Trouble Was His Business — Raymond Chandler

Novelist Born 100 Years Ago

Raymond Chandler’s L.A. Joins in Celebrating Him

October 10, 1988

By PAUL FELDMAN, Times Staff Writer

Angeles was founded by Spanish missionaries in the late 1700s. But some
believe that the idea of Los Angeles was not crystallized until 150
years later, by a Chicago-born, English-bred detective writer–Raymond

This year, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, the
literary world is paying tribute to Chandler, who so adeptly captured
the fading physical splendor of his adopted home’s canyons and
flatlands while slicing through its social underbelly with sword-like

In bookstores, a uniform soft-cover series of
Chandler’s seven novels, all featuring his sardonic but noble private
eye, Philip Marlowe, is newly available. So is a hard-cover collection
of 23 fresh Marlowe stories penned by leading contemporary writers.

on the market is a lavishly illustrated $425 limited edition of "The
Big Sleep," a photographic volume of "Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles"
and a colorful $5 Chandler mystery map of the city, highlighting the
dozens of still-standing structures in which Marlowe stumbled upon
corpses, conferred with clients or was struck with saps.

this week, an exhibit of Chandler’s personal correspondence will open
at the UCLA University Research Library, which along with Oxford
University houses one of two major collections of Chandler’s papers.

on Sunday, the UCLA Friends of English sponsored a centennial birthday
commemoration in Pacific Palisades, featuring some of the leading
lights of Los Angeles literature, including Roger L. Simon, Robert
Campbell, Kate Braverman, Eve Babitz and Carolyn See. More than 200
guests, many garbed in ’30s attire, listened to actor Walter Matthau
read a passage from "The Big Sleep," and author Wanda Coleman read a
poem she wrote in memory of Chandler titled "The Big Bleep."

of this for a shy, cranky, alcoholic former oil executive, who did not
complete his first novel until he was 51 and whose 1959 funeral in La
Jolla drew a mere 17 mourners.

"Raymond Chandler has lived
beyond his grave much better than most authors of his time," declared
detective novelist Simon, who heads the North America chapter of the
International Assn. of Crime Writers. "I think it’s pretty clear that
Chandler’s descriptions have become the official descriptions of Los
Angeles for the world, and his impact on writers inside and outside the
crime genre has been tremendous."

Said UCLA English Department
Chairman Daniel G. Calder: "Chandler created the idea of Los
Angeles–what it’s like, how it feels to be here. . . . Sort of a
paradox of great comfort and ease but corruption at the same time. A
spoiled paradise."

Love-Hate Relationship

writings revealed an intense love-hate relationship with Los Angeles,
where he lived from 1912 to 1946, excluding a stint in the Canadian
Army during World War I.

At times, he displayed a wistful, affectionate attitude through Marlowe, one of America’s first great anti-heroes.

used to like this town . . . a long time ago," Marlowe reflects in "The
Little Sister," published in 1949. "There were trees along Wilshire
Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills
and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood
was a bunch of frame houses on the inter-urban line. Los Angeles was
just a big, dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but
good-hearted and peaceful. It had the climate they just yap about now.
People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they
were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America. It wasn’t
that, but it wasn’t a neon-lighted slum, either."

Chandler’s ever-pithy dialogue was not always so romantic.

City of Angels, he once wrote, was in some senses "a mail-order city.
Everything in the catalogue you could get better somewhere else."

fared no better. "The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather
fascinating adventure," Chandler, who wrote five screenplays, stated in
a 1945 essay. "It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos,
some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none
of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and

Chandler would never have received a commission
from the local Chamber of Commerce. Yet with little question his work
cast a curious sense of glory on even the most seedy aspects of urban
life in Los Angeles and the human condition in general.

Appeal Described

"He made corruption and vice extremely
attractive," contends novelist/ critic See. "He made it so
glamorous–his hideous little boarding houses, those gambling boats.
You never think, ‘Oh, how disgusting!’ You think, ‘Gee, I wish I could
get on one of those gambling boats. I’d like to meet an ice-pick
murderer.’ "

Moreover, there were his terse, evocative
descriptions–of "wide shallow house(s) with rose color walls," of
"jacaranda trees beginning to bloom," and of "the violet light at the
top of Bullock’s green-tinged tower"–which have forever seared the Los
Angeles of the 1930s and ’40s into the nation’s consciousness.

one street I call the Raymond Chandler Memorial Parkway-Colorado
Boulevard in Pasadena," notes novelist Babitz. "You get that strange
feeling of Raymond Chandler. It’s just sort of like decadent East Coast
gentility smashed up against the orange groves."

Chandler was an unlikely candidate to become the bard of Los Angeles.

in Chicago on July, 23, 1888, he moved to London with his Irish-English
mother at age 7 after his father deserted the family. Upon his
graduation from college, Chandler sporadically sold poems and essays
before moving here in 1912. He labored briefly on an apricot ranch and
in a sporting goods shop before entering the oil business.

who changed addresses almost as often as a criminal on the lam,
eventually rose to the position of director for eight small,
independent oil firms. But he was fired during the Depression, at age

Another Try at Writing

At that point, he made
a final stab at writing, seeking to emulate such contemporary
hard-boiled mystery novelists as Dashiell Hammett and Horace McCoy.
Chandler, who was married to a woman 17 years his senior, quickly sold
several short stories to the pulp magazines Black Mask and Dime
Detective. His first novel, "The Big Sleep," was published by Alfred A.
Knopf in 1939.

Throughout Chandler’s life, the detective genre was sneered at by the literary establishment.

make Mr. Chandler sound like a very interesting detective story writer
indeed," New York Times chief book critic Orville Prescott wrote to a
Chandler devotee in 1943. "Unfortunately, I never have time to read
them, preoccupied as I am with books of more general interest."

attitudes embittered Chandler, who believed, as the world eventually
would, that his work was far more than simple-minded entertainment.

a 1944 letter to the same fan, now stored in the UCLA collection,
Chandler railed, "Once in a while a detective story writer is treated
as a writer, but very seldom. . . . However well and expertly he writes
a mystery story, it will be treated in one paragraph (reviews) while a
column and a half of respectful attention will be given to any
fourth-rate, ill-constructed, mock-serious account of the life of a
bunch of cotton pickers in the deep south. The French are the only
people I know of who think about writing as writing. The Anglo-Saxons
think first of the subject matter, and second, if at all, of the

Plots Called Convoluted

Not that
Chandler’s writing was above criticism. Some have complained that his
range was limited or that his plots were far too convoluted.

example, during the filming of "The Big Sleep," which starred Humphrey
Bogart, director Howard Hawks sent a telegram to Chandler asking who
killed a certain character in the script. Chandler wired back, "I don’t

"What that shows is that it doesn’t matter," contends
Hollywood author David Freeman. "The issue isn’t clarity of plot but
depth of character, the range of emotion and the sense of place. That’s
why we go back to Chandler over and over again."

During his
20-year career, Chandler completed seven Marlowe novels, including "The
Long Goodbye," "The Lady in the Lake" and "Farewell, My Lovely." Six
have been turned into movies, with Marlowe played by Bogart, Robert
Mitchum, James Garner and Elliott Gould.

With his acerbic wit,
the real-life Chandler was to some degree similar to his hero, Marlowe.
But in other ways, Chandler was far different from his intrepid
investigator: A retiring man, at times a near recluse, the
pipe-smoking, owlish Chandler exuded the air of a slightly batty
English professor.

Contemplated Suicide

After the
death of his wife, Cissy, in 1954, Chandler nearly disintegrated,
turning increasingly to alcohol, and frequently contemplating suicide.

he died on March 26, 1959, Chandler left a friend and literary agent,
Helga Greene, his entire estate, which amounted to $60,000 and any
future earnings from copyrights.

The rights, as it turned out, have proven extremely lucrative.

no public figures are available, Chandler’s novels have remained steady
sellers, and four movies and a Marlowe TV series have been produced
since his death.

Plans are currently in the works, says film
agent Robert Bookman, for yet another Philip Marlowe film, this one
based on "Poodle Springs," a novel that Chandler failed to complete
before he died.

Note: To mark the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s death, the
Daily Mirror is revisiting some of The Times’ stories about his life and
influence. We invite the Daily Mirror’s readers to share their thoughts.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in books, Raymond Chandler. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Trouble Was His Business — Raymond Chandler

  1. Anna Cearley says:

    Hi, Great story about Raymond Chandler! You and your readers might also want to know about some upcoming USC events tied to Chandler (one is a panel discussion this Wednesday, March 25):
    The USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences is bringing attention to the legacy of writer Raymond Chandler through a series of events aimed at showing the long-lasting impact and prescience of his novels and films that depicted Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s.
    The programs are tied to the 50th anniversary of Chandler’s death. They start with a March 25 panel discussion that is free and open to the public, presented by the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences. A separate four-week, non-credit course on Chandler’s Los Angeles is also being offered through the College’s Office of Advanced and Professional Programs, open to non-USC students.
    “Few writers have been so inextricably tied to a place as Chandler is to Los Angeles,” said Judith Freeman, an instructor with USC College who teaches a course on Los Angeles literature in the USC Master of Liberal Studies Program. “He gave the city a lasting identity.”
    Chandler, who wrote crime and mystery novels, shifted the literary trend away from romantic and idealistic depictions of Southern California. Chandler’s first book, published in 1939, painted a sobering picture of Los Angeles on the brink of an uncertain future – a city that shares some similarities to today.
    “There was a new awareness that the party was over,” said Freeman. “ The ’20s were pretty wild in L.A. with people having a lot of money and a lot of fun. But by the time he published his first novel the world was a scary place and people understood bread lines and poverty, and how crime and corruption had taken hold in the culture.”
    Freeman said that Chandler’s impact on the Los Angeles literary scene is timeless, even as newer writers are depicting the urban landscape in different ways. For example, author Denise Hamilton’s novels (who is scheduled to speak at the March 25 event) include key characters that reflect the region’s demographic diversity.
    Even though his subject matter was often grim, Chandler’s use of humor and wit helped engage his readers, Freeman said. “In the end, he really felt that America was a remarkable place to live in, and his idea of hope for the future was not so much in trusting the institutions or government, but in trusting the decency of Americans and the individual conscience.”
    “Something More than Night: Raymond Chandler, 50 Years Later.”
    LA Noir experts lead a discussion of Raymond Chandler’s novels, films and the future he foretold. Fifty years after his death, how have his perceptions and portrayal of the City of Angels endured? Moderator Judith Freeman is the author of “The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved.” She is also a lecturer with the USC Master of Liberal Studies Program. Speakers are: Leo Braudy, USC University Professor and author; Denise Hamilton, author of the “Eve Diamond” Mystery series; Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic.
    Where: University of Southern California, University Club.
    When: Wednesday, March 25.
    6:30 p.m.: USC Master of Liberal Studies Program Admissions Open House.
    7:30 p.m.: Event begins.
    9 p.m.: Reception with speakers and USC faculty.
    Free and open to the public. Public parking available for $8 in USC Parking Structure X; Enter through Gate 3 on Figueroa Street. RSVP at 213-740-1349. For additional information, go here:
    Four-week course on “Something More Than Night: The novels and films of Raymond Chandler”
    In three evening sessions on the USC campus, delve into Chandler’s ideas on class, gender, race, capitalism, “gangsterism,” and geography as depicted in three of his novels and related films. In the fourth and final session, prowl through Chandler’s Los Angeles on a field trip of some sites important in his life and work. Explore what Raymond Chandler meant when he wrote that the streets of America were dark “with something more than night.”
    Four Tuesdays: March 31- April 21, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Non-credit course taught by Judith Freeman. Open to non-USC students. For more information: To register online:
    For a map of the USC campus, go here:


Leave a Reply. Note: Your IP is logged with your comment so a fake name and email address are useless.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s