Adapting Hammett

As Paul Coughlin points out in the online journal Senses of Cinema, Dashiell Hammett’s prose is thought to be “very conducive” to the screen (Coughlin, 2). In other words, Dashiell Hammett makes writing a screenplay easy. Hammett almost always narrates from an objective observer’s point of view. He establishes a detailed setting and lends enough information to make the reader feel like they’re a semi-omniscient spectator as they witness the scenes play out. The objective observer is the perspective experienced by moviegoers, which makes Hammett’s work all the more appealing for Hollywood. It’s as though Hammett writes his novels with film noir in mind.

However, Coughlin argues that casting well-known “Hollywood” actors and actresses inevitably obscures movie adaptations (3). Coughlin asserts that the 1942 film adaptation of The Glass Key, which is based on Hammett’s book of the same name, did not accurately convey the “quintessence” of Hammett’s writing style (2). Despite the close adherence to the script, characters, and narrative sequences offered by the book, the off-screen personalities and reputations of the actors and actresses in the Glass Key movie adaptation ultimately altered viewer perceptions and did not align with Hammett’s literature.

Pamphlet. Original Herald for the Glass Key directed by Stuart Heisler. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures Inc., 1942. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.

In order to further explore Hammett’s writing and silver screen adaptations, I will create a digital exhibition titled “Adapting Hammett”. The exhibition focuses on the 1935 and 1942 film adaptations of Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 novel, The Glass Key. My intention behind the exhibition is to create an online space where visitors can examine and compare original and adapted portrayals of The Glass Key. Portrayals can be understood through analysis of original objects, which I have found in the Special Collections Archives of the Johns Hopkins Libraries. By exhibiting images of said objects, which were once intended to convey a particular impression of The Glass Key, viewers of the digital exhibition can decide for themselves whether the film adaptations did the original book justice, missed the point, or went in an entirely new direction. Viewers will be able to test Paul Coughlin’s assertion, and determine if the cast’s reputations and personalities impede with a fresh and open look at a film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key.

Dust Jacket. Dashiell Hammett. The Glass Key. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.
Dust Jacket. Dashiell Hammett. The Glass Key. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Allison Cox.

For example, I plan to utilize an image of the original herald for Stuart Heisler’s 1942 film adaptation of The Glass Key (Figure 1) and place it next to the 1931 book’s first edition dust jacket (Figure 2). The dust jacket of The Glass Key appears to evoke a sense of mystery and excitement as the image of the woman gives off an element of drama. Although the words at the bottom of the dust jacket read, “Dashiell Hammett: author of the Maltese Falcon,” and appear to use Hammett’s other popular novels to sell the book, it is not to he same extent as the movie herald. One caption of the movie herald exclaims, “Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, that terrific couple from ‘This Gun For Hire’….plus ‘Wake Island’s’ Brian Donlevy, take a town apart in the hottest political murder mystery ever filmed!” Using the pre-existing reputations of the cast in order to advertise the new film adaptation certainly seems to create a pre-existing perception of the film; but I will let the viewers decide for themselves!


Coughlin, Paul. “Miller’s Crossing, The Glass Key, and Dashiell Hammett.” Senses of Cinema. 1 Mar. 2002. Web. 1 May 2015.

Coughlin Article:


Displaying Conservative Propaganda

“Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is a digital exhibition that draws from the Group Research, Inc. Records from the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University. Nicholas Osborne from the History Department at Columbia University, the curator of the exhibition, described the items in the exhibit as ones intended to highlight the ways in which cartoonists, illustrators, and designers participated in the dissemination of conservative points of view during the formative period (early 1960’s to mid 1990’s) of modern US conservative ideology. I chose to examine this exhibition because it uses the platform Omeka, has an educational mission, and is on a topic that I found fascinating.

The exhibition is divided into four main components: the introduction, picturing partners, envisioning enemies, and portraying patriotism. The introduction serves to briefly introduce the visitor to the topic and describe the collection from which all the items were taken. The introduction gives enough information for the reader to grasp the meaning of the exhibit, but it does not overwhelm. From the introduction page, the visitor can choose what section to read next from a menu on the left side of the page, or they can simply click the “next” button in the top right hand corner. I clicked the “next” button and found a paragraph length introduction to the Picturing Partners section. The introduction lays out the theme of the section, and describes its format. On the following page there is a series of vertical images related to the section, and each image has a paragraph to describe its historical significance and relevance to the exhibition. The item information is available by clicking on the image. Each subsequent section appears to have the same layout as the aforementioned section. The consistency makes it easy for the viewer to navigate. Although the exhibition is not visually intricate, its simplicity allows the visitor to focus on the images of the objects—which is the focus of the exhibition in the first place.

An example of conservative propaganda and the use of actress Jane Fonda as icon of conservative anger.
Figure 1. Russo, Gaetano Guy, “I’m Not Fond’a Hanoi Jane, front,” Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions, accessed May 1, 2015,

The exhibit displays a range of images including posters, flyers, pamphlets, book covers, bumper stickers, panels, and other forms of propaganda. The unifying theme is the right wing and often-extremist attitudes that each object expresses. For example, the yellow bumper sticker captioned, “I’m not Fond’a Hanoi Jane” reference to the famous actress Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi, Vietnam in 1972. While in Vietnam, Fonda condemned the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War on radio broadcasts (Figure 1). A retired Major General and a resident of Waterbury, Connecticut named Guy Russo created the bumper sticker in 1988; long after the war had ended. The intention was to stop the filming of a movie in Waterbury that starred Jane Fonda. The attempts were unsuccessful, the movie was filmed, but the bumper sticker remained popular for years, which indicates the “durability” of Jane Fonda as an icon of conservative anger.

The exhibition is educational, and there is plenty for a viewer to explore. Although the accompanying texts are sometime lengthy, they are necessary to understand the context behind the images. “Choosing Sides: Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records,” is certainly catered to a specific audience, but it explains its intentions so that unfamiliar visitor will know what to look for, and there is something to learn for everyone.


Digital Exhibition: Stein’s Portraits

As an aspiring poet, I am always seeking novel ways of expressing imagery in writing. Hence, I am excited to discover Gertrude Stein’s verbal portraits – condensed representational prose or versified texts which favor repetition over narration and chronology. Stein identifies individuals through the description of their appearance and the presentation of characteristic thoughts, behavior, and turns of phrase. I am fascinated by how the sight, sound, and choice of words influence perception and identity. In representing an individual, how are words similar to or different from images? I want to curate a digital exhibition that contrasts verbal portraits with visual portraits.

In my exhibition, I intend to feature the audio recordings of Stein reading her verbal portraits of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to draw attention to the repetitions and the musical effects in her portraits. Besides, I plan to feature the August, 1912 edition of Camera Work (a photographic journal containing Stein’s verbal portraits of Matisse and Picasso), Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia (a verbal portrait in chapbook form), and Dix Portraits (a collection of Stein’s verbal portraits with illustrations by various artists). With these three objects, I want to examine how context affects the representation of an individual. How is the experience of viewing and perceiving a painted portrait influenced by its position in relation to other paintings in a gallery? Similarly, how is the reading of a Stein verbal portrait shaped by its placement and appearance on the page? To stimulate potential answers to these questions, I plan to juxtapose Stein’s verbal portraits with visual portraits depicting her.

portrait of mabel dodge cover
Gertrude Stein. Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Gabrielle Dean.

Camera Work (August, 1912). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by HW Wong.

Stein’s writings are known to be perplexing and at times inaccessible, so the simple title that I have chosen for my exhibition – Stein’s Portraits – will hopefully encourage the unsuspecting visitor to explore my exhibition and venture into Stein’s word puzzles. Nevertheless, the title is by no means effortless as its possessive represents the two focuses of the exhibition – portraits by her and of her. I believe Stein herself would appreciate this understated wordplay.

Mencken’s Life As Told Through His Own Writing

H.L Mencken, himself, is so controversial – people either love him or hate him. Mencken, similarly, had this view on so many topics. He is remembered for being outspoken and daring for voicing opinions that nobody else would. Yet, the man behind all of the incredible, thought-provoking, emotion evoking writing is just as interesting. For this exhibition, I will focus on Mencken’s life as told through his own writing. It will be interesting to see how a man who is opinionated about everything could illustrate his own life.

In class, we learned about how much he wanted his writing to live on after he did. He released a new part of his Days series one year at a time during his lifetime. Then, by planning some of his works to be published after his death, he was able to keep the anticipation for his new works to live on. I was especially intrigued to know about the life he led. He sounds so cynical – how happy could Happy Days truly be? Would his journals show any vulnerabilities he had or provide a glimpse into his more personal life? Or would he still have a persona created for an audience who expects biting writing?

Two of the objects I have chosen for my exhibition are Happy Days and Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work. With Happy Days, Heathen Days, Newspaper Days and Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work, the majority of his life is covered in different installments. I am curious about how the works flow together, and how they would individually offer insight into his life. Additionally, each of the works was written at a different period of his life – I want to explore if the time when he wrote the memoir affects his view on his own life.

Happy Days, 1942, War Edition, Cover
H.L Mencken, Happy Days: 1880-1892, New York : Armed Services Editions, [1944], ©1940. Cover. Photo by Astha Berry
H.L. Mencken ; edited by Fred Hobson, Vincent Fitzpatrick, Bradford McE. Jacobs, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, ©1994. Cover. Photo by Astha Berry

I am drawn to an exhibition focusing on his diaries and autobiographies because I love to journal. When I journal or write in my diary, I am usually not thinking about how other people will perceive what I write about. It is usually an account of my day so I can look back on it later and remember how I felt about a certain issue or a general outpouring of feelings. Mencken did not use it in this therapeutic manner; rather he wanted his legacy to live on. By allowing accounts of different time periods of his life to be released after his death, he had an audience in mind as he created his memoir. He also knew that he could voice his radical opinions after his death to continue to shock people without rebuke. The quality of his work could be appreciated if the reader cared for his outspoken ideas, but the quantity of his works is irrefutablely amazing. Very few writers have written as extensively and broadly as Mencken – the fact that he took time out to document his own life on top of all of the writing and editing he already did is awe-inspiring to me.

Link to Happy Days:

Link to Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work:

Mencken, lovers & haters.

While in the midst of exploring and collecting items for my digital exhibition, I have come up with the perfect title for it: Reactions to Mencken: A glimpse of varied responses during his time. My exhibition is going to center on the different types of responses that individuals and groups had to Mencken and his writing. Mencken’s audacious and bold personality gained him the readership of many, but also caused him to be the target of many people’s disgust and disdain. His tendency to criticize nearly every group of people, including his own colleagues, was very controversial and made him in a hypocrite in the eyes of many. His vitriolic condemnation of different groups of people can be seen vividly in Prejudices.

A variety of factors caused me to become interested in looking at responses people had to Mencken’s work. Reading the Chrestomathy and The Smart Set revealed that his writing was very powerful, satirical, and oftentimes insulting. During my research I read “The Sahara of the Bozart,” in which Mencken brutally strips the South of all cultural and artistic value. This essay made me curious about how those living in the South felt about Mencken’s overly harsh and inflammatory words. Reading newspaper articles about Mencken’s racist and anti-Semitic tendencies further led me to be curious about how colleagues and strangers viewed him. I noticed that many of the materials we examined in class and many of the items I looked at in Special Collections all portrayed Mencken in a very positive light. Then I took a closer look at the Dreiser-Mencken Letters and discovered that not everyone was a Mencken lover. Many of his relationships were plagued by tension and disagreement.

One of the objects that I will include in my digital exhibition is the Dreiser- Mencken Letters. The Dreiser-Mencken Letters illuminate the complex relationship that Theodore Dreiser and H.L. Mencken shared. Through their correspondences, Dreiser’s feelings about Mencken and his writing are revealed. The letters are valuable to my exhibition because they allow readers to see how Mencken was viewed by one of his closest friends and colleagues. They certainly provide Dreiser’s perspective on Mencken through the way he composes his letters, the particularities he mentions about Mencken’s character, and the opinions he provides on his writing.

Mencken 1
Cover. Thomas P. Riggio, Dreiser-Mencken Letters. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Devika Agrawal.

Another object that I am going to include in my digital exhibition is a page from Menckeniana: A Schimpflexikon. Menckeniana is a collection of direct responses taken from individuals, newspapers, and other sources about Mencken and his work.  The page I have selected has a quote from The Asheville Citizen about Mencken’s habit of critiquing everyone. The quote is a great reflection of how Mencken was viewed through the eyes of a newspaper, home to North Carolina. Furthermore, it reveals that many people attributed Mencken’s habits to different aspects of his personality. He was hated and insulted by as many people as he was applauded by.

Page. Menckeniana. From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Devika Agrawal.



Dashiell Hammett’s Pinkerton Past

Dashiell Hammett’s status as one of the most beloved detective writers of the twentieth century partly stems from the authenticity readers see in his works. As an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915 to 1922, Hammett gained first-hand insight into the handling of a case, the mindset of a detective, and the seedy underground world of American crime and corruption. Through the readings we covered in class, I became fascinated by the effect of his history on his writing, an interest clearly shared by many of Hammett’s readers. In my exhibit, “Dashiell Hammett’s Pinkerton Past,” I provide an overview of some of the connections between Hammett’s writing and his time in the investigation game — this will hopefully help readers gain new and unique perspectives on the narratives Hammett produced.

Cover. Hammett, Dashiell. The Continental Op. (New York: Lawrence E. Spivak Publishers, 1945) From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photo by Laura Ewen
Cover. Hammett, Dashiell. The Continental Op. (New York: Lawrence E. Spivak Publishers, 1945). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photo by Laura Ewen.

Readers and scholars have identified various characters and plot points that Hammett drew directly from his own experience as a private eye. These specific details from Hammett’s personal past helped me develop an interest in the ways in which his career shaped his art. For example, his most frequently recurring character, the Continental Op, was actually based on a fellow detective. This stout, no-nonsense private investigator was supposedly modeled on James Wright, the assistant manager of Pinkerton’s Baltimore branch. His image laid the groundwork for Hammett’s understanding of the true detective, since he was the operative who trained the young Hammett in surveillance.

Cover. Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. (San Francisco: Arion Press, 1983) From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photo by Laura Ewen
Cover. Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. (San Francisco: Arion Press, 1983). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photo by Laura Ewen.

Aside from his resemblance to Hammett’s trainer, the Continental Op demonstrates another significant feature of Hammett’s early days of detective work. The Continental Agency featured in each of his stories is named for the Continental Trust Building in which Baltimore’s Pinkerton branch was headquartered. Aspects of this building are featured in Hammett’s other works as well – it is a common theory that the valuable statue in his novel The Maltese Falcon was modeled on the black bird ornaments Hammett walked under everyday as he entered the Continental Trust Building. The impressive cover of this special edition provides an image of the falcon, now a well-known icon of both detective fiction and film noir.

These elements and the many other stories and characters he incorporated into his narratives lend Hammett’s writing an integral sense of realism. Not only do his books provide readers with entertainment and adventure, they grant a glimpse behind the scenes into the enthralling world of crime and investigation. Perhaps it is this insider’s allure which has helped maintain the popularity of Hammett’s detective fiction for so many decades.