Raymond Chandler

By: Carolyn Kellogg
July 23, 2010

Chandler (seated) in a recently-discovered cameo in Double Indemnity.

When RAYMOND CHANDLER’s (1888–1959) heart broke, it collapsed into the exact shape of Los Angeles. What did it — working for the oil company; being fired; the secretary with whom he’d been having an affair; his wife, secretly 18 years his senior; the drinking? Maybe it was the city itself, which he’d entered as a half-Brit proto-Bohemian and seen explode with bovine popularity and corruption, under an ever-perfect sun. He began publishing at 45, writing with the bitter, bewildered devotion of the bereft. “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.” His detective Philip Marlowe was a moral man in an amoral city, not that it got him more than a barren office, a bottle and untrustworthy dames. Chandler and Hollywood were a wonderful, terrible match — the money was great, but the studio kept him drunk for days to slam out the script for The Blue Dahlia. While making Double Indemnity, his relationship with Billy Wilder was legendarily contentious — except Chandler himself made a cameo, recently spotted after going unnoticed for 65 years. It’s a rare glimpse of Chandler on film; he’s reading — what? — as Fred MacMurray strides past. He hides a smile. There must have been a fun Chandler, the charming drunk, the tempting philanderer, the gimlet-eyed wit. But something in Los Angeles betrayed Raymond Chandler, or maybe the city reflected how he betrayed himself. We wouldn’t have noir — or Los Angeles, really — without him.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Hugh Selby. Jr.

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