“…COULD I SAY ‘THAT MAN’
WITHOUT YOUR THINKING I MEAN ROOSEVELT?”
DASHIELL HAMMETT. American writer; creator of ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction, which included novels that were made into movies such as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.
Typewritten Letter Signed, Dash, one page, legal folio, [Aleutian Islands], Alaska, October 23, 1943. To Florence [Monash] in Bronx, New York, with the original envelope.
“Thanks for the pictures, honey. I cannot go into the details of my appreciation in a letter that might be read by you know whom -or could I say ‘that man’ without your thinking I mean Roosevelt? I can only remind you that you are dealing with one who – however old and doddering ‘ has seen only four women since July, but not to speak to. The last woman he spoke to was a girl in the PX at Fort Lawton, Seattle, and his conversation went something like this, ‘Coffee and doughnuts, please.’ It’s unlikely that he even said, ‘Darling,’ after the ‘please,’ since his boat was waiting and he was in a bit of a hurry, and wasn’t thinking about not seeing women again for a while. See what I mean? It may be that it would be kind sometimes to send him a picture of the face. You understand, now, it’s not that he doesn’t like nature and beauty and things and all. Why sometimes even when he’s asleep – Who the hell’s being psychoanalyzed, me or Paul?
“We don’t mush much – like that phrase? – in this part of Alaska. we’re the goers-in for fog and rain on windswept tundra against a volcano or two – some dead, some smoking – on a gray backdrop, and I haven’t seen a tree since Seattle. It’s bleak and beautiful, with an unreal, fairyland, sort of beauty. Nothing has much color: chalky blues, greens, browns and grays. Most of the time I’m kind of in love with it. I meant this to be a longer letter, but it’s like this. I’ve been on duty all night and now I see it’s opening up just about now, and there are flapjacks and bacon for breakfast this morning. Now I know this might be considered ungallant and by God I wouldn’t do it if you were here, but you’re a long way off – you’ve probably finished lunch – and I’m hungry, and – My best to Paul…”
When Corporal Dashiell Hammett wrote this letter, he had been in the army for a year. On July 9, he was transferred to Fort Lawton, in Fort Lewis, Washington, a jumping-off place for military personnel on the way to the Pacific. Then Dashiell Hammett was stationed in the Aleutian Islands with the 14th Signal Service Company since July 31, and he loved it. His biographer, Diane Johnson, writes that “Here in remotest Alaska, the new calm life suited him. He noticed that he was sleeping less but not missing the sleep, was stronger, and had gained weight. At the end of August he realized that he had had only one drink since the tenth of July. He lived in a Quonset with men he didn’t much like; he worked at the post radio station and did book reviews, and was contented.” The American forces were in the Aleutians to prevent the Japanese from using the Islands as a bridge to the mainland, and they succeeded in doing that in early 1944 when the Japanese withdrew.
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- Literature – American