Raymond Chandler is best remembered
as the creator of the hard-boiled private detective, Philip Marlowe.
Marlowe makes his debut in The Big Sleep, Chandler’s
The Big Sleep was published in 1939 when Chandler was 51. Most
people have either read the book or watched the 1946 film version starring
Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe. The movie version, though excellent, is
missing vital parts of the story.
The Hays Office of the motion picture industry rigidly monitored film
content. Sexual references were severely restricted and any mention
of homosexuality was forbidden. The screenplay was expertly crafted
by William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner), Leigh Brackett, and
Jules Furthman to retell the story within the Hay office’s guidelines.
In The Big Sleep, Marlowe is hired by wealthy retired General
Sternwood to locate some compromising photos of the general’s
youngest daughter, Carmen. Marlowe uncovers a pornography ring run by
a man named Geiger who is gay. Geiger’s sexuality and passages
identifying Lundgren as his lover are carefully omitted from the movie.
Carmen’s wild behavior is carefully alluded to, but not shown.
Critics of Chandler’s work are quick to a malign his depictions
of gays, women, people of color, and many ethnic groups. Women were
beautiful, diabolical, and often unstable. People of color and certain
ethnic groups were often stereotyped and often cast as criminals.
While Chandler’s depictions of Geiger and Lundgren are not kind,
his books provide a mirror to his time. This is how people felt and
behaved. It’s easy to be offended, but try to see Chandler as
a prisoner of his time. Devour his rich prose as “word candy”
and admire his skilled use of simile and metaphor.
According to Chandler, “Had my books been any worse, I would not
have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I would
not have come.”
Chandler was born in 1888. After he and his mother were abandoned by
his alcoholic father, they moved from Chicago to Croydon in England
to be near family. Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College
London, an elite public school (P.G. Wodehouse and C.S. Forester were
His first published work in 1907 was a poem. Though Chandler continued
to write romantic poems, he pursued a career in civil service, before
an unsuccessful stint as a journalist. After moving to the United States,
Chandler enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and saw combat
in France during World War I. He worked his way up to a vice presidency
in an oil company, but was dismissed for excessive use of alcohol and
absenteeism as well as his penchant for office romances. Like his father,
Chandler battled alcoholism most of his adult life.
Unemployed with few prospects during the Great Depression, Chandler,
who was a fan of pulp magazines, studied the work of Erle Stanley Gardner
to learn how to write it. He submitted “Blackmailers Don’t
Shoot” to Black Mask magazine. He was paid $180 for 18,000
works and began his writing career at age 44. Dashiell Hammett and Ed
McBain were also writers at Black Mask.
Chandler often struggled with the rigid formula demanded by the editors
of the pulp magazine, but he was grateful to finally be a successful
writer. In an interview, he admitted, “To exceed the limits of
a formula without destroying it is the dream of every magazine writer
who is not a hapless hack.”
He received an Academy Award nomination for “Best Writing”
in 1944 for the screenplay of Double Indemnity, which he co-wrote
with Billy Wilder and a second nomination in 1946 for Best Writing for
his original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia.
Chandler died in 1959 after writing four chapters of his eighth book
which he gave the working title, Poodle Springs. The chapters
were published in 1962 in Raymond Chandler Speaking, a collection of
excerpts from letters and unpublished writings. In 1988, to commemorate
what would have been Chandler’s 100th birthday, his publishers
commissioned Robert B. Parker to complete the book. Parker, a fan of
Chandler, understood Marlowe’s character. After the publication
of Poodle Springs, Parker secured permission from Chandler's
estate to write a final novel featuring Philip Marlowe. Perchance
to Dream, the sequel to The Big Sleep, was released in
Chandler wanted to be cremated like his wife Cissy who passed away in
1954, but failed to leave instructions in his will, so he was buried
at Mount Hope Cemetery in Dan Diego. In 2011, Cissy’s ashes were
interred with Chandler. Their shared gravestone bears this quote from
The Big Sleep, “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”