Raymond Chandler

Famous for writing Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, the American crime Novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler, was born July 23, 1888 in Chicago Illinois. He spent his early years in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, living with his mother and father near his cousins and his aunt (his mother’s sister) and uncle. Chandler’s father, an alcoholic civil engineer who worked for the railway, abandoned the family. To obtain the best possible education for Ray, his mother, originally from Ireland, moved them to the area of Upper Norwood in the London Borough of Croydon, England in 1900. Another uncle, a successful lawyer in Waterford, Ireland, supported them while they lived with Chandler’s maternal grandmother. Raymond was a first cousin to the actor Max Adrian, a founder member of the Royal Shakespeare Company; Max’s mother Mabel was a sister of Florence Thornton. Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College, London (a public school whose alumni include the authors P. G. Wodehouse and C. S. Forester). He spent some of his childhood summers in Waterford with his mother’s family. He did not go to university, instead spending time in Paris and Munich improving his foreign language skills. In 1907, he was naturalized as a British subject in order to take the civil service examination, which he passed. He then took an Admiralty job, and published his first poem.

Chandler disliked the servility of the civil service and resigned, to the consternation of his family, and became a reporter for the Daily Express and the Bristol Western Gazette newspapers. He was unsuccessful as a journalist, but he published reviews and continued writing romantic poetry. An encounter with the slightly older Richard Barham Middleton is said to have influenced him into postponing his career as writer. “I met… also a young, bearded, and sad-eyed man called Richard Middleton. … Shortly afterwards he committed suicide in Antwerp, a suicide of despair, I should say. The incident made a great impression on me, because Middleton struck me as having far more talent than I was ever likely to possess; and if he couldn’t make a go of it, it wasn’t very likely that I could. In 1912, he returned to America, visiting his aunt and uncle before settling in San Francisco where he took a correspondence course in bookkeeping, finishing ahead of schedule. His mother joined him there in late 1912. They moved to Los Angeles in 1913, where he strung tennis rackets, picked fruit. He found steady employment with the Los Angeles Creamery.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He saw combat in the trenches in France with the Gordon Highlanders and was undergoing flight training in the fledgling Royal Air Force (RAF) when the war ended. After the armistice, he returned to Los Angeles by way of Canada, and soon began a love affair with Pearl Eugenie (“Cissy”) Pascal, a married woman 18 years his senior and the stepmother of Gordon Pascal, with whom Chandler had enlisted. Cissy amicably divorced her husband, Julian, in 1920, but Chandler’s mother disapproved of the relationship and refused to sanction the marriage. For the next four years Chandler supported both his mother and Cissy. After the death of Florence Chandler on September 26, 1923, he was free to marry Cissy. They were married on February 6, 1924. Having begun in 1922 as a bookkeeper and auditor, Chandler was by 1931 a highly paid vice president of the Dabney Oil Syndicate, but his alcoholism, absenteeism, promiscuity with female employees, and threatened suicides contributed to his dismissal a year later. Due to his straitened financial circumstances Following his dismissal , Chandler turned to his latent writing talent to earn a living, teaching himself to write pulp fiction by studying the Perry Mason stories of Erle Stanley Gardner. Chandler’s first professional work, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in Black Mask magazine in 1933. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, featuring the detective Philip Marlowe, speaking in the first person.

His second Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940), became the basis for three movie versions adapted by other screenwriters, including the 1944 film Murder My Sweet, which marked the screen debut of the Marlowe character, played by Dick Powell (whose depiction of Marlowe Chandler reportedly applauded). Literary success and film adaptations led to a demand for Chandler himself as a screenwriter. He and Billy Wilder co-wrote Double Indemnity (1944), based on James M. Cain’s novel of the same title. The noir screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Said Wilder, “I would just guide the structure and I would also do a lot of the dialogue, and he (Chandler) would then comprehend and start constructing too.” Wilder acknowledged that the dialogue which makes the film so memorable was largely Chandler’s.

Chandler’s only produced original screenplay was The Blue Dahlia (1946). He had not written a denouement for the script and, according to producer John Houseman, Chandler agreed to complete the script only if drunk, which Houseman agreed to. The script gained Chandler’s second Academy Award nomination for screenplay. Chandler also collaborated on the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), an ironic murder story based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, which he thought implausible. Chandler clashed with Hitchcock to such an extent that they stopped talking. In 1946 the Chandlers moved to La Jolla, California, an affluent coastal neighborhood of San Diego, where Chandler wrote two more Philip Marlowe novels, The Long Goodbye and his last completed work, Playback. The latter was derived from an unproduced courtroom drama screenplay he had written for Universal Studios.

Sadly his wife Cissy Chandler died in 1954, after a long illness. Heartbroken and drunk, Chandler neglected to inter her cremated remains, and they sat for 57 years in a storage locker in the basement of Cypress View Mausoleum. After Cissy’s death, Chandler’s loneliness worsened and he became deppressed ; he returned to drinking alcohol, never quitting it for long, and the quality and quantity of his writing suffered. In 1955, he attempted suicide. Chandler’s personal and professional life were both helped and complicated by the women to whom he was attracted—notably Helga Greene, his literary agent; Jean Fracasse, his secretary; Sonia Orwell (George Orwell’s widow); and Natasha Spender (Stephen Spender’s wife), the last two of whom assumed Chandler to be a repressed homosexual, Chandler regained his U.S. citizenship in 1956.

After a respite in England, he returned to La Jolla. But sadly He died at Scripps Memorial Hospital On March 26, 1959 of pneumonial peripheral vascular shock and prerenal uremia (according to the death certificate) in 1959. Helga Greene inherited Chandler’s $60,000 estate, after prevailing in a 1960 lawsuit filed by Fracasse contesting Chandler’s holographic codicil to his will.  Chandler was Four chapters into writing his eighth novel. This was completed as the novel Poodle Springs by the mystery writer and Chandler admirer Robert B. Parker. In 1989 Parker, also finished a sequel to The Big Sleep entitled Perchance to Dream, which was salted with quotes from the original novel. Chandler’s final Marlowe short story, circa 1957, was entitled “The Pencil”. It later provided the basis of an episode of the HBO miniseries (1983–86), Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, starring Powers Boothe as Marlowe. In 2014, “The Princess and the Pedlar” (1917), a previously unknown comic operetta, with libretto by Chandler and music by Julian Pascal, was also discovered among the uncatalogued holdings of the Library of Congress. The work was never published or produced. It has been dismissed by the Raymond Chandler estate as “no more than… a curiosity.” A small team under the direction of the actor and director Paul Sand is seeking permission to produce the operetta in Los Angeles.

Chandler is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, in San Diego, California and in 2010, a petition was signed to disinter Cissy’s remains and reinter them with Chandler in Mount Hope. After a hearing in September 2010 in San Diego Superior Court, Judge Richard S. Whitney granted the request. and Cissy’s ashes were conveyed from Cypress View to Mount Hope and interred under a new grave marker above Chandler’s, as they had wished. About 100 people attended the ceremony, which included readings by the Rev. Randal Gardner, Powers Boothe, Judith Freeman and Aissa Wayne. The shared gravestone reads, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts”, a quotation from The Big Sleep. Chandler’s original gravestone, placed by Jean Fracasse, is still at the head of his grave; the new one is at the foot.

All but Playback have been made into motion pictures, some several times. In the year before he died, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. As a result Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular literature, and is considered by many to be a founder, along with Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and other Black Mask writers, of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, along with Hammett’s Sam Spade, is considered by some to be synonymous with “private detective,” both having been played on screen by Humphrey Bogart, whom many considered to be the quintessential Marlowe. Some of Chandler’s novels are considered to be important literary works, and three are often considered to be masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949), and The Long Goodbye (1953). The Long Goodbye is praised within an anthology of American crime stories as “arguably the first book since Hammett’s The Glass Key, published more than twenty years earlier, to qualify as a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happened to possess elements of mystery. mMany of his novels have also been adapted for film and Television including The Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely, many starring Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum as hard-bitten detective Philip Marlowe.

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