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3937Nell Martin

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  • keith2draw
    Jan 19, 2006
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      Hi all,

      I found out this week that I was mentioned in the acknowledgements
      section of a major book released recently, and at the risk of
      patting myself on the back, I'd like to give you all the details.

      There have been about a half dozen or so biographies written about
      the author Dashiell Hammett over the years. Hammett is of course
      responsible for creating the literary character Sam Spade, a
      detective made famous in Hammett's book The Maltese Falcon, which
      was also made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. Sam Spade has
      become over the years the stereotypical private eye...spoofed in
      hundreds of films, television shows and commercials. Hammett also
      wrote the The Thin Man, The Dain Curse, Red Harvest and The Glass
      Key, as well as a number of Hollywood screenplays.

      Hammett was a ladies man, and had affairs with many woman...even
      while he was married. Three of his books were dedicated to important
      women in his life...and one of these books, The Glass Key, was
      dedicated to Nell Martin. None of the Hammett biographers over the
      years have ever been able to find out much about her. She was until
      recently a total mystery.

      Nell first came to my attention about five years ago, while
      researching Don Blanding. One day, I read in a 1935 Blanding
      interview that he had written five short stories with Nell Martin.
      Not knowing who Nell was, I began to investigate her. I found
      mentions of her in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the
      Internet Movie Database...and slowly a picture began to develop of
      who she was: the author of eight novels and a few hundred short
      stories, and screenplays for a series of short films and radio
      serials based on her character Maisie Ravier....but nothing else was
      known about her, except that she was the girlfriend of Hammett for a
      few years, and dedicated one of her books to him.

      Over the last several years I have slowly peeled away at the mystery
      surrounding her and discovered almost all the details of her life:
      she was married on a number of occasions, changing her name each
      time (which is why no one else could track her). She also moved
      around a great deal, living in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago,
      San Diego, New York, and a number of places as a child, including
      Colorado Springs and Denver. Through determined detective work (some
      by Bev Leinbach) and dumb luck, I was able to find her in the
      censuses, city directories, and newspapers. I tracked down a living
      stepson (in his eighties) who provided me with enough info to fill
      in more gaps and locate a death certificate, a marriage certificate,
      and several other important documents.

      One of the most accomplished biographers of Hammett is a man named
      Richard Layman, who has authored and edited dozens of books on
      Dashiell. He is an absolute expert on Hammett. I contacted him and
      he was amazed at how much I had learned about Nell, and we exchanged
      info. His latest book is titled DISCOVERING THE MALTESE FALCON AND
      SAM SPADE, which is a resource book for Hammett researchers and
      collectors, of which there are apparently many. In the book he gives
      me the following credit: "Keith Emmons has for the first time
      provided reliable information about the elusive Nell Martin."

      Just one line, but it's kind of neat to know I have made a
      contribution towards the collaborative effort of researching the
      life of one of America's great writers. I'm working on an article
      about Nell which I hope to have published in a national magazine
      sometime this year. I've discovered even more about her, and have
      purposely not revealed these new facts to the Hammett crowd (one
      must always hold some cards under their sleeve, just in case.)

      Keith
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