Chandler came to writing fiction late in life, with career failures dragging behind him. The child of a broken family, he was educated (as he was proud to advertise) at an English public school – Dulwich. He was knocked about in the First World War fighting with the Canadian army, and – before taking to literature – had failed in the California oil industry. Not easy to do at that period, when you could start a gusher in the Long Beach fields with a pickaxe. Given his problems with alcohol in the 1930s, it would have been very wise to steer clear of Ray with a pickaxe in his hand.
Always dominated by his mother, and sexually timid, he married the day after his mother died. His wife, Cissie, was decades older than he. As an acquaintance tartly noted, the new Mrs Chandler was 50 years old, looked 40 and dressed twenty. But she helped Ray dry out, and start a redemptive late career in crime fiction.
|Although Chandler remained married to Cissy for 30 years, he wasn't always faithful. However, he continually professed his love for her and was devastated by her death.|
The Big Sleep introduces the 38-year-old PI as 'a shop soiled Sir Galahad' taking on the corruption of the southern Californian 'old money' elite (a caste Chandler knew well from his oilman days). The Big Sleep – which does not have an easily followed plot – was filmed by Howard Hawks, starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe, in 1946. Famously, the director wired the novelist asking him to explain the significance of the murdered chauffeur, only to be told that Chandler himself did not know the answer.
|Did Chandler ever luck out with the casting of The Big Sleep: he got Bogey AND Bacall!|