They are two of the most famous fictional detectives in literature. Their names are synonymous with noir fiction and Humphrey Bogart: Bogart famously played both of them: Marlowe in The Big Sleep, and Spade in The Maltese Falcon, forever cementing in the public imagination the idea of the cynical, chain-smoking, hard-drinking gumshoe. Now a Los Angeles historian is claiming that she has discovered the real-life inspiration for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade: a black detective named Samuel Marlowe. Louise Ransil says that after examining a series of letters between the detective and the two novelists, she is convinced that Marlowe was the real detective that both Chandler and Hammett turned to when they needed access to parts of Los Angeles that were off-limits to them.
As the Daily Mail reports, “Samuel Marlowe, a veteran of the First World War, carried out six private investigations in the 1920s which were seen as too dirty or dangerous for white detectives. At the time Mr Hammett and Mr Chandler were writing short stories for pulp fiction magazine Black Mask – and Samuel Marlowe wrote to them to correct procedural details in these. He then became friends with Mr Chandler – who hired him as a guide and bodyguard to research areas which were seen as ‘off-limits’ to white middle-class authors, according to Miss Ransil.” Unfortunately for the historian, the correspondence has gone missing (Marlowe’s house was cleared out after he took a dirt nap … ahem, after he died.) So she cannot prove her story, which is a shame, as it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Sounds like she’s in need of a private detective.