Dashiell Hammett Biography

Samuel Dashiell Hammett, a renowned American novelist, screenwriter, and political activist, is widely recognized as one of the greatest mystery writers of all time. He created iconic characters such as ‘the Continental Op,’ ‘Nick and Nora Charles,’ and ‘Sam Spade,’ with his work inspiring various movie genres including mystery thrillers and film-noir. His novel ‘The Maltese Falcon’ was adapted into a film directed by John Huston, featuring the legendary Humphrey Bogart as ‘Spade.’ Hammett’s literary prowess was further acknowledged by ‘Time’ magazine, which included his novel ‘Red Harvest’ in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. Despite starting his career in detective work and serving in the army, Hammett ultimately found his true calling in writing, particularly in the realm of short stories. The unprecedented fame he achieved after his books were adapted into movies solidified his status as a literary legend.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Samuel Dashiell Hammett
  • Died At Age: 66
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Josephine Dolan (m. 1921 – div. 1937)
    • Father: Richard Thomas Hammett
    • Mother: Anne Bond Dashiell
    • Children: Josephine, Mary Jane
    • Partner: Lillian Hellman (1931 – 1961)
  • Born Country: United States
  • Novelists
  • Political Activists
  • Died on: January 10, 1961
  • Place of death: New York, New York, United States
  • Notable Alumni: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
  • Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer
  • Cause of Death: Lung Cancer
  • U.S. State: Maryland
  • More Facts:
    • Education: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

Childhood & Early Life

Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on May 27, 1894, to Richard Thomas Hammett and Anne Bond Dashiell. He had an older sister, Aronia, and a younger brother, Richard Jr. He was raised in Baltimore and Philadelphia and was baptized a Catholic.


Hammett worked at several places before joining the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, where he worked as an operative from 1915 to 1922. He also served in World War I and enlisted in the US army in 1918. During his time in the army, he contracted the Spanish flu and later tuberculosis. He spent most of his time as a patient at Cushman Hospital in Tacoma, Washington.

After leaving the Pinkertons, Hammett began writing and turned his experience at the agency into short detective stories. His work was published in leading crime fiction magazine Black Mask. He wrote most of his detective stories during his stay in San Francisco in the 1920s and many of the locations mentioned in his works are from this time.

Hammett went on to write over 80 stories in his lifetime, featuring iconic detectives such as Sam Spade and the Continental Op. His characters were known for their strong personal sense of morality and code of honor. The Maltese Falcon, his second novel, became a classic and was made into a film in 1941. He wrote four other novels before focusing on left-wing political causes and civil rights.

During World War II, Hammett enlisted in the US Army again and moved to New York. After the war, he became involved in political activism and was elected president of the Civil Rights Congress. He was later found guilty of contempt of court and served time in a federal penitentiary.

Hammett was investigated by Congress during the 1950s and was blacklisted for refusing to cooperate. Despite this, he continued to write and published several short stories and screenplays.

Major Works

Hammett wrote several short stories, including “The Barber and His Wife,” “The Parthian Shot,” “The Great Lovers,” “Immortality,” “The Road Home,” “The Master Mind,” and “The Sardonic Star of Tom Doody.” His bestseller mystery novels include “The Big Knockover,” “$106,000 Blood Money,” and “The Adventures of Sam Spade.” He also wrote screenplays such as “City Streets,” “Mister Dynamite,” “After the Thin Man,” “Another Thin Man,” and “Watch on the Rhine.”

Personal Life, Death & Legacy

Hammett was married to Josephine Dolan and had two daughters. His marriage fell apart due to his tuberculosis, but he continued to support his family through his writing. He was romantically involved with Nell Martin and later had a relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman, which lasted nearly thirty years.

Hammett wrote his final story in 1934 and stopped writing fiction due to his declining health. He died on January 10, 1961, from lung cancer and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2011, previously unknown short stories by Hammett were discovered in the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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