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Dashiell Hammett

Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 - January 10, 1961) was an American author of "hard-boiled" detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Nick and Nora Charles (see The Thin Man (1934)), Sam Spade[?] (see The Maltese Falcon (1931)), and the Continental Op.

Hammett was born in St. Mary's County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His parents were Richard Thomas and Annie Bond Dashiell (which was an Americanization of the French De Chiel). "Dash" left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before becoming an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

After WWI interruped his career and injured his health (he had contracted tuberculosis), he turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.

His work was published primarily in Black Mask magazine under the editorship of Joseph Shaw. Many of his books were adapted to film, most notably The Maltese Falcon (dir. John Huston, 1941). The dialog in his novels was often quoted verbatim in the movies. He was also asked to doctor scripts for Hollywood.

In 1931, Hammett embarked on a thirty-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. He wrote his final novel in 1934, and devoted much of the rest of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong anti-fascist throughout the 1930s.

A disabled veteran of WWI, he enlisted at the beginning of WWII and pulled strings so they wouldn't reject him. He spent most of WWII as a sergeant in the Army in the Aleutian Islands (editing an Army newspaper).

During the 1950s he was investigated by the US Congress. Although he testified to his activities and was blackballed, he refused to "name names" and was imprisoned for 6 months for contempt of Congress.


As a veteran of two World Wars, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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