Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

Dashiell Hammett Detective Stories

The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett Detective Novel - Tea, Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast
The Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett Detective Novel - Tea, Tonic & Toxin Book Club and Podcast
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin
Dashiell Hammett Detective Stories

The Thin Man and Other Dashiell Hammett Detective Stories

The allure of THE THIN MAN lies in its timeless intrigue, captivating characters, and masterful storytelling. Dashiell Hammett’s novel is particularly known for its clever plot twists and witty dialogue. Of all the Dashiell Hammett detective stories, this one is perhaps most surprising for its blend of crime and comedy – and the enigmatic duo of Nick and Nora Charles.

Learn More: Read our starter questions on The Thin Man.

Get Excited: Check out the 2024 book list.

Be Heard: Tell us what you’re thinking here.

TRANSCRIPT: The Thin Man and Other Dashiell Hammett Detective Stories

Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.

Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …

Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …

Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.

Sarah Harrison 0:54
Oh my goodness, Carolyn. I’m so excited about our episode for so many reasons.

Carolyn Daughters 0:58
I know. We have a special guest, Julie Rivett, who is Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter.

Sarah Harrison 1:16
Yes, we’re discussing The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett detective stories today.

Carolyn Daughters 1:21
But before we do, we want to mention our sponsor and our listener on the episode.

Sarah Harrison 1:26
We have a really special sponsor who’s done a lot for the episode today. That is Linden Botanicals. Linden Botanicals is a Colorado-based company that sells the world’s healthiest herbal teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science based support for stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, digestion, and inflammation. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more, visit lindenbotanicals.com, and use the code MYSTERY to get 15% off your first order. They are an excellent sponsor. We also have a really exciting listener this month. You may have heard of him. He was our guest last month, and he’s also a subscriber. That’s Dan Drake of California. And if you have not had the treat of listening to Dan, please go back and listen to our episodes on The Nine Tailors. His expertise is incredible around Dorothy Sayers. Dan, we appreciate you so much as a subscriber as well as a guest. And you will be getting a special gift coming in the mail.

Carolyn Daughters 2:51
Dan Drake is the cofounder of Autodesk, and he is one of the world’s foremost experts on Dorothy L. Sayers.

Sarah Harrison 3:00
Absolutely. It was impressive to hear his knowledge on Sayers.

Carolyn Daughters 3:04
Absolutely. So, Sarah, so how would someone become a subscriber?

Sarah Harrison 3:11
Dan is a subscriber, and you, too, can be a subscriber. Subscribers get additional benefits. They are eligible for extra special content, as well as extra special gifts. We have limited edition stickers coming up from season one that you can’t get anywhere else. Visit our website and subscribe. Rate us, talk to us. We love to hear from our listeners.

Carolyn Daughters 3:41
Today’s guest is Julie M. Rivett. Julie is a granddaughter of Dashiell Hammett, an advocate for Hammett’s life and literature, a trustee for his estate, and an essayist, editor, and lecturer. Working with Dashiell Hammett biographer Richard Layman, Julie Rivett has edited six books by or about her grandfather, including Selected Letters of Dashiell Hammett (2001), Return of the Thin Man (2012), The Hunter and Other Stories (2013), and The Big Book of the Continental Op (2017). Her interviews and essays have been published at home and abroad, helping to maintain her grandfather’s legacy and introduce his writings to new generations. She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, where she has raised two daughters and earned degrees in American Studies and Communication Studies from California State University, Long Beach. She’s an expert on Dashiell Hammett detective stories and all things Dashiell Hammett! Welcome, Julie!

Julie Rivett 4:36
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Carolyn Daughters 4:38
I’ll share a quick summary of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. It’s a classic detective novel that introduces charming married couple Nick and Nora Charles and their pet schnauzer, Asta. Nick is a retired private detective, and Nora is his wealthy, sophisticated young wife. Set in prohibition-era in New York City during the holiday season, the story begins as Nick learns about the disappearance of his former client, Claude Wynant. To uncover the truth behind the disappearance, Nick will have to draw upon his investigative savvy and navigate quite a few parties and speakeasies. The novel is known for its charismatic lead character, stylish prose, and witty dialogue. In the end, The Thin Man is less of a hardboiled noir in the vein of Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon than a highly entertaining blend of mystery and social comedy. Today, we’re excited to talk about The Thin Man, our first book selection of 2024. You can find all our 2024 books for the Tea, Tonic & Toxin mystery book club at teatonicandtoxin.com. You can also comment, weigh in, and follow along with what we’re reading and discussing @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Sarah Harrison 5:56
An exciting way to start 2024.

Carolyn Daughters 6:00
When we mapped out our 2024 reading list, one book each month, I realized we were starting in 1934 roughly and would wrap up with 1939 by the end of the year. It seemed so fitting to start with The Thin Man.

Sarah Harrison 6:17
I love that the book is holiday themed. Julie, I was reading some interviews with you, and you enlightened me on something I had been doing wrong. And that was saying your grandfather’s name. Can you share with everyone how to pronounce his name?

Julie Rivett 6:36
I joke that one of my missions as I go around and speak to people is to correct their pronunciation of his name. It comes from the French, Dashiell (dah-sheel), which was his mother’s maiden family name. They were originally French Huguenots who fled to Scotland and then to the U.S. Think of it in the French way — the SH is pronounced like Chicago. Apparently he did correct people occasionally. Sometimes he went by Sam, sometimes he went by Dash. But he did correct people sometimes on the pronunciation.

Sarah Harrison 6:48
Why did he go by Sam?

Julie Rivett 7:19
Probably because he didn’t have to explain to people how to pronounce it. His first name was Samuel. His name was Samuel Dashiell Hammett. Like Sam Spade.

Sarah Harrison 7:32
Okay, that’s a nice connection. Did he name Sam Spade after himself? Is that something that happens in many of the Dashiell Hammett detective stories?

Julie Rivett 7:41
I think it’s probably a safe bet. In an introduction he wrote for a later edition of The Maltese Falcon, he did identify where some of the characters came from. He said Sam Spade was based on a dream detective and what many detectives thought they could be in their cockier moments. There’s a lot of Samuel Dashiell Hammett in Sam Spade. And there is a Nick Charles, too. They just come from different parts, different sides of the watershed.

Carolyn Daughters 8:25
Can you tell us about your experience with your grandfather? I believe you had a childhood visit with him. What was that like?

Julie Rivett 8:36
That’s correct. We were living up in Camerillo, my mother and father and my older brother and sister. My mother was pregnant with my younger sister. This is spring or early summer of 1960. My parents must have known that my grandfather was dying. At that point, I think he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. He was on Martha’s Vineyard island with Lillian Hellman in the house that they shared. My dad was a pilot during World War II, and he kept up his pilot’s license afterwards. He was just a young family man living on an ordinary income. But, we flew a five-seater Cessna from California all the way to Boston and then back again, with some stops along the way. Imagine, so my mother pregnant, three small children in the back, and we flew all the way. We spent about a week on Martha’s Vineyard island. I have just a couple of snippets of memories, largely involving one of the large standard poodles that he and Lillian Hellman raised. They’re like little vignette snapshots, and that’s all I’ve got. I didn’t get to know my grandfather until many many, many years later, as an adult, and really doing the research, starting with the letters. The letters really brought him to life for me. And then I worked with my mother on her memoir. It has been a real adventure. Honestly, I mean, this sounds cliche, but it’s really been an honor to work with the estate.

Sarah Harrison 10:23
That’s awesome, Julie. You sent us a picture of yourself on that visit, which is adorable. We love it.

Julie Rivett 10:33
Oh, thank you.

Carolyn Daughters 10:34
I believe you had two small children, and then you went back to college and pursued American studies and communication studies. Were you thinking you might actually do a deep dive into Dashiell Hammett detective novels and stories? It seems like a lifelong passion for doing this investigative research into your grandfather. There’s a lot to uncover, and it must be complex and layered. Did you have a sense you might be doing this work?

Julie Rivett 11:03
I went back to school about the same time I started working on the letters book with Richard Layman. And I used to joke I did three things, three H’s: housework, homework, and Hammett work. It was a busy time. I went back, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And I didn’t like what I was doing. I took a public speaking class. And the teacher said, you’re pretty good at this. And then I started thinking about it. I did my undergrad in communication studies. And then I decided to do a minor in American Studies. But it was like one more class and you get a double major, no problem. I did that. And then at the age of 50, I started grad school, and I got a master’s in communication studies. At that point, I was working with the estate and doing public speaking. It came in really handy because my interest was rhetoric, the persuasive power of language and speech and communication. It dovetailed very nicely. And I love going into the archives and digging through those papers and and then talking to people about it. It worked out great. And I I learned a lot about my grandfather. My master’s thesis has to do with the Hollywood Ten and the communist era. Yes, it all dovetails nicely.

Carolyn Daughters 12:40
Your grandfather spent some months in a federal prison.

Julie Rivett 12:46
He did. He spent about five months in jail, and then again, prison in Kentucky, for taking the fifth, which he should have been able to do. He took the fifth and refused to answer questions. It had to do with communists. He was president of a liberal organization and president of their bail fund. And that bail fund had provided money for 10 communists who had been arrested under the Smith Act. Some of them didn’t show up when they should have after bail. My grandfather and another fellow were hauled in and asked, “where did they go?” Which he didn’t know. There’s no reason they would have told him. But the big question was, who were the people who donated to the bail fund? He wouldn’t give that answer either. He did his time, came out, and that was it. He didn’t really have a choice. He wasn’t going to rat out his friends.

Carolyn Daughters 13:53
You see that ethic in many of the Dashiell Hammett detective stories. You see it in Sam Spade and the Continental Op. Nick Charles is harder for me to pinpoint. He’s lovely on the page and lovely on the screen. I adore Nick Charles, but I know less about how he’s wired. Whereas with Sam Spade and the Continental Op, they have their own code and they’re following that code pretty religiously.

Sarah Harrison 14:25
I feel like that was a very niche Charles thing to do personally, because there are these moments where he gets, shot by Morelli. Is he going to press charges? And he’s like, I don’t know. He’s known in the speakeasies as somebody you can trust to the point that the police really got suspicious of him to be like, Why is Morelli spilling his guts to you right when he wouldn’t talk to us?

Julie Rivett 14:49
Right. The bad guys could trust him to honor his word. It just funny. I think there are always elements of the author in characters, and there is a lot of my grandfather in Sam Spade. The Maltese Falcon is my favorite of the novels. But there’s also a lot of my grandfather in Nick Charles. The difference is, during the time he was writing The Maltese Falcon, he was a struggling writer. He wanted to make literature. He wanted to make a name for himself. He was broke, he was wanted to pay the bills, and he had two little kids to feed. He was struggling with that and with illness. He was extraordinarily ambitious and driven. Well, the other side, he gets to 1934, and he’s making $100,000 a year in the middle of the Depression. He’s thinking about writing for Hollywood. Even then, writers felt they were selling themselves out to do that. People are lined up, breadlines in the street. And here he’s living in the Beverly Wilshire. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance going on, a lot of frustration with himself and embarrassment. He wanted to move on. And but he was trapped then in this detective mode, and that’s where people would pay him. He drank to numb that pain. So it is both sides. I think he wants to have that ethic, but he’s been tempted away from it by all the booze and this self-conflict and the money. He’s a sad character in a way. He’s very jolly, but there’s a disappointed edge to him.

Carolyn Daughters 16:48
For a while Dashiell Hammett detective stories were being published in a pulp magazine called Black Mask. Then he’s starting to publish books and eventually moves on to Hollywood. That’s quite a progression. I must have been a culture shock going from one to the next to the next. 1934 Hollywood, because I’m so naive about that period, seems to me to be in the early stages of Hollywood. And yet, it already had notoriety as the place where good writers sell out and where glitz and glamour is more important than content.

Julie Rivett 17:40
Yes, definitely. It was easy, and the money was huge compared to books. The Coen Brothers movie Barton Fink is a good one to watch for this period. It’s not based on my grandfather exactly, but there are a lot of similarities. But, yes, Dashiell Hammett did go down to Hollywood, early in like 1928. He went down to try to sell to Fox News. He didn’t sell any, but he was very aware of it. And he started being aware of it as he was writing. And to write filmable stories because that’s where the money was. Remember, to, that the talkies were like 1926-1927. We’re just a couple of years in, so they are desperate for writers who can write dialogue. The Jazz Singer was the first talkie. But the first all talking film was Lights of New York, and it’s a crime fiction film. They made it for like $25,000, and it was hugely successful. It became obvious that crime fiction was a good topic for the talkies. It was definitely in demand.

Sarah Harrison 19:02
That’s fascinating. We have a lot of these, as our book club goes through the history of mystery from beginning to end. Most of the writers are no longer with us. It’s fascinating that you are directing the literary estate and working on republishing Dashiell Hammett detective novels and stories. What does that work involve? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Julie Rivett 19:29
Directing the literary estate is an overstatement. I have three siblings. Two of us are trustees for the estate, my brother Evan, and he’s involved with the estate. He’s an attorney and advises in that direction as well. The other trustee is Richard Layman, who is the original Hammett biographer. He’s also a publisher and has expertise that neither Evan nor I have in the publishing industry because he is a publisher himself, and content creator. The three of us work together. We do get people who approach us with ideas, who we typically send to the agents, assuming they’re not Looney Tunes. Well, we usually send the Looney Tunes also to the agents. That’s what they’re there for. Rick and I have done quite a bit of public speaking at schools and libraries. And One City Reads One Book programs. I stay in touch with the Film Noir Foundation, our friends in San Francisco at John’s Grill. I put a face on it. It’s interesting. I have occasionally done a panel with a Ross MacDonald expert and a Raymond Chandler expert, and me. And then we have a moderator, Denise Hamilton, a mystery writer who organizes us. And it didn’t really occur to me until I started doing this panel that they don’t have family. They have no living descendants on either side. And it was like, oh, we do actually. I think, because we have great affection for the work and we have expertise. There’s a loyalty to make sure that it’s cared for in a responsible way, and exploited in ways that respect the work.

Sarah Harrison 21:32
That’s such a unique aspect that you have, personally, especially in reading all these books. When we got to the Dashiell Hammett detective stories, I have to say, I felt like he was larger than life. It’s like a huge right turn in terms of style and content and what he was writing. I was like, wow, oh, my goodness, this character and this compilation of work. You’re getting to know your grandfather through so much research. What has that been like, getting to know your grandfather through these avenues? And balancing that as a trustee?

Julie Rivett 22:17
It has been an honor and a privilege and a joy to really get in and see those things. And I think maybe I bring a little something to those papers. And I’ve occasionally seen things that others haven’t noticed when we were in the archives in Texas, where there’s some unfinished and unpublished stories there. And there are rough types with pencil edits all over them, and I noticed little checkmarks or underlines, and certain things, and I think there’s a meaning to that, but nobody else had ever paid attention to it. I noticed one page had been cut in half, and a little strip had been pasted in into the middle of the page with two lines of text and then neatly pasted back together. It was almost imperceptible. The only reason I noticed it is because the bottom of the page had been folded up, and that’s what tipped me to it. It’s personal. I remember reading a letter from my grandmother to the publisher saying, “Please, do you know where Mr. Hammett is? He hasn’t sent us any money in a while, and the children need shoes and good food. And the publisher wrote back saying, We don’t know where he is either. We’re sorry. But we’ll let him know you’re looking for him.” That was in his drunken period when he was off with Lillian Hellman. He did support the family. He did have a relationship with my grandmother and his two daughters. That’s another thing I learned. I didn’t realize that he really had a continuing relationship with my grandmother. It was more like a brother sister. She was a lovely woman. She was not his intellectual equal. She stayed home and took care of those two little girls. Until the fifties when he was blacklisted, that was their sole income. Some people say he abandoned his family, and that gets my hackles up a little bit. He didn’t. He didn’t live with them. My mother considered Lillian Hellman to be his second wife. Although, obviously they weren’t married, but that was the way it looked. It was embarrassing for my grandmother, because they were very public. But he did not abandon them. If you see the pictures of my mother and my grandfather on her wedding day, sitting together relaxed and happy, it’s a different picture.

Sarah Harrison 25:10
It’s so emotional, I feel, to try to navigate that. In addition to working on the Continental Op Dashiell Hammett detective stories, you also worked with your mother on a book of his letters.

Julie Rivett 25:22
Yes. After my aunt died, my mother inherited a cache of letters. And then combined with hers, the ones that she had kept, combined with the ones that we found through research and antiquarian book dealers and archives. I worked with her. At the same time, this is when Rick Layman worked with us as an editor for both these books. Rick and I were organizing the letters and then going to her with questions. The footnotes are wonderful in that book, I learned so much. Her memories contributed to that. But at the same time, she was writing her memoir, Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers. We were able to put in all the new photos that we’d found in that book. I worked with her on both of those. She’s 97. She’s still alive. We still need her signature on things.

Carolyn Daughters 26:29
As far as Lillian Hellman goes, I think you never had a relationship with her?

Julie Rivett 26:35
No. I mean, I met her the week we spent on Martha’s Vineyard island. And then again, I think it was 1983 or 1984. She was staying, I think, at William Wyler’s house up in Beverly Hills. She invited my mother to come for lunch. My mother’s not much of a driver, so I went up with her and we had lunch with Lillian Hellman that one day. Lillian Hellman died shortly after that, within a year or so. I can’t say I had any relationship with her, and then the trusts were set up under Lillian Hellman’s will, which is interesting. I am a trustee under the will of Lillian Hellman.

Sarah Harrison 27:29
Is there a short version you can tell us of how that transition took place?

Julie Rivett 27:41
When my grandfather died in 1961, the federal government and the New York State government claimed he owed something like $60,000 in back taxes, which is a huge amount. Some of that, no doubt was vindictive — the IRS had gone after him for being a communist. He had been living off his veteran’s pension the last few years of his life, so he really had no money at hand. Random House was holding close to $10,000 in escrow. What happened is the IRS says, let’s make us a deal. Lillian Hellman, who was the executrix of the account of that point, made a deal. They would auction off the rights to everything my grandfather ever wrote — all of the Dashiell Hammett detective stories. And whatever that auction brought in would go to the IRS and would pay off the debt. That was the deal. Lillian Hellman wrote to my mother and my aunt and said, we can do this, do you want to go in with me? We’ll buy it. The minimum bid is $5,000. And my mother wrote back and said, “Yes, of course. Tell me where to send the money and how much you need.” Lillian Hellman later wrote back and said, “It was so sad, strange and chilling that I didn’t hear from you.”

Carolyn Daughters 28:57
Oh! Oh no.

Julie Rivett 28:58
Yes. Lillian Hellman and her friend Arthur Cohen bought the rights to everything my grandfather ever wrote for the minimum bid of $5,000. She had complete control. Eventually, she did do some good things. Under her tenure, she got the reissues done, which is good in the sixties after the blacklist had faded. She kept things going, but there was some malfeasance there, too. When she died, she set up two trusts, one for own works, and one for my grandfather’s work. And she named three of her friends to be trustees. We had nothing. I think a portion of the proceeds would go to my mother, but the huge percentage went to the actual trustees. Go down the road a while and through the copyright extension law, we managed to reclaim through a negotiated settlement control over the novels. My mother directly controls the novels at this point, Lillian Hellman’s trust retains control of everything else, basically, including the short stories. Rick Layman, my brother and myself are all trustees under the will of Lillian Hellman, and we have signature power on the short stories. That’s the way it stands for now. It’s complicated and very frustrating.

Sarah Harrison 30:40
I feel like you’ve done a wonderful job of keeping his work alive and going. The Dashiell Hammett detective stories haven’t fallen into obscurity in the least.

Julie Rivett 30:52
We have the movies to thank for that, too. It does make a difference in modern culture.

Carolyn Daughters 30:58
Sam Spade and the story of The Maltese Falcon — it’s so original. The Tea Tonic & Toxin book club had been reading a lot of the cozy British mysteries, the Agatha Christie’s and Dorothy Sayers, and then you come to The Maltese Falcon. And it’s like you’re on another planet and another period of time. It’s so shockingly different. To what degree do you think Dashiell Hammett knew that he was doing something that was going to contribute to the Modernist period of writing and style of writing, as well as change the mystery genre?

Julie Rivett 31:53
At some point, I think he did come to that realization, though maybe not in the very beginning. He started trying to write poetry and little clever, New Yorker-style short stories. And then he was probably advised, hey, use your private investigator experience to write crime fiction. At first, he really needed to put bread on the table. I mean, he had tuberculosis. He was very ill and needed to pay the bills. And it was pennies a word, but that was a lot of groceries. But once he started, he became more ambitious. Red Harvest is a terrific book. And he’s developing, I think, his talents and his ideas during that time. About the time he was writing The Maltese Falcon, he wrote to Blanche Knopf and he said something about making literature out of the detective story. He said, “I’m not talking about myself, necessarily. But someday, somebody’s going to make literature out it out of that. And I’m selfish enough to have my hopes.” Really, with The Maltese Falcon, that’s where he was going with that. He read widely. He was a voracious reader of all kinds of materials. He knew where he stood in the canon. But I don’t think he knew how durable his influence would be.

Carolyn Daughters 33:39
All the Dashiell Hammett detective stories feel new and different. I think Raymond Chandler said that Dashiell Hammett took murder out of the drawing room and put it in the back alley where it belongs.

Julie Rivett 33:47
Yeah. Which is incredible. Raymond Chandler wrote that in The Simple Art of Murder, which was published in, I think, The Atlantic in 1950, while my grandfather was up in Alaska, after serving in the army during World War II. It’s one of the few things he read that he really liked. He actually typed up almost the whole essay and sent it to my mother. Or maybe it was my grandmother. But it really touched him that Raymond Chandler had said those things about him, absolutely.

Carolyn Daughters 34:27
Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man are three very different stories. I mean, the first one, Red Harvest, is a bloodbath. It is violent, and it’s hard to turn away, right? I kept flipping, I had to know what was happening. Every page of it was shocking and just stunning for the period. And then The Maltese Falcon is obviously a work of literature that has lived on, and I believe will continue to live on. And The Thin Man feels so much more like a social comedy. Three different protagonists, three very different Dashiell Hammett detective stories. Can you talk a little bit about this progression of the stories?

Julie Rivett 35:12
He was coming up. In Red Harvest, the protagonist is the Continental Op, who was the most durable character in his short stories. There are something like 20 Continental Op stories. Originally, Red Harvest was three or four of those stories in episodes. He’s rough. I think it’s interesting to think about the Continental Op as an employee, because it does make a difference. It’s modeled on Pinkerton Agency. His duty is to his employer. He has a duty to justice, but really, it’s getting the job done, and he has a duty to his employer. You can tell he talks about the Old Man, and sometimes he doesn’t tell the Old Man exactly what happened. He does fudge here and there, but it’s a different perspective on the detective business. Sam Spade is self-employed. He only has to please himself and his own set of ethics. Sam Spade has a duty to his client. To the extent possible, maybe not always Brigid. And then you get to Nick Charles, and he’s not a detective at all.

Sarah Harrison 36:41
He’s already retired.

Julie Rivett 36:43
There is a progression with the Dashiell Hammett detective stories. He’s retired, and he doesn’t really even want to be a detective. The novel in between the two, The Glass Key, the protagonist there is also not a detective. He’s a political fixer in a pseudo Baltimore city. He also ends up solving a murder, but that isn’t his job. It’s just something he falls into. We’ve got Nick Charles. It’s my grandfather with the Continental Op. He was struggling and poor and trying to keep it together with The Maltese Falcon. He was on the cusp of really hitting it big because Red Harvest got great reviews, and The Maltese Falcon, even more so. He was right at that cusp. And that was his launchpad. And then he’s dives over the edge. And now he’s in New York. He’s a very good looking, stylish man. Women loved him, and he loved women right back. He could play that part. He often said he was happier out in the woods with a dog and hunting or making a campfire and cooking a piece of hamburger and a potato in the fire. He liked the outdoors and ordinary, natural things. He had a lot of hobbies. He denied it, but he had photography and he wanted to get a crossbow and some earphones so that he could hear insects in the woods. He had lots of hobbies and things he liked to do and read.

Sarah Harrison 38:22
Why would he deny having hobbies?

Julie Rivett 38:26
When you read interviews with him, back in, say, the 30s, he would say he liked to drink and he liked to play poker, and he loafed a lot. I’m really good at loafing. Loafing is my favorite thing. He was just playing a role.

Sarah Harrison 38:43
He was creating a persona.

Julie Rivett 38:46
He was. He didn’t want to be an ordinary guy. He was stripping away the parts that didn’t fit. So he was complicit.

Carolyn Daughters 39:00
It’s interesting to think about how big of a personality he was and how well known he was. He was kind of like a Hemingway. I mean, the Dashiell Hammett detective stories were so big that Dashiell Hammett was on the cover right of The Thin Man, which is incredible. How would that decision be made to say, Okay, let’s put a picture of the author on The Thin Man?

Julie Rivett 39:26
I can’t speak to how the process went down. But I think they knew what they were doing and confusing the elements because my grandfather was a tall, thin man. And then Nick Charles was probably tall and thin. And then we’ve got the real thin man, Clyde Wynant, who’s dead before the book ever begins. Then we get to the movies, and you’ve got William Powell, who is relatively tall and thin. And then you get to the third movie, After The Thin Man, where they bring in the baby. He’s the other thin man. They knew what they were doing. They were milking it. And my grandfather was a very good looking guy and very stylish. But they do they mix it up, and people loved it.

Sarah Harrison 40:46
You mentioned the movie, and Carolyn and I recently watched it before this interview. One of the things I was really struck by was the contrast between the Dashiell Hammett detective stories and the films. In the movie, one of the most remarkable things about the books was how he would write women, and, man, they were bad. They were evil or murderous or psychopaths. Mimi was beating up her daughter and everyone was sort of sex-crazed. Dorothy was a mess. And in the movie, the women were tame by comparison.

Carolyn Daughters 41:39
Dorothy, in particular. When I read The Thin Man, Dorothy leaps off the page. She’s this very odd character, and Nora Charles had the patience of a saint, from my perspective. In the movie, Dorothy’s a completely different character.

Julie Rivett 41:55
Well, this is the early days of the production codes, too. I don’t think that they were fully organized yet. But they were under constraints to not have as much drinking, they couldn’t have the sex. By the time you got to the sequels, they were objecting to the dog urinating on trees. There were different jokes and things that they couldn’t do. They couldn’t disrespect authority figures, or they weren’t supposed to. There were literally checklists, they would have a little chart with depictions of authority figures, and they would mark, were they comedic, were they serious, were they corrupt. Think of Ricky and Lucy and separate beds, right?

Sarah Harrison 43:17
Nick and Nora were in separate beds, too. Why did they pick his books, then, which were so notably hardboiled? Why did they sterilize the Dashiell Hammett detective stories when they made the films?

Julie Rivett 43:03
The first Maltese Falcon movie came out in 1931, and it’s not so sterilized. There are some sexier scenes in there. It is pre Hayes code. It’s not a particularly good film. The Sam Spade character is oily and horrible. But the rest of it isn’t terrible. Brigid is in a bubble bath, nothing on but bubbles. And then the Huston one doesn’t come out until 1941. That’s half a dozen years after The Thin Man is out. It’s more into the film noir period. This is the Great Depression. What they really want is something entertaining that people will be willing to spend their dime or whatever it takes to escape. They needed that escapist form, and they cleaned it up a little. The screenwriters for the movie, Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich, they were married. They were regulars in Hollywood, and they were by all accounts nice people, which was not all that common. And they were true friends of my grandmother. My mother remembers meeting them and going to their house, and they were they were truly friends of his. After the third film, they didn’t want to write anymore either. That’s why they put the baby in when they got to the end of the second one. They were so tired of writing those screenplays that they thought, well, we’ll give them a baby, and that’ll stop the whole franchise. It totally backfired. People said oh, we can’t wait for the next one! So strange.

Carolyn Daughters 44:14
It’s strange that they wanted to push away so much success. I mean, I think there are six movies based on the Dashiell Hammett detective stories — The Thin Man?

Julie Rivett 44:56
There are six, but they were just a little too much, too cute, too witty. It was too much. I think Francis said if she had to write one more she was gonna throw up all over her typewriter. What are my grandfather’s say? Nobody ever wrote two more insufferably smug characters [than Nick and Nora Charles], and they can’t take that away from me.

Sarah Harrison 45:24
You mentioned Dashiell Hammett felt a bit like he was selling out in Hollywood. Was he just hesitantly on board with things like remaking Dorothy’s character or the approvals for all of that? How did that work?

Julie Rivett 45:42
He didn’t have much input, if any, on the first movie, the original, because the book was already there. Hackett and Goodrich wrote from the book and worked with Stromberg on that. When it came time for the sequels, my grandfather did write the screen treatments for the first two sequels. He worked with the Hackett and Francis. He had a bad habit of getting drunk and not showing up. But he was being paid. He was living in a five-bedroom suite in the Beverly Hilton or the Beverly Wilshire, and he was being paid ridiculous amounts of money. He was drinking and partying and out all night. Those scenes with Nick Charles waking up in the morning saying, I need a drink just to clear my head. That was my grandfather in those days. He did manage to complete the two screen treatments, maybe a year or two apart. And both times he almost drank himself to death. And he had to be hospitalized afterwards in New York. It was not something he was proud of or particularly enjoyed. He could party with the best of them, but it didn’t make him happy.

Carolyn Daughters 46:57
The treatment of drinking in The Thin Man and in the movie is really something. Alcohol is everywhere. It’s very liberally served. Somebody wakes up in the middle of the night and they make themselves a cocktail. And then Nick makes one for Nora. Nora makes one for Nick. It’s mind-boggling from a reading and watching standpoint. Yet, it’s fascinating at the same time that these two characters seem capable of functioning with so much liquor in their systems pretty much every waking hour. Alcohol seems to be a staple in the Dashiell Hammett detective stories.

Julie Rivett 47:37
It is mind-boggling. Absolutely. Dashiell Hammett did drink a lot, and I think he could hold his liquor quite a bit. And the characters are, to some extent, based on my grandfather and Lillian Hellman and their relationship. They did have that witty, intellectual, equal banter thing going on, and they both drank. Although I can’t imagine anyone surviving drinking at the level that Nick did. It does seem almost impossible to function. What always strikes me, too, is the different structure in the book in the movie. The speakeasies versus the hotels and restaurants. Because the book comes out while Prohibition is still enforced. The book is published, and then almost immediately Prohibition has ended. They sold the film rights immediately. What did I read? Hackett did the script in six weeks. It already had all that great language in there. They wrote the script in six weeks, and then it only took like 19 days or something to shoot it. It was really quick. But in that time, things had already shifted. Booze was not illegal anymore. That probably helped with the sensors, the production codes, because they were drinking in bars, not in speakeasies. Although the speakeasies looked like a lot more fun.

Carolyn Daughters 49:32
Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man — these Dashiell Hammett detective stories are so cinematic. You can see through the dialogue how fast paced the events are. You can almost see those scenes. They really come to life, and they lend themselves toward film treatments, it seems.

Julie Rivett 49:51
My grandfather had a habit of using genuine geographical locations and buildings and rooms. I mean, Sam Spade’s apartment is my grandfather’s apartment. With very, very little change, you can walk through it. It’s preserved now as a literary monument. Some of the other Dashiell Hammett detective stories, you can walk the locations in New York or San Francisco. He wrote a short story, a Sam Spade story set in New York. It’s complicated, I found the apartment, the building where he was living, and he uses that floor plan. It’s a three-level townhouse. I could walk the book right through there. He would look around him and write accurately from what he observed.

Sarah Harrison 51:11
You said an interesting quote in one of the articles we read. You said, “One of my jobs in talking about my grandfather is to humanize him, to get beyond that iconic image.” Can you tell us a little bit about that work?

Julie Rivett 51:30
Maybe my job is to make him a round character, and not a flat character, in literary terms. It’s very easy for people to say, “Oh, he was a drunk,” or, “Oh, he was a communist,” or, “Oh, he was just this hardboiled writer.” It’s easy to tune out the complexities. I want people to appreciate that he was a well-rounded person with many talents and many faults and not to dismiss it. Working with my grandfather, I’ve had to accept his faults and learn to deal with it. It was what it was. I want people to know that, to appreciate that he was a man of history, that he was a brilliant man and a man of his times, and a man with a lot of ghosts. One of the fun things that I do is give lectures to schools and libraries. At the end, there’s always time for Q&A. People ask screwball questions, like, “How did he stay so thin?” “What diet was he on?” Somebody else in the back yells, “He had TB, you fool!.” The guy who comes and introduces me to his son who was named Dashiell. Someone wanted to know what his relationship was with Richard Nixon. None, basically. But it gives me a chance to counter. Somebody said, “Well, I know he was one of the Hollywood Ten.” No. That’s not true. Or, “I know he abandoned your grandmother.” No. To break down those stereotypes is very gratifying, I will say.

Carolyn Daughters 53:45
It complicates his story in really human ways.

Julie Rivett 53:49
Exactly. As any good writer would do.

Carolyn Daughters 53:56
Agreed. Well, Julie, we would love to have you on for a second episode to discuss Dashiell Hammett detective stories further, if you’re willing.

Julie Rivett 54:04
It would be delightful.

Sarah Harrison 54:07
This has been fascinating. Listeners, I’m sure you agree, so I hope you will tune in. I still use radio language.

Carolyn Daughters 54:20
Turn up the dial.

Sarah Harrison 54:22
Push the forward button to the next episode with Julie Rivett. She’s going to share with us more fascinating things about Dashiell and The Thin Man and all things about Dashiell Hammett detective stories.

Carolyn Daughters  54:34 
You can learn more about The Thin Man and all our 2024 book selections at teatonicandtoxin.com. You can also comment, weigh in, and follow along with what we’re reading and discussing @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Sarah Harrison 54:50
Thanks, Julie. And until next time, stay mysterious.

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