RARA-AVIS: RE: Diane Johnson on Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett

From: Vince Emery (vince@emery.com)
Date: 09 Jun 2009

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    Mark Sullivan asked:
    > In your review of Diane Johnson's book about Hammett, you wrote: "If you
    read this, be sure to read Johnson's article about how Hellman interfered with and changed the biography."
    > Do you have a bit more information? What was its title? Where was it
    published? Is it available online?
      My reply:
      Diane Johnson's article "Obsessed" about Hellman's influence over and changes to Johnson's biography "Dashiell Hammett: A Life" appears in the May 1985 issue of Vanity Fair, beginning on page 79. I have not seen "Obsessed" reprinted online.
      Johnson says that she was surprised to find that Hellman had altered her book in ways Johnson was unaware of initially. She also reveals that Hellman rewrote parts of the book when the facts did not support Hellman's viewpoint. Johnson tells the exact parts of the book that Hellman rewrote, and says that she (Johnson) was surprised that reviewers did not notice the shifts in tone of voice between the Hellman text and the Johnson text. I read the parts Johnson pointed out, and was surprised myself.
      Reviewers of the book did comment that Johnson quotes many extracts from Hammett letters and other documents. Apparently, Johnson included so many document quotes because they provided text that Hellman was not willing to revise.
      While we are on the topic of "Dashiell Hammett: A Life," one error.
      On page 38, Johnson gives us the text of a Nov. 5, 1921 help-wanted ad from the San Francisco Examiner. The ad is for a "newspaper advertising salesman." There is no indication that Hammett ever sold advertising (or anything else, for that matter). Hammett *created* advertisements. His letters tell us that ad salesmen pitched him to *buy* ads. So the help-wanted ad Johnson quotes has nothing to do with Hammett.
      Glad to get that off my chest.

    Vince Emery

    Vince Emery Productions Publisher:
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    - LOST STORIES by Dashiell Hammett

    www.emerybooks.com Box 460279, San Francisco, CA 94146 USA vince@emery.com Phone 1.415.337.6000

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