Wed 29 Jun 2011
by Francis M. Nevins
If you own a copy of the Library of America’s Dashiell Hammett volume Crime Stories & Other Writings (2001) and also a copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for July 1945, then, whether you know it or not, you have two different versions of Hammett’s Continental Op story “The Tenth Clew” (Black Mask, January 1, 1924).
The first difference between the two leaps out: the last word of the title is spelled “Clew” in both Black Mask and the Library of America collection but Fred Dannay changed it to the more common “Clue” when he reprinted the tale in EQMM.
To appreciate the final difference between the two requires a little knowledge about the story’s plot. Leopold Gantvoort, a 57-year-old widower whose net worth is around $1,500,000, is planning to marry a much younger woman, but he’s murdered before the marriage takes place and also before he’s signed a new will leaving half his fortune to her.
The Op exposes her as a confidence woman and the murderer as her scam partner, who’s been posing as her brother. Here are the last few sentences as Hammett wrote them.
What’s wrong here? Since Gantvoort was killed before either changing his will or marrying the woman, there’s no way on earth she could have inherited half his estate! Fred Dannay obviously caught this flub, and spared Hammett some potential embarrassment by taking it upon himself to rewrite those lines.
Very shortly after this story appeared in EQMM, Fred included it in the digest-sized paperback original collection The Return of the Continental Op (Jonathan Press pb #J 17), which was published in the first week of July 1945, a month or two before Hammett came back to the U.S. from Army service in the Aleutian Islands during World War II.
If any reader of this column has a copy of that edition, which I don’t, I’d love to know whether the text of this story is Hammett’s original or Fred’s revision. (My hunch is the latter.)
Settled back into civilian life, Hammett started teaching an evening course on mystery writing at the Jefferson School of Social Science, a Communist-affiliated institution on New York’s Sixth Avenue, and Fred joined him regularly as unofficial co-instructor.
When Return was reprinted in ordinary paperback format (Dell pb #154, 1947), the last paragraph of the story was unaccountably back in its original form. Had Hammett objected to Fred’s bold attempt to spare him a few blushes?
Erle Stanley Gardner’s pulp stories of the early 1930s, and his early novels as well, were hugely influenced by Hammett although in later years he resented having the fact pointed out.
In Chapter 20 of one of those early novels, the non-series whodunit This Is Murder (1935, as by Charles J. Kenny), a suspect has just been exposed as an ex-con. “Where was your first conviction?” he’s asked. “In Wisconsin.” “You served a term there?” “Yes, sir, at Waupum.”
In fact the name of the town is Waupun, which locals unaccountably pronounce Wau-PAN. According to Wikipedia the place was supposed to have been named Waubun, which is a Native American word meaning dawn of day, but some state bureaucrat misspelled it and the mistake has never been corrected.
The town’s chief industry is prisons — three of them! — but it’s also known for having more outdoor sculpture per capita than any other city in North America. The most famous such piece in Waupun is the “End of the Trail” sculpture: a young warrior on his horse contemplates the end of life as his people had known it.
I saw it when I passed through the town years ago. The Library Bar on Waupun’s Main Street served the finest fries I’ve ever eaten. My buddy Joe Google tells me it’s no longer there. Drat!
I am finishing this column on June 27, two days short of what would have been the 100th birthday of my favorite American composer. The centenary of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), who’s best known for having scored films like Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Psycho, is being celebrated throughout the music world, and Varese Sarabande Records has just made a huge contribution to the festivities by releasing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Volume One.
Herrmann wrote original scores for 17 Hitchcock Hour episodes during the program’s second and third seasons (1962-64), and this handsome two-CD set contains eight of them, more than two and a half hours of primo Herrmann never before available in audio form. Volume Two, let’s hope, will bring together the other nine — and soon. As I wrote in an earlier column, no one does ominous like Herrmann does ominous.