Dashiell Hammett

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Hammett, Dashiell

(dəshēl`), 1894–1961, American writer, b. St. Mary's co., Maryland. After a variety of jobs, including several years working as a detective for the Pinkerton agency, beginning in the early 1920s he found success as a writer, largely originating the hard-boiled school of detective fiction. His stories, about 90 in all, are realistic, fast-paced, and marked by a certain sophistication and a merciless detachment. He was the creator of Nick Charles and Sam Spade, the latter being the original tough private eye. Hammett's novels The Maltese Falcon (1930), The Glass Key (1931), and The Thin Man (1932), are considered classics of the genre; all were made into successful movies. Lillian HellmanHellman, Lillian,
1905–84, American dramatist, b. New Orleans. Her plays, although often melodramatic, are marked by intelligence and craftsmanship. The Children's Hour
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, his companion of many years, wrote of their relationship in Pentimento (1973) and other autobiographical works.


See posthumous collections of his stories, The Big Knockover, ed. by L. Hellman (1966), The Continental Op, ed. by S. Marcus (1974), and Crime Stories and Other Writings, ed. by S. Marcus (2001); his Complete Novels (1999); R. Layman, ed., Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett, 1921–1990 (2001); biographies by R. Layman (1984) and D. Johnson (1987); J. Mellen, Hellman and Hammett (1996); studies by W. Marling (1983) and J. Symons (1985).

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Hammett, (Samuel) Dashiell

(1894–1961) writer; born in St. Mary's County, Md. After serving in the army in World War I, he went to San Francisco where he became a Pinkerton detective and advertising copywriter, then, after the success of his first novels, a Hollywood scriptwriter. He published some short stories in The Black Mask but most of his work came out in a five-year period, starting with Red Dust (1929) and ending with The Thin Man (1934). He effectively invented hard-boiled detective fiction with his lean prose style and cynical detective, Sam Spade, and his work was praised by many serious writers and critics. Long identified with left-wing politics, in 1951 he spent six months in jail for refusing to testify about the Civil Rights Congress, of which he was a trustee. In 1953, after refusing to answer questions from Senator Joseph McCarthy's committee, he was blacklisted by Hollywood. He lived the last 30 years of his life with the writer Lillian Hellman.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.