RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Hammett bio

From: Mark Coggins ( coggins@immortalgame.com)
Date: 23 Jul 2000

> The Diane Johnson biog is probably the least good---according to Willliam F.
> Nolan, anyway, who published a long list of corrections to all the factual
> errors.
> Most recent, and fullest, is Joan Mellen's Hellman and Hammett, which ought
> to be available via Amazon.
> Get the Richard Layman if you see it (Shadowman) , and also look out for
> Nolan's A Life At The Edge. I also recall reading somewhere that Nolan was
> planning an updated biography (maybe in the preface to the Nightmare Town
> collection?) so that might me worth waiting for.

The one to get is the Layman book. Nolan didn't have access to all the information that Layman had (later), so his suffers only from having been written first. I'd love to read an updated edition if Nolan does one.

Layman, by the way, was editor of "The New Black Mask" series, along with Matthew Bruccoli, the guy who did the descriptive bibliographies on Hammett and Chandler.

The problem with the Johnson bio is (as explained in the Mellen book) that it was the biography "authorized" by Lillian Hellman, who both suppressed and manufactured information about Hammett's life. Hellman also tried to block Layman from writing his book.

As for the Mellen book itself, it's got lots of good stuff about Hammett after he stopped writing (for himself, at least--one major thesis of the book is he helped with a lot of Hellman's stuff), but it isn't very satisfying for readers who want to know more about Hammett during his time in San Francisco, etc.

BTW, an interesting tidbit I stumbled across while reading a biography on one of my favorite photographers--Edward Weston--is that Hammett posed for Weston for a portrait commissioned by one of the studios Hammett worked for in Hollywood. Weston took the pictures but never printed any because Hammett was completely blitzed during the shoot. I'd love to get access to the Weston archives to see if the negatives still exist.


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