Friday, May 18, 2007

Hammett Letter Auction

There’s an interesting collection of correspondence between Dashiell Hammett and Muriel Alexander, his secretary in the late 40s and early 50s, for auction over on eBay. Unfortunately, the starting bid is $15K and the estimated value is $20K - $30K so that pretty much lets me out of the game.

The letters contain tidbits about Hammett’s life in Hollywood after the war, and also touch on his showdown with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hammett refused to testify before the committee, which resulted in him being blacklisted and sent to jail for contempt.

Below is an excerpt from a letter written on Beverly Wilshire stationery when Hammett was working on an adoption of Sidney Kingsley’s play Detective Story. The movie was directed by William Wyler, and whatever work Hammett did was not sufficient for him to earn a screenwriting credit.
It seems to be warm and sunny out today, but I’m staying in trying to untangle what I hope is the last knot in DETECTIVE STORY so I can get rolling on it this week. It is my firm conviction that Sidney Kingsley is a lame-brain. One of Kingsley’s roommates at college says Kingsley’s only ambition was to wear a size 16 collar and he spent all his time exercising his neck till he got it that big. I believe it.

Last night I went over to the Wylers’ for dinner—the worst dinner I remember since one at Maxwell Anderson’s out here in the 30’s. I think the soup was made of old mimeograph stencils…of rejected scripts.
When Hammett describes his attendance at the premier of Sunset Boulevard, he says:
It was stinkeroo, I thought, though I told [Gloria Swanson] she was wonderful in it.
Finally, in the last letter in the collection, Hammett touches—almost casually—on the trial of four accused Communists against whom he refused to testify:
The trial's dragging a little just now and looks as if it might go well into next week.
Alexander was not so casual. In a letter written to Hammett just prior, she says:
I say a quiet little prayer for you and your day-in-court every hour on the hour. If there were anything more concrete and material that I could do, I'd feel much happier about it."


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