Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Falcon Theft a Publicity Stunt?

In an earlier post, I relayed a story from the San Francisco Chronicle that the signed reproduction of the Maltese Falcon at John's Grill--the place where Sam Spade orders chops in the book--had been stolen.

Now I'm hearing speculation from a variety of sources that the theft was a publicity stunt by the owner of the restaurant. The two main pieces of evidence cited:
  1. No sign of forced entry and no damage to the cabinet where the falcon and other stolen items were stored, suggesting an "inside job."
  2. The reproduction in question is not the falcon that appeared in the movie, which was made of lead and was supposedly dropped by Bogart on his toe during filming. It's a plaster version that was used for publicity stills and wasn't really worth that much, even with Elisha Cook's signature ... the point being that it's unlikely anyone would think it worth the risk to steal it.
Read more on the Chronicle's NWZCHIK blog entry on the topic.

Turns there have been other fictional detectives who've eaten at John's. Here's a line from my first novel, The Immortal Game, mentioning the place:
I invited her to come to a gig I had that evening and we ended by going to lunch at John’s Grill on Ellis Street, where Jodie impressed the hell out of Rupert, the maitre d’, who had never seen a rubber dress before.
And here's the description of Jodie and her rubber dress that appears earlier in the chapter:
She wore a short white dress made of neoprene rubber. It fit like a milk bath. A silver-colored zipper with a large pull ring ran down the middle. Zipped as far as the tensile strength of the rubber would permit, it still exposed enough to certify her member in good standing, D-cup Delegation. Two more zippers for pockets were installed above her hips, on the off chance she wanted to tote around a dime or a postage stamp.

She wore matching white pumps, dangling silver earrings, and a silver Egyptian ankh on a chain around her neck. If she were wearing anything else, I’d have needed a CAT scan or a strip search to find it.
Finally, here's the photograph that was included at the front of the chapter in the first edition.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The First(?) Godwulf

Most fans of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are aware that Hammett and Chandler got their start writing novellas for Black Mask magazine. In fact, Hammett serialized his first four novels in Black Mask, and Chandler "cannibalized" a number of his Black Mask novellas, slicing and dicing them to provide the plots for his early books.

Robert B. Parker is considered by many to be the hardboiled heir to Hammett and Chandler. But most fans of Parker probably do not know that Parker's first novel, The Goldwulf Manuscript, appeared in novella form in the men's "adventure" magazine Argosy.

What's not clear is if the Argosy appearance of the story was intended to precede the hardcover release. If you look on the copyright page of any book edition of Godwulf:

You'll see text which reads, "A portion of this book appeared in the October 1973 issue of Argosy." Since the first edition of the book is copyrighted 1973, you'd be forgiven if you assumed that the novella appeared before or at the same time as the first.

The interesting bit is that the novella didn't appear in the October 1973 issue of Argosy at all. It came out in the January 1974 issue as the "$5.95 Book Bonus:"

It shared the magazine with a variety of interesting content, including an article on whale riding, a Jimmy Hoffa interview (the last before his death?), an Op-Ed piece advocating concealed handguns for all and an ungodly number of cigarette advertisements:

But finally on page 69 comes the novella, and the Argosy reader's first opportunity to meet Spenser, a "rough, tough" private eye "with a lot of bluff." What the average Argosy reader did not get is Mr. Parker's signature, which only appears on my copy:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bill Arney at 891 Post Street #401

She looked at his unblinking yellow-grey eyes and her face became pink and then white again. She drew herself up tall and began to undress. He sat on the side of the bathtub watching her and the open door. No sound came from the living-room. She removed her clothes swiftly, without fumbling, letting them fall down on the floor around her feet. When she was naked she stepped back from her clothing and stood looking at him. In her mien was pride without defiance or embarrassment.

He put his pistols on the toilet-seat and, facing the door, went down on one knee in front of her garments. He picked up each piece and examined it with fingers as well as eyes. He did not find the thousand-dollar bill. When he had finished he stood up holding her clothes out in his hands to her. "Thanks," he said. "Now I know.

The excerpt is from Chapter 19 of The Maltese Falcon. It describes Sam Spade's (very direct and unorthodox) response to Casper Gutman's assertion that one of the thousand dollar bills he intends to give Spade in return for the falcon has been stolen by Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

The photo is from the very bathroom where the scene takes place, and the man sitting on the tub where Spade would have sat is Bill Arney, current resident of 891 Post Street #401, Sam Spade and Dashiell Hammett's apartment. Bill is also the actor who read the first chapter of my latest novel, Candy from Strangers, for the Writer's Block, a podcast produced by NPR affiliate KQED.

Bill got in touch with me recently and was kind enough to invite me up for a private tour of the apartment. Afterwards, we adjourned to Bill's favorite bar, the Red Room, a few blocks away on Sutter near Leavenworth. Turns out one of the bartenders on duty that night was Craig Clevenger, who is an author himself.

Bill told me his work on the podcast attracted the attention of a well-respected agency that represents voice actors. They encouraged him to cut a demo tape, have signed him to their agency and there's a good possibility he will be doing more voice work on a professional basis, all of which is very exciting!

Bill also told more about more about the apartment and his experiences living in it. Here are a few representative fun facts:

  • Bill is listed in the San Francisco phone directory as, "Spade, S."

  • When mapped to letters, the last four digits of his phone number are "-DASH"

  • He moved into the apartment in the early 90s and pays a (controlled) rent of under $1000 a month for it

  • He appeared in Herb Cain's column twice

  • He is one of the few tenants in the building who have retained the original murphy bed, which folds out in the living room/bedroom

  • He stopped the building management from refurbishing the bathroom and removing the original fixtures

  • He's stripped the paint off the original wainscoting and trim, and has retrieved and restored one of the building's original pebble glass doors from the basement for use in the apartment

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Friday, March 09, 2007

His Master's Voice

I've been aware of this for a while, but with the recent focus on Ian Fleming that the remake of Casino Royale has engendered, I thought it might be fun to point out that the only known recording of Raymond Chandler's voice comes from a BBC Radio interview of him conducted nearly 50 years ago by, of all people, Mr. Fleming.

Here's a short snippet with a comment from Chandler about private eyes--if you're just curious to hear what his voice sounds like. (A little Elmer Fud-ish, I'm afraid.) And here's the full recording from the Rara Avis archives.