On January 11, 1936, a banquet was held in Los Angeles for writers connected with Black Mask
, a pulp crime magazine specializing in hard-boiled detective fiction. It was the first-ever west coast gathering for the group, whose leading lights Hammett and Chandler were the acknowledged masters of the genre. Oddly enough, although they both lived and worked in Hollywood at the time, Chandler and Hammett had never met before that night. By all accounts, they never met again.
Joining them for the festivities were authors Raymond Jae Moffatt, Herbert Stinson, Dwight Babcock, Eric Taylor, Arthur Barnes, John K. Butler, Todhunter Ballard, Norbert Davis, and Horace McCoy. After dinner, a group photograph
was taken, which the ten writers then signed and had mounted on the linen tablecloth for presentation to Captain Joseph T. Shaw, the longtime editor of Black Mask
. The original is currently housed with Shaw’s personal papers at the UCLA Library.
Judging from the photograph, Chandler and Hammett don’t appear to have bonded over the turtle soup, Veal Prince Orloff
, and sand dabs that in all likelihood were served. They stand on opposite sides of the grouping, sullen and unsmiling. The pipe-puffing Chandler glowers at nothing in particular, looking every inch the “volcanically tortured snob” a biographer once dubbed him. A haggard-looking Hammett appears to be trying to keep himself upright long enough for the picture to be snapped.
No one knows whether the two mean talked, or what they thought of each other. Writing to a friend years after the encounter, Chandler did speak fondly of Hammett’s distinguished mien. “Very nice-looking, tall, quiet, gray-haired,” he remarked. “Seemed quite unspoiled to me.” Unspoiled, or perhaps just pickled. Chandler also recalled that The Maltese Falcon
author possessed a “fearful capacity for Scotch.”