AMERICAN NOVELIST OF CRIME FICTION
CREATOR OF THE PHILIP MARLOWE DETECTIVE SERIES
Typewritten Letter Signed, Ray, one page, large quarto, La Jolla, California, December 15, 1950. On his name-imprinted stationery, to his literary agents, Swanie [H. N. Swanson] and Eddie [Edward Carter].
“Evidently Swanie has not yet heard from Carl Brandt, although I told him a couple of weeks ago that I wanted out of the Stark connection and back with Swanie. Not that it means much with me practically on the shelf. But Carl may be sick or something. Thanks for the clipping about Strangers on a Train, but I am almost fantastically uninterested in this project and with everyone who had anything to do with getting it up. If I’d had an agent who was any good, he would have told me what to expect from our fat little friend. I’m not his kind of writer at all and he is certainly not my kind of producer, since he is not in the least concerned with getting a strong script, but solely with getting on paper in some anonymous form an excuse for making the kind of scenes he likes to make and the sort of effects he likes to produce. He has hardly any feeling for dialogue and none at all for plausibility. I don’t know whether he is scared or just terribly conceited—perhaps a little of both—but it’s clear that he won’t let anything get into the picture which he can’t at least say he thought of. He won’t even give Ben Hecht any credit for doing good work. To listen to him you would think he had to rewrite everything Hecht wrote. Which I don’t believe.
“Our little black cat had to be put to sleep yesterday morning. We feel pretty broken up about it. She was almost 20 years old. We saw it coming, of course, but we hoped she might pick up strength. But when she got too weak to stand up and practically stopped eating, there was nothing else to do. They have a wonderful way of doing it now. They inject nembutal into a vein of the foreleg and the animal just isn’t there anymore. She falls asleep in two seconds. Then after a few minutes, just to make certain, they inject it into the heart directly. Pity they can’t do it to people. I watched my mother die under morphine and it took almost ten hours. She was completely unconscious, of course, but how much better if it took two seconds—if it had to be anyhow.…” In a postscript typed in red, Raymond Chandler adds, “Sorry. I wrote this damn letter thinking the one—got was from Eddie. The brain is not too bright, evidently.”
Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s film, Strangers on a Train, released by Warner Bros. in 1951, starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman and Leo G. Carroll. Hitchcock had purchased the film rights to Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name for a mere $2,000 and commissioned Chandler to work on a screen treatment. On paper, it seemed like a marriage made in Heaven—Hitchcock, the supreme master of the suspense thriller, working with Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe, the quintessential screen private eye, and author of some of the most cynical, witty and trenchant dialogue the private-eye genre has ever heard. But in practice it did not work out. Hitchcock said rather bluntly that Chandler’s work was “no good,” and an assistant of Ben Hecht’s, Crenszi Ormonde, was brought in to help out. Ben Hecht had written Hitchcock’s scripts for Spellbound and Notorious.
H. N. Swanson (1900-1991), known in the industry as “Swanie”, was a noted literary agent who wrote and produced a handful of films after David O. Selznick saw his work in College Humor. He opened an office on Sunset Boulevard in 1934, and at one time his clients included Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Ayn Rand, S. J. Perelman, John O’Hara and Elmore Leonard. His scripts include The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Big Sleep, Old Yeller, Butterfield 8, and The Mosquito Coast.