Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Big Schlep

Beautiful but dangerous me with Phillip Marlowe, Investigator, 11/24/1979
Back in the late '70s I'd read Maurice Zolotow's coverage of the tour of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, sponsored by Scene of the Crime, a Sherman Oaks bookstore in San Fernando Valley. It sounded like my cup of tea...or maybe my glass of gimlet, what Marlowe and Terry Lennox used to drink when they met at Musso & Frank's. I'd known that Chandler, along with James Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and Dashielle Hammet (The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man) made up the trio known for hard-boiled detective fiction of the '30s and '40s. I'd seen a few movies based on Chandler's Marlowe books, notably the 1946 blockbuster, The Big Sleep, where Bogie met Bacall.

I immediately decided that if there were a second such tour, I'd go. There was and I did.

Since we were invited to come in appropriate attire, I dressed as a Myrna Loy (from her pseudo-Oriental period) wannabe, in a navy-and-white art-deco kimono blouse, an authentic '40s job from Japan, and a raking navy tam. My husband, Bob, an actual Long Beach police officer, tagged along in a double-breasted navy suit, a white-on-white shirt,and a red-and-grat figured navy tie. Bob said that the figures looked like flower-bedecked anchors from a funeral barge. He discretely displaced his revolver from time to time. So we swaggered forth on this monumental schlep through an earlier time.

At the time I wrote for a Long Beach arts magazine, Uncle Jam. I've excerpted these lines from the piece I wrote shortly after that trek.

Would I miss an opportunity to meet Marlowe? If I had been told that Heathcliff himself were waiting for me on some misty Yorkshire moo.r, I couldn't have been more thrilled. For Marlowe alone, of the romantic loners and white knights of fiction, traveled the streets of my home town, the Los Angeles of my youth. In my teens I read the Chandler books eagerly because they described my own city. Even my own neighborhood, for poor alcoholic Jessie Florian in Farewell, My Lovely, lived in a shabby bungalow at 1644 West 54th Place in Southwest L.A., just a few blocks from my own late '40s and early '50s address of 1636 West 59th Place.

I've just reread The Big Sleep, published in 1939, where Chandler introduces Phillip Marlowe. I belong to two book groups and both are reading this book this month. What a joy to revisit the sparkling dialogue that he'd described as "snotting," the kind of exchanges between characters that were vividly different from other detective novels of the time...the kind where the women were sexual predators and detectives were witty, reserved, and honorable. Now that I've finished revisiting The Big Sleep, I'll look again at a couple of other old favorites, Farewell, My Lovely, and my favorite, The Long Goodbye.

Chandler's Novels

  • The Big Sleep (1939). Based on the short stories "Killer in the Rain" (1935) and "The Curtain" (1936).[1]
  • Farewell, My Lovely (1940). Based on the short stories "The Man Who Liked Dogs" (1936), "Try The Girl" (1937) and "Mandarin's Jade" (1937).[1]
  • The High Window (1942). Based on the short stories "Bay City Blues" (1938) and "The Lady In The Lake" (1939).[1]
  • The Lady in the Lake (1943). Based on the short stories "Bay City Blues" (1938), "The Lady In The Lake" (1939), "No Crime In The Mountains" (1941).[1]
  • The Little Sister (1949). Scenes based on the short story "Bay City Blues" (1938).[1]
In preparation for revisiting the Marlowe novels, I also read Tom Williams' definitive bio, A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler.  In his preface Williams writes: "This book examines how that shy man, born in Chicago (1888), raised in London, and educated in an English public school steeped in Victorian tradition, came to define modern Los Angeles. Ray, in the end is remembered as the author who proved that pulp fiction could aspre to more than the plotting of violence, but that was not what he set out to do. From the start Ray saw crime writing as a way to learn the mechanics of storytelling, and though he wanted to write a crime novel, he also hoped that he would eventually move beyond his most famous creation, Phillip Marlowe, and one day be able to forget mystery stories altogether."

That didn't happen. We're lucky that it didn't. The Long Goodbye turned out to be what Chandler himself described as "my best novel."

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