Friday, March 09, 2007

When Giants Meet

Wow! I’ve never heard the voice of Raymond Chandler before. But thanks to a lead from San Francisco novelist Mark Coggins (Candy from Strangers), I just listened to a remarkable BBC Radio interview with Chandler taped almost a half-century ago, on July 10, 1958. The talk took place shortly after the publication of Chandler’s last completed novel, Playback, and it found the creator of Los Angeles gumshoe Philip Marlowe conversing with another now-famous writer, Ian Fleming, the “father” of British super-spy James Bond, whose first novel, Casino Royale, Chandler had liked and whose subsequent works he’d been known to review.

According to an introduction to the interview, taped years later, this was the last time the two writers met, and their exchange represents the “only recording in existence of Chandler’s voice.” It’s interesting to hear the Eton-esque timbre of Fleming’s voice, as he--at his own expense, sometimes--reassures the elder Chandler (who was still depressed after the death in 1954 of his wife, Cissy) of his importance to literary history, and Chandler talking with a voice “slurred with whiskey” about the challenges of creating villains, the nuances of contract killings, what it feels like to be banged on the head by a revolver, and how “I’ve known people I’d like to shoot.” The Californian also reveals to Brit Fleming that his next Marlowe novel has put him in “a bad spot,” because it will find his private eye getting married and going to live in “an expensive house in Palm Springs, with a lot of freeloaders coming in all the time.” The story he was referring to was originally titled The Poodle Springs Story, but Chandler wrote only the first four chapters before he died in 1959. It wasn’t until four decades later that another U.S. detective novelist, Robert B. Parker, finished that novel as Poodle Springs.

For more background about the Chandler-Fleming conversation, refer to this piece from the blog Brain Pickings. You can listen to the full, and sometimes pretty scratchy interview here, courtesy of Jan Steffensen and Rara-Avis. Another version of the authors’ famous conversation is available here.

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