Re: RARA-AVIS: Race Williams and the KKK

From: George Upper (
Date: 23 May 2001

--- Mark Sullivan <> wrote:

Anyway, your comments about the originality of Daly's hardboiled private eye intrigues me. How original was his creation? I know he beat Hammett to the punch. However, much is made of Hammett's relying on his real experience, that the Continental Agency is a fictionalized version of the Pinkerton Agency. So was there really no real life corollary to what Williams created?

I'm not sure I understand your argument. How does Hammett's relying on his own experience in his writing have anything to do with what Daly did months earlier?
 Certainly, Hammett used his own real-world experience to lend his work an air of realism and authority that CJD never dreamed of having, but I don't see how this could be said to have affected CJD's invention of the character.

And no, there was no real life corollary to what Williams created. I'm assuming that you have not read
"Three Gun Terry," which, by the way, is not meant as dig--few people ever have. But I say that because anyone who reads it would immediately recognize how far from reality it is. It's about as realistic, and reality-based, as, say, Spenser flying to Idaho to invade the private mountain hideaway of a corrupt billionaire. PI's just don't do that stuff--mostly they photograph accident scenes. When's the last time you say "PI involved in shooting" in the local paper? It just doesn't happen.

For that matter, even Hammett's experience as a PI only added color to his work--he never shot anyone as a PI that I know of; in fact, I don't know that he ever drew a gun.

I'm not sure about the Shadow and similar characters chronologically, but I tend to think of them as originating in the late 20s and early 30s. Prior to Daly's "The False Burton Combs," most pulps featured armchair detective types and western stories, although there were some ghost stories and the like coming out.
 I really only know the pulps well where they intersect with CJD's career, I'm afraid.

Finally, while I agree that such characters as Wyatt Earp were greatly exaggerated for their fictional exploits, the fact is that some of those incidents occured. The gunfight at OK Corral didn't much look like it looks in the movies, probably--but it did happen. Earp did kill people with a revolver in his hand--I don't believe that Pinkerton ever did.

In fact, what I remember Pinkerton best for is greatly over-estimating the size of various Confederate armies, thereby feeding the fears of Union leadership.
 He probably did more than any other single person--forgive me, fans of Robert E. Lee--to allow the Confederates to drag the Civil War out for as long as they (I should say we, I suppose; I live in North Carolina) did.


===== George C. Upper III UNC-Greensboro
(336) 393-0013 The city don't know that the city is getting... a show with everything but Yul Brynner

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