Who was Samuel Marlowe? That’s something Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Miller spent a year trying to find out.
A Jamaican immigrant, Marlowe fought in World War I. After settling in Los Angeles, he became one of California’s first African-American private detectives, frequenting the speak-easies of 1930s L.A. and getting private investigative work from the Hollywood studios.
If Marlowe is starting to sound like a real-life noir character, it’s because he probably is. Miller thinks it’s possible that Marlowe was friends with LA noir writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, whose novels seem to immortalize him in fiction.
“One of the best examples is a claim that Dashiell Hammett sent an early draft of a story called ‘Night Shade’ to Samuel Marlowe,” Miller says.
But Miller’s detective work on Marlowe ultimately has no conclusion. Many of the records that might have proven when Marlowe started as a PI are lost, and Hammett and Chandler aren’t around to reveal their artistic inspirations.
As Miller says “Noir stories, they don’t always end tidily, with all the loose ends tied up.”
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