles Creamery, both in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. In 1917, when the US entered World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, saw combat in the trenches in France with the Gordon Highlanders, and was undergoing flight training in the fledgling Royal Air Force (RAF) when the war ended.[4]

After the armistice, he returned to Los Angeles by way of Canada, and soon began a love affair with Cissy Pascal, a married woman 18 years his senior, and the step-mother of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had enlisted.[4] Cissy amicably divorced her husband Julian in 1920, but Chandler's mother disapproved of the relationship and refused to sanction the marriage. For four years Chandler supported both his mother and Cissy. When Florence Chandler died on September 26, 1923, Raymond was free to marry Cissy, and did so on February 6, 1924.[4][9] By 1931, he had become a highly paid vice-president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but a year later, his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employees and threatened suicides[4] contributed to his being fired.

His life as a writer

Due to his meager financial circumstances during the Depression, Chandler turned to his latent writing talent to earn a living, teaching himself to write pulp fiction by deconstructing the Perry Mason story formula of Earle Stanley Gardner. Chandler's first professional work, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot", was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933; his first novel, The Big Sleep was published in 1939, featuring his famous Phillip Marlowe detective character speaking in the first person.

In 1950, Chandler described in a letter to his English publisher, Hamish Hamilton, why he began reading pulp magazines and later wrote for them:

"Wandering up and down the Pacific Coast in an automobile I began to read pulp magazines, because they were cheap enough to throw away and because I never had at any time any taste for the kind of thing which is known as women's magazines. This was in the great days of the Black Mask (if I may call them great days) and it struck me that some of the writing was pretty forceful and honest, even though it had its crude aspect. I decided that this might be a good way to try to learn to write fiction and get paid a small amount of money at the same time. I spent five months over an 18,000 word novelette and sold it for $180. After that I never looked back, although I had a good many uneasy periods looking forward."[10]

His second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940), ultimately became the basis for three movie versions adapted by other screenwriters, including Murder My Sweet(1944) which marked the screen debut of the Marlowe character, played by Dick Powell, (whom Chandler applauded in the role as a true depiction of his vision). Literary success and film adaptations led to demand for Chandler himself as a screenwriter: He and Billy Wilder, an odd and discordant couple of personalities, co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944), based upon James M. Cain's novel of the same name. The stylish, disturbing prototype noir screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.

His only original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). Chandler had not written a denouement for the script, and according to producer John Houseman, Chandler agreed to complete the script only if drunk, which Houseman agreed to. The script gained Chandler's second Academy Award nomination for screenplay.

Chandler collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) – an ironic fantasy murder story based on Patricia Highsmith's novel – which he thought implausible. Chandler clashed with Hitchcock to such an extent that they stopped talking, especially after Hitchock heard that Chandler had referred to him as "that fat bastard." Hitchock reportedly made a big show of throwing Chandler's two draft screenplays into the studio trash can while holding his nose, even though Chandler's name retains the lead screenwriting credit along with Czenzi Ormonde.

In 1946 the Chandlers moved to La Jolla, California, an affluent coastal neighborhood of San Diego, where Chandler wrote the final two Phillip Marlowe novels, "The Long Goodbye" and his last completed work, "Playback", derived from an unproduced courtroom drama screenplay he'd written for Universal.

Four chapters of a novel, unfinished at his death, were transformed into a final "Chandler" Phillip Marlowe book, "Poodle Springs" by mystery writer and Chandler admirer Robert B. Parker, author of the "Spenser" series, in 1989. Parker shares the authorship with Chandler, and subsequently wrote his own Marlowe sequel to "The Big Sleep" entitled "Perchance to Dream" which was salted with quotes from the original novel.

Chandler's final Marlowe short story, circa 1957, was entitled "The Pencil," which later provided the basis of an episode for an HBO mini-series entitled "Phillip Marlowe, Private Detective" starring Powers Boothe as Marlowe (1983–86).

Later life and death

In 1954 Pearl Eugenie (Cissy) Chandler died after a long illness. Heartbroken and drunk, he neglected to inter Cissy's cremated remains, and they sat for 57 years in a storage locker in the basement of Cypress View Mausoleum.

After Cissy's death Ray's loneliness worsened his natural propensity for clinical depression; he returned to drink, never quitting it for long, and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered.[4] In 1955, he attempted suicide; literary scholars documented that suicide attempt. In The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, Judith Freeman says it was "a cry for help", given that he called the police beforehand, saying he planned to kill himself. Chandler's personal and professional life were both helped and complicated by the women to whom he was attracted — notably Helga Greene (his literary agent); Jean Fracasse (his secretary); Sonia Orwell (George Orwell's widow); and Natasha Spender (Stephen Spender's wife), the latter two of whom assumed Chandler to be a repressed homosexual.[11]

After a respite in England, he returned to La Jolla. He died at Scripps Memorial Hospital of pneumonial peripheral vascular shock and prerenal uremia (according to the death certificate) in 1959. Helga Greene inherited the Chandler estate, after prevailing in a 1960 lawsuit filed by Fracasse contesting Ray's holographic codicil to his will.

Raymond Chandler is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego, California. As Frank MacShane noted in his biography, The Life of Raymond Chandler. Chandler wished to be cremated and placed next to Cissy in Cypress View Mausoleum, but instead was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery by the County of San Diego Public Administrator's Office because he left an estate of $60,000 with no will (intestate) apparently found.

In a September 2010 San Diego Superior Court hearing an order was issued by Judge Richard S. Whitney, for the disinterment of Cissy's remains, and reinterment with Chandler in Mt. Hope.

On Valentine's Day (February 14) 2011, Cissy ashes were conveyed from Cypress View to Mt. Hope, and interred under a new grave marker above Chandler's, as they had wished.[12] About one hundred people attended the ceremony, which included readings by the Rev. Randal Gardner, Powers Boothe, Judith Freeman and Aissa Wayne. This was the result of a legal pleading prepared by Chandler historian Loren Latker, with the assistance of attorney Aissa Wayne (daughter of John Wayne). The shared gravestone reads "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts," a quote from "The Big Sleep." A video of the ceremony is available at http://raymondchandler.info/reunite. Chandler's original gravestone, placed by Jean Fracasse, is still at the head of Ray's grave, while the new one is at the foot.

Chandler's thoughts on pulp fiction

In his introduction to Trouble Is My Business (1950), a collection of twelve of his short stories, Chandler provided insight on the formula for the detective story and how the pulp magazines differed from previous detective stories:

"The emotional basis of the standard detective story was and had always been that murder will out and justice will be done. Its technical basis was the relative insignificance of everything except the final denouement. What led up to that was more or less passage work. The denouement would justify everything. The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story on the other hand was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing. We who tried to write it had the same point of view as the film makers. When I first went to Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn't make a successful motion picture from a mystery story, because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery."

Chandler also described the struggle that the writers of pulp fiction had in following the formula demanded by the editors of the pulp magazines:

"As I look back on my stories it would be absurd if I did not wish they had been better. But if they had been much better they would not have been published. If the formula had been a little less rigid, more of the writing of that time might have survived. Some of us tried pretty hard to break out of the formula, but we usually got caught and sent back. To exceed the limits of a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer who is not a hopeless hack."[13]

Critical reception

Critics and writers from W. H. Auden to Evelyn Waugh to Ian Fleming, greatly admired Chandler's prose.[4] In a radio discussion with Chandler, Fleming said that the former offered “some of the finest dialogue written in any prose today.”[14] Although his swift-moving, hardboiled style was inspired mostly by Dashiell Hammett, his sharp and lyrical similes are original: "The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel;" "He had a heart as big as one of Mae West's hips;" "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts;" "I went back to the seasteps and moved down them as cautiously as a cat on a wet floor." Chandler's writing redefined the private eye fiction genre, led to the coining of the adjective 'Chandleresque', and inevitably became the subject of parody and pastiche. Yet the detective Philip Marlowe is not a stereotypical tough guy, but a complex, sometimes sentimental man with few friends who attended university, speaks some Spanish and sometimes admires Mexicans, and is a student of chess and classical music. He will refuse a prospective client’s money if he is ethically unsatisfied with a job.

The high regard in which Chandler is generally held today is in contrast to the critical sniping that stung the author during his lifetime. In a March 1942 letter to Mrs. Blanche Knopf, published in Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, Chandler complained, "The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time."

Although his work enjoys general acclaim today, Chandler has been criticized for certain aspects of his work; in an interview Washington Post reviewer Patrick Anderson described his plots as "rambling at best and incoherent at worst", and chastised his treatment of black, female, and homosexual characters, calling him a "rather nasty man at times". Anderson nevertheless praised Chandler as "probably the most lyrical of the major crime writers."[15]

Chandler’s short stories and novels are evocatively written, conveying the time, place and ambiance of Los Angeles and environs in the 1930s and 1940s.[4] The places are real, if pseudonymous: Bay City is Santa Monica, Gray Lake is Silver Lake, and Idle Valley a synthesis of rich San Fernando Valley communities.

Raymond Chandler was also a perceptive critic of pulp fiction; his essay "The Simple Art of Murder" is the standard reference work in the field.

All but one of his novels have been cinematically adapted. Arguably the most notable is The Big Sleep (1946), by Howard Hawks, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. William Faulkner was a co-writer on the screenplay. Raymond Chandler's few screen writing efforts and the cinematic adaptation of his novels proved stylistically and thematically influential upon the American film noir genre.

Praise for Chandler's work

“Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.” –Ross Macdonald[16]

“Raymond Chandler invented a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since.” –Paul Auster[16]

“The prose rises to heights of unselfconscious eloquence, and we realize with a jolt of excitement that we are in the presence of not a mere action-tale teller, but a stylist, a writer with a vision…The reader is captivated by Chandler’s seductive prose.” –Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books[16]

“Chandler is one of my favorite writers. His books bear rereading every few years. The novels are a perfect snapshot of an American past, and yet the ruined romanticism of the voice is as fresh as if they were written yesterday.” –Jonathan Lethem[16]

“Chandler seems to have invented our post-war dream lives–the tough but tender hero, the dangerous blonde, the rain-washed sidewalks, and the roar of the traffic (and the ocean) in the distance…Chandler is the classic lonely romantic outsider for our times, and American literature, as well as English, would be the poorer for his absence.” –Pico Iyer[16]




  1. ^ Chandler, Raymond (1950). Trouble is My Business, Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc., 1988 pp. "About the Author"
  2. ^ Pronzini, Bill and Adrian, Jack (editors)(1995). Hard-Boiled, An Anthology of American Crime Stories, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1995, p.169.
  3. ^ 1900 US Census, Plattsmouth, Nebraska
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Iyer, Pico (December 6, 2007). "The Knight of Sunset Boulevard". The New York Review of Books: pp. 31–33. 
  5. ^ http://waterfordireland.tripod.com/raymond_chandler.htm
  6. ^ a b [1]
  7. ^ Raymond Chandler: Raymond Chandler Speaking (Dorothy Gardiner and Kathrine Sorley Wakker, ed.) p. 24 (Houghton Mifflin Company (1962) ISBN 978-0520208353.
  8. ^ Florence arrives 12/1912 - Passenger Manifest SS Merion
  9. ^ Raymond Chandler's Shamus Town Timeline and Residences pages using official government sources (death certificate, census, military & civil - city & phone directories)
  10. ^ Chandler, Raymond, forward by Powell, Lawrence Clark (1969). The Raymond Chandler Omnibus, Borzoi Book a division of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1969 p. vii
  11. ^ http://www.nysun.com/arts/man-who-gave-us-marlowe/65983/
  12. ^ http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/sep/08/ashes-chandlers-wife-join-him-eternity/
  13. ^ Chandler, Raymond (1950). Trouble is My Business, Vintage Books a division of Random House, Inc., 1988 pp. viii-ix
  14. ^ Chandler/Fleming discussion, BBC Home Service, 10th July 1958
  15. ^ An Interview With Patrick Anderson
  16. ^ a b c d e "Collected Stories by Raymond Chandler - Praise". randomhouse.com. http://www.randomhouse.com/book/26020/collected-stories-by-raymond-chandler. Retrieved 2011-05-14. 

Further reading

  • Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorley Walker (eds.; 1962), Raymond Chandler Speaking. Boston: Houghton Miflin.
  • Bruccoli, Matthew J. (ed.; 1973). Chandler Before Marlowe: Raymond Chandler's Early Prose and Poetry, 1908-1912. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
  • Corman, Catherine (2009). Daylight Noir: Raymond Chandler's Imagined City Milan: Charta.
  • MacShane, Frank (1976). The Life of Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: E.P. Dutton.
  • MacShane, Frank (1976). The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler & English Summer: A Gothic Romance. N.Y.: The Ecco Press.
  • Chandler, Raymond (1976). The Blue Dahlia (screenplay). Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Gross, Mirian (1977). The World of Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: A & W Publishers.
  • MacShane, Frank (ed.) (1981). Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: Columbia University Press.
  • Chandler, Raymond (1985). Raymond Chandler's Unknown Thriller (unfilmed screenplay for Playback). N.Y.: The Mysterious Press.
  • Hiney, Tom (1999). Raymond Chandler. N.Y.: Grove Press. ISBN 0-80213-637-0
  • Hiney, Tom and MacShane, Frank (eds.; 2000). The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction, 1909-1959. N.Y.: Atlantic Monthly Press.
  • Ward, Elizabeth and Alain Silver (1987). Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-351-9
  • Howe, Alexander N. "The Detective and the Analyst: Truth, Knowledge, and Psychoanalysis in the Hard-Boiled Fiction of Raymond Chandler." CLUES: A Journal of Detection 24.4 (Summer 2006): 15-29.
  • Howe, Alexander N. (2008). "It Didn't Mean Anything: A Psychoanalytic Reading of American Detective Fiction". North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 0786434546
  • Moss, Robert (2002) "Raymond Chandler A Literary Reference" New York Carrol & Graf
  • Freeman, Judith (2007). The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. N.Y.:Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-375-42351-2 (0-375-42351-6)

External links

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