Saturday, August 7, 2010

So who is this Chandler guy?

Last week I did a quickie post, on the LIRW blog, about Philip Marlowe. I've heard that name many times while growing up and decided to finally check out some of the books. My local library had Farewell, My Lovely and Lady in the Lake. Marlowe's wit, his tilted way of expression and pace are the points that kept me reading.

Then I thought, who's this Raymond Chandler who wrote this series? I was a surprise by what I found out and the couple of similarities between author and character.

Chandler was born in the U.S.A in 1888. Moved to London with his divorced mother in 1895.
Between 1905-1912 he moves to Paris, then Germany and then back to England In 1908 his poem "The Unknown Love" is published. And between 1905-1912 he worked briefly as a reporter in London and also wrote essays and poetry. (Poetry, in the typical Ode to a Grecian Urn sense, is not a style I would equate with him.) He finally settles in California where some of his jobs are stinging tennis rackets and picking fruit.

The U.S enters World War I and Chandler enlists in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He is sent to fight in France. He is also being trained by the RAF but the armistice cuts it short. After being discharged he took a correspondence course on bookkeeping and got a job with Dabney Oil Syndicate as a bookkeeper and auditor.

1924 brought him to the altar with Cissy Pascal, who was twice divorced and eighteen years his senior. By 1932 he had risen to VP of Dabney Oil Syndicate but is fired a year later for alcholism, and absenteeism. Now out of work he decides to go back to writing and in 1933 his first short story Blackmailers Don't Shoot is published in Black Mask magazine. Things move along and in 1939 The Big Sleep is published. In the next twenty years he writes seven novels, nineteen short stories and seven screenplays; two of which were unproduced. NBC airs "Philip Marlowe" as a 1947 summer replacement and CBS buys the rights to "The Adventures of Philip Marlowe" radio show in 1948.

After Cissy dies in 1954, he begins to drink heavily. (It seems he always had to wrestle with the bottle and his excess drinking shows up as one of Marlowe's traits. "So I got out my office bottle and took the drink and let my self-respect ride it's own race." - The Big Sleep) The years 1955-1958 have him traveling to London, Capri, Naples (where he interviews Lucky Luciano; never published), New York, Arizona, Madrid, and Tangier. He was hospitalized several times for alcholism. He had affairs with four different women, one of which was Helga Greene, his agent, whom he proposed to. (Marlowe was also a lady's man and appreciated the female form. "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." -Farewell, My Lovely )

In March of1959 he went to New York to accept the presidency of Mystery Writers of America but unfortunately on March 26 he dies of pneumonia at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla.

It's kind of sad to see the struggle this man had and how it's reflected in Marlowe. "I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets." - The Big Sleep. I haven't read enough of Chandler's work or of his life to make comparisons between all of his and Marlowe's demons but I have to wonder if Chandler felt he was as honest, loyal and forthright as his character.


  1. Wow! Very interesting. I love that simile!

  2. Although I read mystery, I prefer "cozies" or British Police Procedurals. Never was a hard-boiled-PI mystery reader -- but you make Chandler sound so interesting I will have to check him out. I love "people" history so it was cool to find the aspects of his life in a timeline. Sad, indeed.