January 28, 2013

Some facts about Raymond Chandler

Detective novelist Raymond Chandler, creator of the Philip Marlowe mysteries (such as The Big Sleep) is likely the most important literary figure in Los Angeles history. 
45 Calibrations of Raymond Chandler 
Peter Straub

1. Not long before his death, he wrote, "I have lived my life on the edge of nothing." 
2. Those who may speak honestly of the ambiguous but striking privileges granted by a life conducted on the edge of nothing tend to have in common that they have been faced early on with certain kinds of decisively formative experiences. Although it is never mentioned in considerations of his work, when he was six years old and living with his divorced mother in Nebraska, his alcoholic father, already more an absence than a presence, one day disappeared entirely. Also never mentioned is that in 1918 he was sent into trench warfare as a twenty-year-old sergeant in the Canadian Army and several times led his platoon into direct machine-gun fire. After that, he said later, "nothing is ever the same again." ...
23. He understood that he was both romantic and sentimental. 
24. After his first four books, he thought Philip Marlow was romantic and sentimental, too, and decided that on the whole Marlowe was probably too good to be satisfied with working as a private detective. ...

If Chandler wasn't so romantic and sentimental, he would have figured that out faster. The Tough Guy with a Heart of Gold might be the single most winning formula in novels and movies.
27. He was unfailingly generous to young writers. ...
31. He was ripely endowed with the capacities for both love and scorn, sometimes for the same thing. One reason he liked Los Angeles was that he thought it had the personality of a paper cup. ...
34. He invented a first-person voice remarkable for its sharpness and accuracy of observation, its attention to musical cadence, purity of syntax and unobtrusive rightness of word order, a metaphorical richness often consciously self-parodic, its finely adjusted speed of movement, sureness of touch and its capacity to remain internally consistent and true to itself over a great emotional range. This voice proved to be unimaginably influential during his lifetime and continues to be so now. Real earned authority sometimes has that effect.  

I'd be interested in just how fast Chandler became influential. You can see him being parodied in Bugs Bunny cartoons within a few years of his first novel.
35. None of his imitators, not even the most accomplished, ever came close to surpassing or even matching him. 
36. He wrote his English agent, Helga Green, that "to accept a mediocre form and make literature out of it is something of an accomplishment.... We are not always nice people, but essentially we have an ideal that transcends ourselves." 
37. Chandler devoted his working life to the demonstration of a principle that should be obvious, that genre writing declares itself first as writing and only secondarily as generic. Because this principle was not always obvious even to himself, he felt defensive about being a mystery writer....

40. He got better as he went along. Every writer presently alive wishes to do the same. 
41. Okay. Playback, his last book, really was pretty bad. On the other hand, after it he began a book in which Palm Springs was renamed "Poodle Springs."

Chandler didn't start writing for money until he lost his job as an oil company executive at 45, and published his first epochal first novel, The Big Sleep, in his early 50s. I think he peaked in his lyrical vein with his second novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Many, however, prefer his last major novel, The Long Goodbye, from his mid-60s, although that's less lyrical and more of a social novel (for example, this 1953 novel has four significant Mexican-American characters, including what may be the first example of the dignified Chicano police lieutenant whom Edward James Olmos has made a career out of playing).

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is the point of becoming successful at that age?

Most men want fame and success for only a few reasons: to attract beautiful young women to frolic with and to engage in status competition with other men. Neither of these seems particularly interesting after 45.

Another way to put it: You would have far more fun with success at 25 than you would at 45 than you would at 65.

Success after 45 barely seems worth it.

Anonymous said...

I love Chandler's work but I think it is very dated at this point. All his characters are either smart or at least extremely interesting.

As things stand now, this really makes hard the suspension of disbelief necessary to properly enjoy a novel.

If Chandler's work were to be updated for the 21st century, half the characters would have to be exchanged for TV-lobotomized dullards.

Anonymous said...

"Most men want fame and success for only a few reasons: to attract beautiful young women to frolic with and to engage in status competition with other men. Neither of these seems particularly interesting after 45."

If you're successful in the entertainment field at 45, you get plenty of sexual access to young women. Sorry your testosterone levels have failed you so early. Many middleagers don't have your problem.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know whether there's any [reasonably brief] genealogical connection between Raymond Chandler and the Chandler clan of LA Times fame [Harry/Norman/Dorothy/etc]?

I always thought that that was a bizarre coincidence...

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that Galton was born in 1822 and was in his later 60s by the time he published "Natural Inheritance." Indeed, the book "The Wisdom of Crowds" begins with an anecdote about a major conceptual breakthrough that Galton came up with when he was 85.

Chandler didn't start writing for money until he lost his job as an oil company executive at 45, and published his first epochal first novel, The Big Sleep, in his early 50s. I think he peaked in his lyrical vein with his second novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Many, however, prefer his last major novel, The Long Goodbye, from his mid-60s...

Somebody around here toying with the idea of a mid-life crisis?

***************
***************
***************

Sorry your testosterone levels have failed you so early. Many middleagers don't have your problem.

This.

Your life's mentor here is Anthony Quinn - the dude sired

1 child in the 1930s
3 children in the 1940s
1 child in the 1950s
3 children in the 1960s
2 children in the 1970s
0* children in the 1980s
2 children in the 1990s



*Well, everybody experiences a cold spell, from time to time...

Steve Sailer said...

Kevin Sorbo likes to tell the story of when he was playing Hercules on TV and an octogenarian Anthony Quinn was Zeus.

Quinn would tell him, "Kevin, you are the son I've never had." Sorbo felt really touched by this until he found out Quinn had eight sons.

Maybe that gift for telling people what they wanted to hear is how he got that many?

Anonymous said...

The Robert Parker 'Poodle Springs' books are both pretty good. Parker was always really good at paraphrasing the old Gold Medal Book writers.

Harry Baldwin said...

Anonymous said...What is the point of becoming successful at that age?

I take it you're in your twenties, so as a 60-year-old I'll treat your question seriously. Let's see, what's the point . . . How about to feel that your life is not totally over, that you still have something to contribute, to experience the joy of newly discovered talent and the public recognition thereof. Even if you've achieved success in some field, by mid-life it may have become a rut. To successfully change course can be rejuvenating. At some point a man should realize there's more to life than fantasizing about nailing hot chicks.

Truth said...

"Success after 45 barely seems worth it."

Except that you...don't have to live on social security? And check receipts at Wal-Mart?

Carol said...

Is it the Big Sleep book that had so much rain in it? or the movie? I didn't recognize my home town, but then found out 1938 had been an incredibly rainy year in LA. That seemed to affect Cain's novels too.

Kevin Michael Grace said...

Chandler had an affair with George Orwell's (professional) widow, Sonia. Best nickname ever: she was known (by her maiden name) to the Horizon crowd as "Buttocks" Brownell.

Edward Cefala said...

Both Cain and Chandler, top dogs in the field if you ask me, were July babies. I am ranging into tabloidland but I always wonder what a person's response to 'is there anything to astrology?' is.

Robert Lomas found some correlation between success and those delivered during the sunniest months.

Icepick said...

What is the point of becoming successful at that age?

Maybe he was just looking for a paycheck, but found the right niche and became extremely successful.

Also, finding success at that age could be about creating security for one's old age.

ricpic said...

The sentimentality that Chandler expressed through Philip Marlowe simply wouldn't fly in today's America. The reality of our situation is too brutal to permit it.

Modern Abraham said...


Quinn would tell him, "Kevin, you are the son I've never had." Sorbo felt really touched by this until he found out Quinn had eight sons.

Maybe that gift for telling people what they wanted to hear is how he got that many?


It's the whole Mediterranean rug-merchant personality:

* tell people what they want to hear, make allies and friends
* over-promise with the idea you'll get extensions, mark-downs, or can wheedle out of it entirely
* damn if the trains ever run on time!

A couple months back David Brooks was saying how disgraceful it was U.S. was not ratifying some U.N. treaty on accommodations for the disabled. Some lame scenario of disabled veterans vacationing in Europe, being forced to drag their paralyzed bodies up the dirty steps of a German train station. Never occurs to them that all these 3rd world nations that eagerly ratify such treaties have no intention of fulfilling them, more like will demand subsidies later to implement them at 1st World's fisc. As if Spain and Greece, which are descending to 14th Century barter-level economies, will be spending money for more wheelchair ramps....

Anyway, though, Quinn was really good in that series. Brash, funny, lusty, hot-tempered, childish- perfect Zeus.

gwood said...

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

the Steveosphere Review of Books said...

When I was in junior high I had this recurring mistake of mixing up R. Chandler & R. Carver. Turns out they're very different.

Norville Rogers said...

That guy who wrote "The King's Speech" seemed pretty happy. He apparently felt successful.

(Confession: I did not read the entire post)

Anonymous said...

"What's the point of all this wealth and fame unless it gets you naked women?"
-Howard Stern

Anonymous said...

This is the same Peter Straub who hooked up with (the already wealthy) Stephen King in the early 80s, right? And I think both of them had toiled for years before getting their big break. Chandler's always been a sort of icon to hard-working popular writers who didn't receive academia's lavish succor right after the publication of their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th decently-selling books.

Henry Canaday said...

“Fred Fox was pouring himself a slug of rye when the door of his office opened and in hopped old Mrs. Rabbit. She was a white rabbit with pink eyes, and she wore a shawl on her head, and gold-rimmed spectacles.

“'I want you to find Daphne,' she said tearfully, and she handed Fred Fox a snapshot of a white rabbit with pink eyes that looked to him like a picture of every other white rabbit with pink eyes.

“'When did she hop the hutch,' asked Fred Fox."

- James Thurber, “The White Rabbit Caper”

alonzo portfolio said...

Success after 45 barely seems worth it

This blog is a strange location for that statement. In 1980 I'd have agreed, but nowadays one would be grateful to be able to escape blacks and the young when one still has 40 years to go.

Anonymous said...

"Most men want fame and success for only a few reasons: to attract beautiful young women to frolic with and to engage in status competition with other men. Neither of these seems particularly interesting after 45."

One comment and the thread deteriorates.

Anonymous said...

"What is the point of becoming successful at that age?"
Some of us pass on genes and some pass on memes. The memes will eventually fizzle out, but then, so will the genes...when the sun becomes a red giant.

It is kind of ironic,at least to this non-Californian, that Chandler, the depressed (repressed gay?) alcoholic, rose to become the portraitist of early LA, the city where, lirterally, tomorrow will always be a sunny day. I can't overcome the conflict between Sun and Noir. The Brady Bunch is the image that is burned into my imagination.

Anonymous said...

Marlowe was not really a tough guy, though. Mostly he gets the crap beaten out of him. Compared to the other iconic fictional detective, Sam Spade, Marlowe is a brooding weakling.

Chandler in his lifetime was actually more popular in England than he was in the US. He had a resurgence here in the 1970s that sort of "re-made" his reputation.

Steve Sailer said...

"He had a resurgence here in the 1970s that sort of "re-made" his reputation."

As opposed to all the other Chandler resurgences, such as the vast popularity of The Big Lebowski in about 2000 to 2005.

Anonymous said...

Well I am going by the MacShane and Hiney bios that I read, but what I recall is that while Chandler sold well in the US during his lifetime (hence the house in La Jolla), he was not given any serious consideration and was unable to rise above the "detective fiction" designation, which was considered seriously lowbrow in those days. This was before trash TV, after all, so cheap, trashy stories were in print.

But in England they took him very seriously and praised him to the skies. He liked to go there and bask in their admiration and feel like a real writer.

The one exception in the US were some articles he wrote in the Atlantic which did garner him a limited degree of literary and intellectual respect.

I have never seen Lebowski, I guess I should.

Funny how basically all of the Chandler novels made terrible movies, but his own screenplays--Double Indemnity, Blue Dahlia, and Strangers on a Train--are all masterpieces.

Hammett's Maltese Falcon was made into the greatest noir/detective movie ever. And then there is the whole Thin Man franchise. Miller's Crossing is a very loose adaptation of Hammett's Glass Key.

Boring said...

Another old white guy. Boooooring.

Let's talk about the new wave of Latino and Jewish talent that reps the new L.A. writing scene.

I can think of at least fifteen young hip writers in town today who will be bigger than Chandler. With longer shelf life too. Diverse authors bring so much more to the table. Blowing the doors off old white boring guys is so easy. The old L.A. was a bore fest. Anglo L.A. was a boring story. Torah and tacos? Now I'm awake and feeling the vibrant energy of the new city.

Anonymous said...

A BBC resurgence in the mid 80s. A scene from the Dennis Potter's slick The Singing Detective.

DYork said...

(for example, this 1953 novel has four significant Mexican-American characters, including what may be the first example of the dignified Chicano police lieutenant whom Edward James Olmos has made a career out of playing).

Ok, Steve but what did Chandler think about golf courses, IQ tests and Jewish ethnocentrism and it's self deceptions?

Mr. Anon said...

"Modern Abraham said...

Anyway, though, Quinn was really good in that series. Brash, funny, lusty, hot-tempered, childish- perfect Zeus."

Anthony Quinn should have won some kind of special life-time Oscar for the portrayal of more ethnicities than any other actor: Mexican, Italian, Greek, Arab, Russian, Eskimo, East Asian, Spanish, WASP. He probably even beat out Omar Sharif in that way.

I think his best roles were as Auda in "Lawrence of Arabia", and as the icy greek intelligence agent in "The Guns of Navarone".

Anonymous said...

"What is the point of becoming successful at that age?"

So this is what the Manosphere hath wrought: total negation of all achievement that doesn't get you laid. I dearly wish Socrates were around to respond. In the meantime, I must say, you make me gladder to be a woman than Hannah Rosin ever did. Idiot.

Anonymous said...

Let's say a man achieves house-in-LaJolla-level success at the age of 53.

What can he pull with that? A still-can-put-it-together woman in her late 30s or early 40s. That's nice, but plastic surgery, tailored fashions and spin class can only do so much. She will be an old lady soon.

The ripe prize of male life -- an attractive woman between 18 and 28 -- is effectively beyond such a man. He wouldn't know where to meet such women. He wouldn't know how to game them. For them to be interested in a 53-year-old, the man would have to be far wealthier or have a sexy art/media/fame angle. The guy who's pulling in $320,000 a year due to a radiowave patent is not going to interest the Must Vote For Obama So I Can Have Free Birth Control demographic.

As men age, the level of success they need in order to achieve what men want in life increases exponentially. Many decide it's not worth it.

Steve Sailer said...

"What can he pull with that?"

I don't know ... Greatness? Influence on half the writers and filmmakers of the next three generations? Chinatown? The Big Lebowski? Blade Runner? City of Angels? Bugs Bunny cartoons? The word "Chandleresque?." Vengeance on the other Chandlers when literate people in 80 years later assume that all the boulevards and pavilions named "Chandler" in L.A. are in honor of you, not the rich family that helped cover up the murder that got you interested in writing about murder?

BB said...

Why not say it? He was better than Hemingway and Fitzgerald, not to mention later writers like Pynchon, Roth, Updike, etc. Chandler was a great writer, period.
It´s been years since I last read Hammet, but even Hammet was pretty good.

Success after 45 barely seems worth it.

Hell, even Bukowski was a able to bed a sizable number of groupies when fame finally came his way at the ripe age of fifty something.
Nowadays with viagra, it´s never too late for fame and fortune!

Anonymous Rice Alum #4 said...

Mr. Anon, your comment about Anthony Quinn and multiple ethnicities reminded me of his role as a Rumanian-cum-German SS man in "The 25th Hour."

For the young wannabe-Alpha males out there, two points.

1. On your deathbed, do you want to think, "I banged more women than Barney Stimson" or "I pursued excellence for my family, my society, and myself"?

2. If you spend your twenties chasing both success and tail, you won't get any success until after 45, if ever.

Another way to put it: You would have far more fun with success at 45 than you would without it at 45.

Lack of success after 45 barely seems worth it.

pat said...

More people need to know the tragic story of Kevin Sorbo.

His life was ruined by a quack. He had been working hard on his hit show "Hercules". He developed a pain in his arm and saw a chiropractor.

The chiropractor snapped his neck - following one of the quack theories of chiropractic. It ripped his carotid artery and he immediately suffered three strokes.

After a period of years he was rehabilitated enough to be in public again. But he will never be the same.

Albertosaurus

pat said...

I think his best roles were as Auda in "Lawrence of Arabia, ...".

Maybe that's because Auda abu Tayi was the most significant character. I read recently that Auda was really the man responsible for the idea of attacking Aqaba from the landward side. So the movie's all night vigil for Lawrence is just flappery.

I have no idea if this is true but it certainly makes more sense. Who would follow an Englishman into a desert of which he knew nothing?

Albertosaurus

Just another guy with a 1911 said...

Speaking of the great and under appreciated Kevin Sorbo, check out "Pool Boy: Drowning in Fury" on NETFLIX. It's about a crazed Vietnam veteran who returns to L.A. 15 years after the war ended to find out that not only is a Mexican bedding his wife, but they have cornered to pool cleaning business as well - hilarity, much violence, and HBD themes ensue. Very Chandleresque. Good film for Hipsters to watch and feel like they aren't racists because they understand the irony.

Andrew Gilbert said...


“Funny how basically all of the Chandler novels made terrible movies, but his own screenplays--Double Indemnity, Blue Dahlia, and Strangers on a Train--are all masterpieces.”

Say what?! First of all, “Blue Dahlia” is mediocre at best. And more importantly “The Big Sleep” is the classic film noir (with a screenplay by William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett). “Farewell, My Lovely” turned into the tough Dick Powell fim “Murder My Sweet” (didn’t do so well for Mitchum) and “The Little Sister” became the highly entertaining 1969 film “Marlow.” But my favorite post “Sleep” adaptation is Elliot Gould’s shambling Marlow in “The Long Goodbye.” Sure, “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers” are classics, but Hollywood has done very well by Chandler.

Anonymous said...

Let's say a man achieves house-in-LaJolla-level success at the age of 53. What can he pull with that? A still-can-put-it-together woman in her late 30s or early 40s.

Roissy's influence is sometimes pernicious.

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/03/15/article-2115320-04160AF20000044D-914_468x350.jpg


Salman Rushdie b 1947
Padma Lakshmi b 1970

They met when she was 29 and he was 52.

Truth said...

"What can he pull with that? A still-can-put-it-together woman in her late 30s or early 40s. That's nice, but plastic surgery, tailored fashions and spin class can only do so much. She will be an old lady soon."

They're all going to be old ladies at some point, Sport; that's kind of how it works. And if this 53 year old codger really wants an 18 year old, all he has to do is book a trip to The Philipines, Gudalajara or The Ukraine.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Gilbert:

You are dead right, Big Sleep is a classic, though it never does come together ("Who killed chauffer?" "Have no idea"), it's still great.

I think the dialogue in Dahlia is terrific.

All the other Chandler movies suck IMO. The Eliot Gould fiasco being the worst.

I agree with Steve that Farwell is the best book. It should be make-able into a great film but I guess it's too un-PC for our times.

Anonymous said...

"I have no idea if this is true but it certainly makes more sense. Who would follow an Englishman into a desert of which he knew nothing?"

People who wanted the machine guns and armoured cars Lawrence brought with him?

The book isn't as great as the film but it's probably more accurate.

(Still possible the idea of the attack came from Auda of course.)

Anonymous said...

"The ripe prize of male life -- an attractive woman between 18 and 28 -- is effectively beyond such a man"

It's the prize of male life because attractiveness ~ fertility.

Reproduction not sex.

Game is a poisonous death-cult created by poisonous nihilists.

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