Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Hammett, Dashiell mss., 1949–1952, consist of correspondence between author Dashiell Hammett and his secretary Muriel Alexander. Dashiell Hammett, 1894–1961, was born in St. Mary's County, MD and raised in Philadelphia and Baltimore. After enlisting in the Army Ambulance Corps during the First World War (where he contracted tuberculosis) and getting various stints of employment across the country for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Hammett began writing short stories for publications such as The Smart Set and The Black Mask, the latter of which, in particular, shaped his reputation as a writer of hard-boiled crime fiction.

Hammett went on to write five novels: Red Harvest (1929); The Dain Curse (1929); The Maltese Falcon (1930), featuring iconic private eye Sam Spade; The Glass Key (1931); and The Thin Man (1934), featuring married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Hammett spent the rest of his career writing screenplays and "doctoring" scripts for movies, television, and radio. Despite ill health, Hammett enlisted again in the Army during the Second World War, where he edited a military newspaper; and he was deeply involved in left-wing political activism before and after the WWII era. As president of the Civil Rights Congress in New York (labeled a communist front group by the Office of the Attorney General of the United States), Hammett in 1949 posted bail for eleven men accused of communist conspiracy and in 1951 refused to identify the contributors to the bail fund during testimony before a U.S. District Court. After taking the Fifth Amendment, he was found in contempt of court and sentenced to five months imprisonment. Upon release, the IRS charged him with over $100,000 in back taxes. In 1953, Hammett once more refused to cooperate during testimony, this time before the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and was subsequently blacklisted. He lived the remaining years of his life in rural New York State before dying of lung cancer in New York, NY.

The correspondence between Dashiell Hammett (twenty-two letters) and his "new" secretary Muriel Alexander (thirty-eight letters) overlaps some of Hammett's political and financial troubles, much of it exchanged while Hammett was in Hollywood writing a screenplay (titled Detective Story) and Alexander remained back East tending to his finances and other affairs.

An inventory is available.

Acquired: 2010

Collection size: 60 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.