||Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland on May
27, 1894 to a family long in the county. After working as a youth to help
support his family, he left home in 1914 and worked as a detective before
enlisting in the U.S. Army during World War I. His contraction of influenza in
1918 led to tuberculosis, for which Hammett was treated in military hospitals
on the west coast.
||In one of these hospitals he met and married a nurse, Josephine (Jose)
Dolan. Following his discharge in 1921 they moved to San Francisco, where he
found work as an advertising copy writer. Soon he began writing fiction for
publication, quickly gaining a following for his gritty detective writing in
Black Mask magazine. Due to a relapse of
tuberculosis, Hammett began living apart from his wife and two children, but
continued with his increasingly well-received writing career.
||In 1930 Knopf published Hammett's
The Maltese Falcon, and his fame as an
American author was made. He met Lillian Hellman in 1931, and though both were
married at the time, they began a relationship that lasted until Hammett's
The Thin Man (1934) is in some sense a
roman à clef based on their life together. Following the publication of
The Thin Man Hammett's literary production
essentially ceased, for reasons still debated.
||In the years between 1935 and 1941 Hammett's life was marked by
creative false starts, leftist activism, and increasingly severe alcohol abuse.
After Pearl Harbor, however, he enlisted in the army and served for most of the
war years in Alaska, a time that is generally regarded as one of personal
contentment for Hammett, even though his literary work was limited to editing
serviceman's newspaper in the Aleutians.
||Upon his discharge from military service in 1945 Hammett returned to
New York, where his attempts at resuming a writing career were hampered by
political persecution, poor health, and his drinking problem. Following a
prison term in 1951 for refusing to answer questions posed by the congressional
House Committee on Un-American Activities he lived a retired life, supported by
Lillian Hellman and other friends. Dashiell Hammett died at New York's Lenox
Hill Hospital on January 10, 1961.