Greatest Dead Angelenos #3: Raymond Chandler

Chandler.jpg It was after college I discovered Raymond Chandler and his works. It was quite by accident that I stumbled upon his works during my late night drive from Thousand Oaks to my apartment in the valley. A happy accident in that I fumbled, hit the AM button and found KMDY replaying old radio episodes that included “The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe”. I was hooked. I sought out his novels and pulp fiction. Great stories set in LA of the 30’s and 40’s. I loved the wit and visuals of the dialogues.

“If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I should not have come.”

Our number 3 of the Greatest Dead Angelenos, Raymond Chandler was not born here, but like all of us, chose to make his home here. He arrived in LA with a poetry and journalism background in 1912. He lived in and around the area for nearly the next 40 years, with the exception of a brief stint serving in the Canadian Army during WWI.

Much of what he wrote romanticized the seamy side of LA in the 1930’s and 40’s. He churned out 8 novels, 23 detective stories, 9 non-detective stories and 6 screen plays. Much of done in the film noire genre in Los Angeles locations such as Bay City, Idle Valley and Gray Lake based loosely on Santa Monica, The Valley and Silver Lake.

More on our #3 L.A.’s Greatest Dead Angelenos after the jump.

“Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.”

He was the author that defined the private detective character for generations to follow. Chandler was self taught in the writing of pulp fiction. His essay “The Simple Art of Murder” defines the genre and remains a standard reference in the subject.

I liked his style of writing. He carefully created characters with earthy and natural charms and desires edging on crass but not across the line to outright vulgar. Woven into it was dry humor, wit and dark undertones. The bringing of natural responses and urges added to the realism of his characters. He was, in my opinion, one of the craftiest twisters of words that drew such precise pictures he underscored the emotions of the moment.

“Remember the first rule of gunfighting… “have a gun.””

Chandler is most noted for his “tarnished night” character Phillip Marlowe. Chandler was the first to bring dimension and depth of character to pulp fiction mysteries of the era. As many of his stories were based in LA the first of his pulp fiction was set within LAPD with a character named Officer Sam Delaguerra.

The force at the time was considered corrupt by some, and there was a concern that this good cop being tarnished would further the poor reputation of the LAPD. A new hero, Phillip Marlowe was created. Marlowe was a private detective that could be a good guy and still have faults without tarnishing the reputation of the cities police. Marlowe developed into an unorthodox, mensch at heart, a little tarnished who liked a belt of whiskey, stepping outside the lines “private eye” to get the job done.

“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”

Women, one can’t forget the women in the stories. They became the benchmark femme fatale. They emasculated Marlowe, tempted, taunted and used him to get their way. They were his downfall at first but in the end he figured them out and solved his case.

His colorful descriptions and sexual innuendo are what set him apart from many others of the period in my not so humble opinion. Ok, I’ll cop to it, I appreciated Marlowe being a horn dog that got distracted him from the task at hand. It made him human, it made him vulnerable and that gave his stories depth of character and some realism.

“The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe” radio ran the fall of 1947 on NBC. Then it was picked up by CBS which ran for a year starting the fall of 1948. I found a few clips including this podcast on Old Time Radios “Radio Detective Stories” you can download HERE. The podcast can be right clicked and saved in a folder and played easily as it is in MP3 format.

YouTube also has a few nice clips from his screenplays. A bit old fashioned they still are enjoyable to watch. The dialogue adds to the visuals playing before you. I actually like the dialogues as they are telling a story without blatant sex nor dropping of the “f-bomb” to get our attention.

And now for the movies, starting with a trailer from “The Big Sleep”

A bit from Murder, My Sweet released in 1944.

And finally a clip from 1951’s “Strangers on a Train”.

Quite an interesting tale of a man born in New York, educated in London before finally choosing LA as his home. The last few years of his life were spent in La Jolla and when he died of pneumonia he was also buried there. An amazing man who added to the greatness of Los Angeles and cemented our place in the history of literary talents.

“She entered and stood there with two 45’s…and a gun”

Ending it all with that final bit is also your mystery in a story of whom I consider to be the best of the pulp fiction mystery authors. Now go review the quotes to decipher which of these quotes are really his and which one is part of a joke that is told in the Chandler style of Phillip Marlowe. No prizes, just satisfaction in getting it right.

Follow this link to all of the L.A.’s Greatest Dead Angelenos.

The picture courtesy Wikipedia which has a great article HERE . A great chronology can be found HERE .

6 Replies to “Greatest Dead Angelenos #3: Raymond Chandler”

  1. FYI, Chandler’s work on “Strangers on a Train” was mostly thrown out.

    Chandler buffs also note that he lived at 6520 Drexel Avenue, right next Crescent Heights and Wilshire, when he wrote the “Double Indemnity” script. I’ll go so far as to say that humble little house – which doesn’t look like it’s changed one bit since 1943 – is the birthplace of film noir. Nice little neighborhood to walk around, too.

  2. Huzzah!
    Along with Bradbury and the black-listed Welles, THIS is why I love Los Angeles: dissatisfaction as an engine, lust for the love of hate, staring into this abyss and becoming it. . .

  3. There are lots of great Chandler quotes, including a classic about housewives, knives, and Santa Ana winds, which has weather like today’s square in mind. But the following extended passage from his 1942 novel, THE HIGH WINDOW, is perhaps my favorite. I read it to my urban-studies students to help set the context for a discussion of mid-20th-century urban “renewal” downtown:

    “Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes in the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.

    “In and around the old houses there are flyblown restaurants and Italian fruitstands and cheap apartment houses and little candy stores where you can buy even nastier things than their candy. And there are ratty hotels where nobody except people named Smith and Jones sign the register and where the night clerk is half watchdog and half pander.

    “Out of the apartment houses come women who should be young but have faces like stale beer; men with pulled-down hats and quick eyes that look the street over behind the cupped hand that shields the match flame; worn intellectuals with cigarette coughs and no money in the bank; fly cops with granite faces and unwavering eyes; cokies and coke peddlers; people who like nothing in particular and know it; and once in a while even men who actually go to work. But they come out early, when the wide cracked sidewalks are empty and still have dew on them.”

  4. YO, CA Pete–great bit of reading there.

    When I landed on Hartford–not far from Bunker Hill and all that over-priced bullshit, back when the car commercials were once a week rather than doubled up daily–I managed to be hired to sit on the porch on the Garland mansion across from the Holiday Inn just above 8th Street. (I helped edit a number of books about Los Angeles that were not endorsed by Kevin Starr nor Michael Mike Davis nor had anything to do with the two riots between 1992 and 2000.)

    Between sessions of debauchery that had nothing to do with 18th Street Witmer’s clench, rogue Rampart cops, crack cocaine and street whores who could suck the words out of a place I didn’t know ink could even begin to settle, I managed to appreciate that area that still sits in the shadow of the Mayfair, and can not know anything sort of death the noir-ish vernacular of Mr. Chandler.

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