Report: Black Man Secretly Helped Great Crime Writers

Gumshoe Samuel Marlowe apparently wrote to Chandler, Hammett
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2014 3:20 PM CST
Humphrey Bogart in "The Big Sleep," a film adapted from a crime novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler.   (YouTube)
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(Newser) – Two great American crime novelists may have relied on a man unknown to history—a black detective in Los Angeles—to help them get their facts straight, the LA Times reports. Samuel Marlowe, said to be the city's first black gumshoe, worked for celebrities, studios, and speakeasies in the 1930s, trailing the girlfriends of wealthy clients and pulling movie stars out of bars on the "wrong" side of town, according to his descendants and a Hollywood screenwriter. Marlowe also reportedly corresponded with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, the authors of noir classics like The Long Goodbye and The Maltese Falcon, respectively, with insights into detective-life and Prohibition-era Los Angeles. Only problem: All of Marlowe's correspondence has vanished.

The screenwriter, Louise Ransil, says she saw the handwritten letters at Marlowe's old house before a real estate agent apparently had them dumped when selling the property. Now one of Marlowe's great grandsons is digging through an old building where his dad ran a thrift shop, but the letters still haven't turned up. Nor has proof that Marlowe was LA's first black detective: "I am more interested in [his] legacy, and the legacy of African American men who have blazed a trail and gone unrecognized," he says. A propos, there's a new book out (The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, by Michael Ross) about a case in Reconstruction-era New Orleans that was investigated by John Jourdain—possibly the first black detective to receive national attention, the New York Times reports.

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