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The Bull of Baltimore

7:45 AM, Nov 10, 2010 • By LAUREN WEINER
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Hammett, like Hellman, ran afoul of the counter-subversives of the 1950s. But unlike Hellman, Hammett paid a price for his beliefs, serving five months in prison for refusing to cooperate with the investigation of a Communist front organization he chaired. It’s no mean feat to come off as dignified when invoking the Fifth Amendment before a Senate committee. Hammett, however, was questioned by Roy Cohn himself and the writer’s sangfroid in the face of Cohn’s taunts – for example, drawing attention to Hammett’s meager output – is evident in the transcript alongside Hammett’s legal stonewalling. The flinty, controlled ex-Pinkerton man declined to play the victim.

He was sickly and had stopped writing, but he hadn’t stopped spending money in the high-class precincts of New York and Hollywood. When he died, debt-ridden, in 1961, he seems to have considered his life’s work a failure. Little did he know that it would enter the literary canon. And in death, he came back to our neck of the woods, to Virginia. Despite some official efforts to prevent it, he secured a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery. The stubborn Marylander got his way one last time.

Lauren Weiner has lived in Baltimore since 1992.

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