the first clear photos in color of Paul Cain from his
these newly discovered photos
of Cain and new information about what the man was really like in THE
BLACK MASK LIBRARY edition of Paul Cain: The Complete Stories (paperback) and The Paul Cain Omnibus (ebook), published by Otto Penzler's MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Media on December 17, 2013.
Introduction by Boris Dralyuk. Afterword
by Keith Alan Deutsch. Order on Amazon (paperback and ebook).
introduction appears in two new collections
Paul Cain’s work, Paul Cain: The Complete Stories
and The Paul Cain Omnibus, released on December 17, 2013
by Otto Penzeler's MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Media.]
By Boris Dralyuk
said: “Eight ball in the corner.”
There was soft click of ball against ball and then sharper click as the
black ball dropped into the pocket Coleman had called.
Paul Cain, “Murder Done in Blue”
always takes it about as far as it’ll go, and no one took the
hard-boiled farther than Paul Cain. Cain’s entire
the genre — a slim novel and 14 stories, some of which
haven’t seen print since the 1930s — is now
Chandler tagged Cain’s only novel, Fast
as “some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled
manner.” They use that as a blurb; to my mind, those
qualifications — “some kind,”
— reek of anxiety. Stacked pound-for-pound against
lean and war-hardened antihero Gerry Kells, Chandler’s Philip
Marlowe comes off like a flabby, eccentric chatterbox — more
Sydney Greenstreet than Humphrey Bogart.
novel’s title says it all: Fast
One. Some have called
it A Fast One or The
Fast One, but that’s
not it. There’s neither need nor
time for articles. Someone or something, in the singular, is fast. Fast
and singular. And the chase is on:
walked north on Spring. At Fifth he turned west, walked two blocks,
turned into a small cigar store. He nodded to the squat bald man behind
the counter and went on through the ground-glass-paneled door into a
large and bare back room.
so much momentum in those first lines — so little besides movement
— that the reader can hardly keep up, much less take a pause.
pause might raise some questions. Just how does Kells get through that
ground-glass-paneled door? Does he open it? Bust right through it? Roll
through it as if it didn’t exist? But, of course, the door
doesn’t exist. Cain’s language is stripped so bare
it’s hardly referential. That’s the central paradox
hard-boiled style: For all its reputed hardness, the universe it
conjures is eerily immaterial — verbal, not substantive.
Hard-boiled protagonists throw punches indefatigably, get blackjacked
unconscious at the end of one chapter only to emerge with a slight
headache at the start of the next, and keep moving to the last.
characters aren’t people,
they’re billiard balls, propelled by an initial push and
colliding till they’re all sunk — “One,
Three,” as the title of one of his stories has it. Fast
One’s first chapter,
which starts with Kells rolling down
Spring in downtown L.A., set to spark a gang war, ends with a kind of
carom shot involving a gambler named Jake Rose and a pint-sized
came around the desk and took the automatic out of Kells’
held it by the barrel and swung it swiftly back and then forward at
Kells’ head. Kells moved his hand enough to take most of the
of the automatic on his knuckles, and bent his knees and grabbed
Rose’s arm. Then he fell backwards, pulled Rose down with him.
little man came into the room quickly
and kicked the side of Kells’ head very hard. Kells relaxed
grip on Rose and Rose stood up, brushed himself off and went over and
kicked Kells very carefully, drawing his foot back and aiming, and then
kicking very accurately and hard.
The kitten jumped off the desk and went to Kells’ bloody head
sniffed delicately. Kells could feel the kitten’s warm
Then everything got dark and he couldn’t feel anything any
kitten is a nice touch. Sniffing, “delicately,” at
not-quite-dead piece of meat. Just another animal, drawn to a meal.
hard to believe that the first
installment of Fast One,
which debuted in the March 1932 issue
of Black Mask, is
Cain’s first appearance in
print. He hit the ground running. The novel sets the pace for
Cain’s other stories, while Kells sets the mold for their
protagonists: obdurate plug-uglies or clever machers, such as the
titular narrator of “Black” (May 1932); or Red, who
narrates “Parlor Trick” (July 1932) and
“Trouble-Chaser” (April 1934); or “St.
Green of “Pineapple” (March 1936). Black, Red,
— beautifully rendered abstractions careening across the flat
surface of Cain’s prose.
his break thanks to Captain Joseph T.
Shaw. In 1926, Shaw took the helm of what was then called The
Black Mask magazine, a
matrix for the hard-boiled style. (One
of Shaw’s first acts as editor was dropping the “The”
from the magazine’s title.) Twelve of the 14 hard-boiled
reprinted in this volume first appeared in Black
along with the five stories that were eventually sutured together
as Fast One.
Shaw’s previous star contributor,
Dashiell Hammett, left the magazine in 1931, the year Cain arrived.
Shaw himself was forced out by the publisher in 1936, the year
Cain’s last story appeared in the magazine. Cain
just Hammett’s successor, to Shaw’s mind:
matter of grim hardness,” he wrote, Cain was
superior. “Dash paused on the threshold, [Cain] went all the
Shaw meant by “grim
hardness,” it isn’t to everyone’s taste.
edition of Cain’s stories from Centipede Press carried brief,
perceptive introductions by leading names in crime writing, including
Ed Gorman, Joe Gores, Edward D. Hoch, John Lutz, and Bill Pronzini.
Most of the commentators were duly reverential, but some
hide their qualms. While Robert Randisi noted that Cain’s
“[b]etter than most” of the Black
he still ranked it “a notch or two below that of Chandler and
Hammett.” As Gorman put it, “[t]here is in Hammett
sorrow and in Chandler great melancholy. Not a trace of either appears
mourns is the absence of an
emotional load. But that lack is only the symptom of a profounder
vacancy. Hammett was an inveterate lefty, and used the Continental Op
to lance capitalism’s Poisonvilles, while Chandler, who
having learned “American just like a foreign
forever remained an outraged public school boy, pinning his hopes for
civilization on a medieval knight in a powder-blue suit. One red and
the other reactionary, both Hammett and Chandler harbored strong
convictions — convictions expressed, whether intentionally or
not, through their chosen genre. Not so with Cain, who seems to have
been free of any such burden. The main thing his work expresses is the
genre itself, in all its inexorable but essentially meaningless logic.
He’s the oracle at Black
Mask, huffing the fumes of
Capt. Shaw’s cigars and delivering an almost unmediated
the hard-boiled as such.
In “Back in the Old Black
Mask” (1987), the
writer and historian William Brandon, who cut his teeth at
“rough paper,” recalled his early
on “objective writing”:
was part of what Shaw meant by style — a clean page, a clean
line, an uncluttered phrase. I remember him showing me a couple of
lines in a manuscript of Raymond Chandler’s, something such
“I looked into the fire and smoked a cigarette. Then I went
bed.” This was the key line of the story, Shaw said. In those
minutes watching the fire the protagonist thought the problem through
and reached his tough decision. You weren’t told that but you
knew it. The line was clean, the effect was subtle but strong.
Objective writing was good hard prose as against the spongy prose of
senses that Shaw’s proclamation isn’t simply an
writer’s attempt to provoke or mystify a starry-eyed tyro.
line may or may not be pivotal for Chandler’s story, but it
certainly provides a key to Shaw’s notion of storytelling.
Rudimentary and drained of character, these two sentences report
nothing but action that’s only implicitly, if at all, related
the plot. Brandon recalls another of Shaw’s edicts, more
than the first:
letter from Hammett, Shaw said one day, had included the line,
can make a better wall with the same bricks now than I could make a
year ago.” Shaw was much taken by the image of the wall and
referred to it again and again. “It’s the wall
counts for the writer,” he said, “not what it
closes in or
out — that’s for the critics to mull over. The
writer’s business is just making the best wall he
Shaw insisted in the March 1931 issue of Black
the magazine’s contents reflected his readership’s
distinctly modern morality, which opposed “unfairness,
injustice, cowardly underhandedness” and stood “for
square deal and a fair show in little or big things,” his
shoptalk with Brandon exposes him as something of a doctrinaire
formalist.  And despite their formal mastery, neither Hammett nor
Chandler could quite force themselves to build a wall without
considering what lies on either side of it. Cain, on the other hand,
was ideally suited to the job. His spare vocabulary, skeletal syntax,
and relentless action do more than realize Shaw’s ideal
they brazenly bare the genre’s devices, leaving readers like
Gorman vaguely disconcerted and hungry for substance. This
to say that Cain had nothing new to offer: His protagonists —
gangsters, gamblers, and addicts — are some of the first true
antiheroes in the hard-boiled tradition. But this, too, only takes the
device of the ambiguously or unconventionally moral detective hero to
its logical conclusion, demonstrating that the genre’s
feature is action, not character. As Irvin Faust writes in the
afterword to a 1978 reprint of Fast
One, “the pace
takes over, is itself a major character, perhaps the major
character, and it controls the book.”  Cain
merely stick to Black
Blacks, Reds, and Greens constantly call attention to its elemental
makeup. One risk of this approach, of course, is painting oneself into
a corner. Cain “went all the way,” alright
dropped into the pocket Shaw had called.
the same, within the confines of his genre, Cain’s work is
remarkably diverse. For a virtuoso, self-imposed limitations can be
assistive, even liberating — and Cain was nothing if not
virtuosic. He did with the hard-boiled manner what Paganini had done
with a single string.
and the Black
Mask tales from which it
— “Fast One” (March 1932),
(April 1932), “Velvet” (June 1932), “The
(August 1932), and “The Dark” (September 1932)
represent the summit of “grim hardness,” a
minimalism that realizes its own implosive potential. But Cain
continued to experiment in this vein. “Murder Done in
(June 1933), for instance, puts his ingenuity with the third-person
perspective on full display. The story’s structure is
opening with close ups of three apparently unconnected murders before
anchoring us to the protagonist who’ll connect the dots,
ex-studio stuntman Johnny Doolin. Cain toys with our expectations,
inviting us to an intimate dinner scene at Doolin’s
but denying us true access:
rather pretty fresh-faced girl was stirring something in a white
saucepan on the little gas stove. She looked up and smiled and said:
“Dinner’ll be ready in a minute,” wiped
her hands on
her apron and began setting the table. …
was twenty-three or -four, a honey-blonde pink-cheeked girl with wide
gray eyes, a slender well-curved figure.
went to her and kissed the back of her neck.
girl of indeterminate age is Doolin’s wife; the
“something” in the saucepan is dinner. We get no
closer inspection, however, Cain’s stories feature a
of characterization beyond what one expects from his style. His
protagonists may, at some level, be abstractions, but they could not
function if they lacked depth. They individuate in subtle ways,
especially in the first-person narratives. Black, who’s as
as they come, radiates just enough warmth, by way of humor, to suggest
a hint of vulnerability:
was dark there, there wasn’t anyone on the street —
have walked away. I started to walk away and then the sucker instinct
got the best of me and I went back and bent over him.
shook him and said: “Come on, chump — get up out of
cab came around the corner and its headlights shone on me —
there I was, stooping over a drunk whom I’d never seen
who thought my name was McCary.
there he is, a hard man whose momentary pause, a concession to a soft
instinct, sets “Black” in motion. Cain’s
also creates a context for an unusually effecting depiction of shock.
Consider Red’s reaction to the sight of a corpse in
Trick”: “I looked at the glass and I looked up at
again. I think I said: ‘Christ,’ very
much hinges on that “I think,” which undermines the
composure of Red’s voice. It’s worth remembering
trauma and its repression are a recurrent theme. As Kells quips through
a grin, “I came back from France … with a set of
beautiful case of shell shock and a morphine habit you could hang your
other stories, Cain mastered the tone of breezy, world-weary confidence
— which implies total competence. Keenan of “Dutch
Treat” (December 1936) could take up any of the Continental
Op’s cases midstream without missing a beat:
firm — the Old Man was it, Lefty and I just worked for him
— handled more insurance cases than anything else and had a
pretty swell reputation — as reputations of confidential
investigating outfits go.
that Lefty, would be proud. An even breezier tone whistles through the
pages of “One, Two, Three” (May 1933), this time
witty formal justification: The unidentified P.I. recounts his case
during a poker game, punctuating the narrative with an occasional
“I’ll take three off the top, please” and
“Pass.” The cards bring their own momentum to the
touches on another of Cain’s abiding themes, or rather,
the gambling mentality. Be they grist for the mill of a penny-ante
racket — like the black cabby Lonny in
(December 1935) — or high-rollers like Kells in Fast
One, Shane in “Red
71” (December 1932), and Finn in
“Sockdolager” (Aril 1936), Cain’s
always eloquent barometers for the thrills and desperations of the
Number Two spot was an inspiration. The Santa Anita track had just
opened and all Southern California had gone nag-nutty. We got the cream
in Number two; at two o’clock of any afternoon in the week
could stand in the middle of the main room and poke your finger in the
eye of anywhere from ten to two dozen picture stars, wives of stars,
“cousins” of producers, and just plain rich women.
think men are natural gamblers you ought to see a lot of gals who can
afford it in a bunch. A two grand parlay was chickenfeed.
dominant character is the incorrigible gambler, the risk-taker who
lives and dies by his hunches. Criminals and their pursuers have that
trait in common, and in Cain’s fiction, it’s seldom
which is which. Cain makes the most of this irony in
“Hunch” (March 1934), where the seasoned detective
Brennan follows his nose down a blind alley, taking the reader right
along with him:
was staring at him with wide hard eyes: one eyebrow was arched to a
thin skeptical line, her red mouth curved humorously upward at the
corners. She said with broad, biting sarcasm: “The old
hunches — they never miss…”
Alan Deutsch addresses the thrill-seeking impulse inherent to so many
of Cain’s characters in his afterword to Fast One,
and shrewdly identifies its effect; Kells and his ilk confront us with
a bracing, “clean” amorality. They are indeed the
forerunners of both Lee Marvin in Point Blank
and Mel Gibson in Lethal
virtuosity extends to his perfectly-pitched depictions of disparate
social strata. His narratives move effortlessly from the Roosevelt
Hotel to a dirty flophouse, and his characters react to these shifts in
various ways. “St. Nick” Green circulates among
“legman, Park Avenue debutantes, pickpockets, touts, bank
and bank presidents, wardheelers, and international confidence
men,” but remains a parvenu,
“more of his time in night courts than in
Whereas Druse, a mysterious retired judge in “Pigeon
(November 1933), exudes an elegance and sophistication alien to most of
Cain’s protagonists: “Druse leaned forward.
‘I am not
a fixer,’ he said. ‘My acquaintance is wide and
— I am fortunate in being able to wield certain
influences.’” There is a great deal of reserve in
Druse’s speech; it may be the reticence of a man guarding old
a writer freely exploring the boundaries of his genre could have
produced such a variety of stories in so short a time. It is, in a
sense, fitting that the man behind this protean achievement was himself
November 2, 1986 the Los
Angeles Times ran the
following ad in the classifieds:
I am writing a biography of the
hard-boiled novelist Paul Cain
(a.k.a. Peter Ruric/George Sims),
author of the classic Los Angeles
gangster novel “Fast One” (1933).
I would appreciate hearing from
anyone with letters or biographical
DAVID A. BOWMAN
never did produce his book-length biography. He could only scrape so much together, and much of what he found
couldn’t be verified. Along with essays by E. R. Hagemann and
Peter Gunn, and book chapters by David E. Wilt and Woody Haut,
Bowman’s introduction to the 1987 Black Lizard edition
One is still one of the
best sources on Cain’s life.
Recent work by Lynn F. Myers Jr. and Max Allan Collins has added to Bowman's portrait. And yet, thanks largely to his
own efforts, Cain has remained a cipher.
that originally appeared on Fast
is a high-angle, ¾
portrait of Cain’s bearded face, with a diagonal white bar
his eyes. It’s the only published picture we have of him, and
might as well have been taken by Man Ray. The white band is an obvious
but striking feature. So is his first self-obliterating, deflective,
yet spasmodically revealing autobiographical sketch, which begins:
his real name.
slender, blond, usually bearded.
wasted his first thirty years as a
of course and principle; wan-
over South America, Europe,
Africa and the Near East;
a buson’s-mate, Dada painter,
and a “no”-man in Holly-
Mercedes motor-cars, peanut
Gstaad, and phonograph
of Leslie Hutchinson, Scotch
some of the paintings of
gardenias, vegetables and
cream, Garbo, Richebourg
and Little Pam.
parsnips, the color pink,
men who wear white silk
backgammon, cigars and a great
men, women, and children.
lies — and many were to follow in subsequent autobiographical
statements — form a predictable pattern: unlikely ports of
unbelievable occupations, and preposterous literary accomplishments. He
never completed “a new novel of crime and blood and thunder,
tentatively titled Three
in the Dark,” and no
in the world holds “a melodramatic farce”
Man Sees God, or any of his
other supposed titles: Hypersensualism:
A Practical Philosophy for Acrobats; Syncopaen; The
Naked Man; Advertisement
for Death; Broad; The
Cock-Eyed Angel; or Seven
Men Named Caesar. Nor is it
likely that anyone will ever track down the long-lost acetate reels of
Cain’s “motion picture to end motion pictures
and You,” which
somehow calls to mind the Gerry Kells-like
Jimmy Cagney flattening a grapefruit on Mae Clarke’s face
Public Enemy (1931)
— except you’re Mae
Clarke. And of course Fast
One, too, might just be a gag.
was, in fact, an Iowan named George Caryl Sims, born in Des Moines on
May 30, 1902, to one-time police detective and drugstore owner William
Dow Sims and his wife Eva, née Freberg, the daughter of
immigrants.  The exact date of his family’s relocation to
Angeles remains unknown; the young Sims and his mother, who was by then
divorced, probably made the move in 1921, while his father and
paternal grandfather, George C. Sims, a Union veteran of the Civil War,
joined them a few years later. Although Myers and Collins had found
William Sims listed as a salesman in the 1924 Des Moines City
Directory, the 1923 Los Angeles City Directory has William D. Sims,
George C. Sims, and George C. Sims, “Jr.” residing
June St., while Mrs. Eva W. Sims is described as a stenographer at
6026-D Hollywood Blvd. 
can guess at the reasons for the family’s exodus from Des
to “double Dubuque,” as H. L. Mencken dubbed it.
Los Angeles was a magnet for well-heeled Midwesterners like the elder
Sims. Louis Adamic described these
“Folks” of the ‘20s —
evocatively and not
without sympathy — in his autobiography Laughing in
the Jungle (1932):
were pioneers back in Ioway and Nebraska. No doubt they swindled a
little, but they always prayed a little, too, or maybe a great deal.
And they paid taxes and raised young ones. They are old and rheumatic.
They sold out their farms and businesses in the Middle West and
wherever they used to live, and now they are here in California
sunny California — to rest and regain their vigor, enjoy
look at pretty scenery, live in little bungalows with a palm-tree or
banana plant out front, and eat in cafeterias. Toil-broken and bleached
out, they flock to Los Angeles, fugitives from the simple, inexorable
justice of life, from hard labor and drudgery, from cold winters and
blistering summers of the prairies....
was at this time that his flair for pseudonyms left a permanent mark on
Myrna Williams, a young starlet searching for a screen name. In her
memoir, Myrna Loy:
Being and Becoming (1987),
writes: “Peter Rurick [sic],
a wild Russian writer of free
verse, suddenly came up with ‘Myrna Loy.’ And I
‘What’s that?’ It sounded alright, but I
wasn’t convinced about changing my name.”  A
free-verse poet? Surely a ruse, but his research was passable. He
probably borrowed Peter from Peter the Great, and Ruric from the
ninth-century founder of the Rurikid dynasty. And Myrna Loy, for its
part, sounds suspiciously similar to Mina Loy, a real free-verse poet.
Cain would later claim to have published in Blast and transition.
Anachronistic fabrications, but evidence of wide-ranging reading. He
would have run across Mina Loy’s work in the little
couple of her “Aphorisms on Futurism” (1914) even
predict Cain’s distinctly modernistic aesthetic:
pressing the material to derive its essence, matter becomes deformed.
AND form hurtling against itself is thrown beyond the synopsis of
Angeles also drew younger Midwesterners on the make. Indeed, the most
revealing detail of the routine, telegraphic entry in the 1923 City
Directory has nothing to do with the Sims family’s living
arrangement. It’s a matter of professional ambition. George
Sims, Jr. — twenty-one years of age — is registered
“author.”  In the mid-‘20s, probably
shake the image of an Iowan bumpkin, Sims rechristened himself Ruric
(first George, then Peter). He began cutting a figure in Hollywood,
grabbing production assistant and assistant director credits on Josef
von Sternberg’s The
Salvation Hunters (1925) and A Woman of the Sea
1930 he was in New York. His stint there yielded a new persona
Paul Cain — and a bruising relationship with an actress named
Gertrude Michael, who matched the alcoholic Sims drink for drink. In
1932 she landed an M-G-M screen test in Hollywood, and he tagged along.
They took up residence at the stately Montecito
Hotel & Apartments (6650 Franklin Avenue),
crossed paths with a fellow Black
Mask regular, Raoul
Whitfield. It was here that Sims completed Fast One,
dedicating it to Michael, who likely served as the model for Granquist,
Kells’ alcoholic moll. He sold the novel’s story to
Paramount, which turned it into Gambling
a lumbering vehicle for Cary Grant and Benita Hume. Sims and Michael
split when the book was still hot off the presses; as the L.
A. Times gossip columnist
“Tip Poff” put on October 23,
1933, “Peter Ruric (Paul Cain) and Gertrude Michael are going
places. But not together.” How
he was: the three of them — Ruric, Cain, and Michael
would chart their own courses.
Ruric, Sims enjoyed a respectable if humdrum career in screenwriting,
which began with work on the script to Affairs of a
Gentleman (1934). His most
distinguished effort was the screenplay
for Edgar G. Ulmer’s The
Black Cat (1934), a
masterpiece of expressionistic horror. In a January 1998 interview with
Tom Weaver, Shirley Ulmer described her husband’s
“brilliant, really, but cuckoo.
wasn’t like any ordinary
person I’d ever
met. But very, very brilliant — Edgar adored him, and they
very close.”  Edgar Ulmer’s own assessment,
Peter Bogdanovich in 1970, is a bit more somber: “He was a
man who had come out from New York, and I met him; a very intelligent
boy who should have been a great playwright but got lost.”
Relying on the testimony of relatives, Bowman
limns the Ruric pose: he was a “blond, bearded
member of the Malibu
Beach crowd, taken to wearing ascot scarves.”  He
spent the next four years in Europe with his mother. The only record of
his work in the European film industries is shared credit for the
script to Jericho
(1937), a British drama starring Paul Robeson that was released in the
U.S. as Dark Sands.
then returned to make another splash in Tinseltown.
accomplishments of note during this second Hollywood period are the
story for Twelve
Crowded Hours (1938), which he
hammered out with Garrett Fort — an adherent of Meher Baba
life would end in suicide at a Los Angeles hotel in 1945 —
script work on Grand Central
Murder (1942), a giddy maze of
flashbacks that highlights his facility with form. He also contributed
to the adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Night of January 16th
On August 18, 1939, he married a twenty-year-old “cigarette girl” from
Nebraska named Virginia Maxine Glau, who changed her moniker, at her husband’s
to Mechel Ruric. (Although Bowman gives her name as Mushel, the L. A. Times
and the 1940 Census record it as Mechel.) As
Bowman describes it, Mechel and Sims met
cute at her place of work: “One night, he and the notorious
Prince Romanoff wobbled into the new nightclub, the Mocambo. Romanoff
wobbled because he was nipped, and Ruric wobbled because he was nipped
and his leg was in a cast.”  The impostor Ruric palling
around with the impostor Romanoff? All the makings of a royal Russian
Rurics’ honeymoon period came to a screeching halt seven
later, in March 1940, with Mechel’s flight from the
balcony of the couple’s home at 1412 N. Kingsley Drive, after
what must have been a hell of a quarrel. She survived and stuck with
her husband (for the most part) until 1943. Mechel — who was by then Michele Maxine Greenhill — furnished Bowman
with a bleak sketch of a man losing his grip: “On most nights
Ruric drove home from the studio blind drunk, miraculously navigating
the curving driveway without steering off the cliff. He then stumbled
up to the porch, crashed through the front door, and passed out in the
When Mechel finally left him, Sims took a room at the Chateau Marmont
(8221 Sunset Blvd.), where he befriended an unlikely fellow resident,
Sinclair Lewis, who’d been brought out by M-G-M to work on a
screenplay with Dore Schary. Lewis writes about Sims, who was
introduced to him as Peter Ruric, in a series of letters to his
mistress, Marcella Powers. His letter of July 17, 1943, on
Marmont stationary, gives us another glimmer of Sims’s mythic
self, and of its power to impress:
great pal here a new man whom you would like as much as you do Hal
Smith (with less safety from propositioning, however) — Peter
Ruric, to whom I was introduced by [Clifton] Kip Fadiman but who proved
to be an MGM writer with a cell just a few doors from mine. He is in
the Elliott [sic] Paul tradition, with a touch of Peter Godfrey (no,
haven’t seen him yet) and a dash of Francois Villon. For
has hewed out a movie script, then escaped to Paris — China
— Carmel — Buenos Ayres, to write an exquisite but
unsaleable story, and, casually along the way, to marry or just amiably
live with and just as casually to leave some lovely girl — I
only his genteel and unpretentious word for it, however, that they were
Elliot Paul is
indeed an awfully astute comparison. Born in 1891 — just over
decade before Sims — Paul was an experimental novelist in the
early ‘20s, an émigré in Gertrude
Parisian circle and a co-editor of transition in the middle of that
decade, a “missing person” on a Spanish isle in the
‘30s, and a Hollywood screenwriter in the ‘40s.
his biography correspond so perfectly to the facts and fictions of
Sims’s own story that one is justified in asking whether the
latter modeled himself on the former. Elliot Paul’s name even
forms a Venn diagram with Paul Cain’s, and the titles of his
first three novels — Indelible
(1923), and Imperturbe
(1924) — sound like prequels to Syncopean.
The situation, of course, is more complicated; Elliot Paul may not have
served as a direct role model, but he did represent the society to
which Sims had always wished to belong. Ironically, while Sims
continued to place stock in spurious avant-garde credentials, Paul was
turning to crime fiction. His The
Mysterious Mickey Finn: Or, Murder at the Café du
(1939) inaugurated a series of parodic detective novels starring Homer
Evans, an American expatriate in Paris. In more ways than one, Sims and
the smart set were ships in the night.
On July 25,
Lewis describes a night in the life of Hollywood
“last evening, going again to PR [Players Restaurant] with
Ruric and a couple of gals (each of whom was preposterously more
beautiful, intelligent, and adorable than any NY girl, such as this
Rosemary Povah).” But by August 10, Lewis had tired of the
mystique: “Dinner last night, the only one attempted in my
dining-room where houseman here serves [me] breakfasts: Cedric
[Hardwicke], who was charming as ever, Alex Knox (Jason) who was fair,
Peter Ruric who was dreary...” It appears that many in
were beginning to feel the same way.
for his part, had a small resurgence. In 1944 Sims took a trip to New
York, renting an apartment at 3 E 33rd
Street and meeting
with Shaw. After his return to Hollywood, Sims’s erstwhile
helped resuscitate his nose-diving
career, including “Red 71” in The
Shaw’s correspondence with Sims, who was living in a
home at 2372 Loma Vista Place, involved more obfuscation and outright
malarkey. Meanwhile, the Shaw Press in Hollywood (a subsidiary of Saint
Enterprises) reprinted Fast One
in 1944, followed by
Sims’s own compilation of his finest Black
Mask tales, Seven
Slayers (1946). Avon would keep
both volumes in print into the
that time, Ruric was entirely on the outs with the
studios. His last screenplay had been a collaborative adaptation of two
Maupassant stories, Mademoiselle
Fifi (1944), and in 1948 he
received a credit for the appropriately named Alias
a Gentleman, which was based on a story he had sold
M-G-M in 1941.
As Myers and Collins disclose, 1948 also saw Ruric writing two episodes
for the radio program Cavalcade
of America, “Incident
Niagara” (September 27, 1948) and “Home to the
Heritage” (October 11, 1948). They quote radio historian
Grams: “It is interesting to note that he co-wrote the
with Virginia Radcliffe, who herself was a free-lance writer and wrote
numerous scripts for Cavalcade.”
 This partnership is interesting indeed, and
limited to the airwaves. Sims and Radcliffe, who was born in Chicago in
1914, were married sometime in 1945 or ‘46, and their union
lasted until the end of the decade. Radcliffe, the second Virginia in
Sims’s life, had previously been married to the prolific
bit-player and sometime writer George M. Lynn; after divorcing Sims,
she’d go on to marry William Hurst, becoming an outspoken
conservationist and penning The
Caribbean Heritage, an
illustrated history of the islands, which
was published shortly after her death in 1976.
their marriage the couple lived in New York, and it was at this point
that Sims’s old acquaintance from the Chateau Marmont,
Lewis, reappeared in his life. Lewis’s biographer Mark
was spending as many hours as she would give him with Miss Powers, but
there were empty stretches when he turned to people whom he hardly knew
— the young Hollywood script-writer Peter Ruric, for example,
was now writing a novel in New York, and whom Lewis invited to his
apartment with his fiancée, and to whom he said that he
not work in New York, that he was returning as soon as possible to his
home ground. One afternoon he had this couple to a cocktail party with
some other young people, including Miss Powers, and presently he sent
the whole party out to dinner, promising to join them later. He made
reservations for them at an 86th Street Brauhaus, to which they
proceeded, and where they dined, danced and waited for him; but he
never came. His guests spoke of him with faint scorn, a hopeless case,
and Miss Powers, although defensive of him, despaired, too.
had grown dreary. Schorer seems to have learned of this meeting partly
from Miss Powers, and partly from Virginia Radcliffe herself, whom he
thanks in his acknowledgments.
Records from the
U.S. Copyright Office also show that Sims had written plays as Ruric
that were never published, registering Memory of Man, a Play. In
in 1947, and Count Bruga, a Morality
Play in Three Acts in 1949.
 The latter was based on
Ben Hecht’s 1926 novel, a satire of Greenwich Village bohemia
its archetypal poète maudit, Maxwell Bodenheim.
In 1949, Marcel Duhamel, the legendary editor of Gallimard’s
“Série noire,” added a French
translation of Fast
One to his catalog. Inclusion in this prestigious series — a
favorite among French intellectuals — encouraged Sims. By
time, it must have been clear to him that the Paul Cain stories stood
the best chance of gaining him entry into the world of the European
avant-garde, to which he had long claimed allegiance. After all, even
Gertrude Stein had lent the hard-boiled crime novel her imprimatur in Everybody’s
(1937): “I never try to guess who has done the crime and if I
I would be sure to guess wrong but I liked somebody being dead and how
it moves along and Dashiell Hammett was all that and more.”
 A year earlier, in her lecture “What Are
and Why Are There So Few of Them” (1936), Stein had mused on
detective story’s peculiar merits: “It is very
the detective story which is you might say the only really modern novel
form that has come into existence gets rid of human nature by having
the man dead to begin with.”  Stein valued
pace, and Hammett had certainly provided, but it was Cain who would
have best met her needs; no one in the hard-boiled school had so
fearlessly elevated style and pace over moral substance and
“human nature.” Indeed, no crime novel was more
in a Steinian sense than Fast One, and Duhamel had given its author
recognition when he needed it most.
According to his
pas ta vie
(1972), Duhamel had the dubious honor of meeting Sims, whom he knew as
Ruric, in France around that time. The man he encountered was a
physically decrepit, unbearably needy specimen, who was
to take a single step by himself” — a limp
“octopus,” a “vampire” that
Polanski’s imagination.  Duhamel’s story
notion that Sims had bottomed out, and was now betting on Paul Cain:
was Hollywood that had done him in. A renowned screenwriter, a darling
at “parties,” disgusted with work that was unworthy
he ended up seeking inspiration in alcohol. This was followed by
emotional setbacks, two divorces, three detoxification cures, and a
course of psychoanalysis; he came to Europe looking for some kind of
salvation, after having tried everything else.
said, “you are my last hope.” 
couldn’t stand him. Using the advance for a French
translation of Seven
Slayers, the editor sent Sims
packing for Spain. Life in
Alicante and on Mallorca seems to have worked miracles for
health; it’s hard to believe that his whimsical article on
Spanish cooking for Gourmet
magazine, “Viva la
Castañetas: A Spanish [Mostly Mallorquin] Letter”
1951), could have been written by the same
Duhamel had seen off at the train station. Upon receiving word of
Sims’s newfound joie
de vivre, and another
marriage, it took Duhamel
“some time to recover from the shock.” 
née Gregson, had recently graduated from the University of
Carolina and was taking a grand tour of Europe with her girlfriend,
Jeanne Summers. She, Jeanne, and Jeanne’s mother met the man
knew as Peter Ruric at a Mallorcan restaurant in 1955.
was Jeanne’s mother, roughly
Sims’s contemporary, who struck up the conversation, but Sims
his eye on Peggy. Although he was thirty years her senior, and a year
older than her own father, the bohemian writer swept the girl off her
feet. She briefly returned to her family home in Varina, Virginia, but
she didn’t stay away long, soon heading back to Spain.
would become Cain’s third. But in Catholic
Spain, two was one too many. The couple tied the knot in Tripoli,
Libya, where they spent a month in 1956 in order to established
eventually set sail for California on a freighter from Italy,
travelling through the Panama Canal and points south for
days and forty nights,” as Peggy recalls. They settled in
Laguna and had two sons: Peter Craig in 1956 and Michael Sean in 1958.
According to Peggy, Sims, now in his fifties, wasn’t hitting
bottle any more than was usual for the period. She describes a happy
and charmed life, although she admits his old Hollywood friends may
have wondered what he was doing “with that little
was a kind, loving man — a snazzy dresser and a wonderful
— but simply couldn’t provide for his family. He
abandon his identity as a writer, even when the writing opportunities
had dried up for good. Peggy sensed that his old friends
as eager to see him as he was to see them. He didn’t seem to
writing much anyhow. But pumping gas wasn’t an option, nor
letting Peggy work.
Peter Craig was ten months old, the family travelled cross-country in
Sims’s Thunderbird, paying a visit to the Gregsons in
The dashing author wowed Peggy’s friends, but unnerved her
parents. In December 1958, a few months after Michael Sean’s
birth, the family went east again. Sims first connected with his friend
Jim Lowry in Washington, D.C., and then took off for Cuba. Peggy and
the kids settled with her parents in Virginia.
had tried to consolidate his personae as early as the
when he’d composed a bio for Shaw’s Omnibus
that began, “Paul Cain is Peter Ruric, wrote his first crime
novel in the early thirties on a bet.” Shaw did not to use it
(although a smaller “Peter Ruric” did appear in
below “Paul Cain”). Sims had also swapped
Ruric” for “Paul Cain” on the tear sheets
stories in Seven
Slayers, which now sit in the
Shaw papers at UCLA’s Young Research Library. The publishers
top of all his other woes — both mental and material
diffusion of identity must have been exhausting. Nowhere is that
exhaustion more evident than in the letters and postcards that Sims
sent Peggy and his sons in the late ‘50s and early
care of her family and friends in Virginia. He was no longer able to
control or keep up the appearances that were so important to him.
Bowman secured some of these letters from Peggy in the 1980s, and
copies now sit in the E. R. Hagemann papers at UCLA’s Young
them can be a painful experience. One of the longer letters is a New
Year’s greeting, written aboard a German liner in Havana on
evening of December 31, 1958, and the morning of January 1, 1959
— on the eve of Batista’s flight. Sims writes of
failing health, an unsuccessful attempt to place a novel called Truce,
faint hope for a play called The
Ecstasy Department, and his
generally dwindling prospects:
is out for the moment, honey — Doubleday is edgy about it
“uncompromisingly sexual” — they
didn’t say sexy,
they said sexual
— and they’ll have to see more of
it and for this time of unpeace it isn’t the answer. Maybe
Ecstasy Department is, but it’s in a trunk in Laguna. It
isn’t the answer either — there are so few answers
a man with thought shaped like mine who is fighting for so much more
than his life. I thought of a cheap hotel in some small town by the sea
in Florida. Is there one? So. After, conceivably, getting physically
well in the sun, what would I do? I thought of S. America. I thought of
Africa. (I whisper this, ever so gently — a man in even consummately
concealed sorrow is not made
welcome in new places. They know.
He’s not made welcome in old places either. I may learn to
more consummately conceal it during this, God grant, short empty
interval, but I shall never be really welcome again anywhere until I am
whole again. Stop. Unwhisper.)
the end, his consummate disguises worn thin, Sims returned to Los
Angeles: “And so, whether I like it or not, California seems
be in the cards, so I’m trying to like it. It takes a certain
kind of courage to go back there looking like a tramp and face the
music and the bill-collectors and our friends.”
Hollywood again proved nearly impossible. His last credit is for a
contribution to the script of “The Man from
episode of the TV Western The
Lady in Yellow, which
aired on January 24, 1960. His letters — one sent from Mrs.
Tita D’Oporto’s Studio House apartment at 6201
several cuts below the Montecito — tell of strained
circumstances. He claims that three stories he had written for a
television series were abruptly shelved. Above all, he longs to reunite
with his family, pleading for a response, composing nursery rhymes for
his children, and crowding the letters’ margins with doodles
concentric hearts and polka-dotted elephants:
you said, ‘They’re paying high wages in the brinzel
at Dimpling Ky. and need men — we’ll meet you there
you can work on books and stories nightstand Sundays,’
be there so fast it would make all our Ruric heads spin.
who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, still keeps these letters, along
with other mementos of their relationship. He never stopped writing to
her, and she responded when she could, even after remarrying in June
1962. Suffused with charm and punctured by whispered sorrow,
Sims’s letters may be his last great work. They offer us a
fleeting glimpse of the man behind the fiction, who had found happiness
in family life and was desperate to recapture it.
died of ureter and lung cancer on June 23, 1966.
His last known address was a small bungalow at 6127 Glen Holly Street;
he passed away at the Toluca Lake Convalescent Hospital. His death
certificate states that he had made Los Angeles his home for 48 years,
and had been an author for 43 of them. Sims’s first bold
autobiographical statement supports this claim, by hook or by crook. He
might have been telling the truth when he listed himself as an
“author” in the 1923 L. A. City Directory, although
has yet found any of his writing from that period. And if he had been
lying, then that listing was his first work of fiction, published 43
years before his death.
tracked Sims’s posthumous fate to another dead end:
body was cremated, and the box of ashes sat in a Glendale
cemetery’s storage room until 1968 when it was shipped to
to the care of a woman who was either an old lover or an old
ashes were stored at Glendale’s Grand View Memorial Park, and
dispatched to Honolulu’s Nuuanu Memorial Park on May 24,
that time, Peggy and her boys were living in Honolulu, where her second
husband, a neurologist, was stationed during the Vietnam War. Peggy did
not claim the ashes, but Sims had known that she and the kids would be
in Hawaii. She conjectures that he arranged for a friend to scatter his
ashes near his family.
friend was likely Tita D’Oporto, who
appears to have been as close to the man in the final years of his life
as anyone. The “Peter Ruric AKA George Sims” file
Crippen Mortuary in La Crescenta, which bought the Eckerman-Heisman
Mortuary that had handled Sims’s cremation, contains letters
notes from D’Oporto, her attorney, and Sims’s
aunt, Alma E. Winkler. It is D’Oporto who took the greatest
interest in Sims’s affairs. She lived next door to
Glen Holly Street, but was abroad when he passed. Upon her return, she
contacted the mortuary and informed them that his wishes were to have
his cremains scattered at sea. She herself passed away in Hawaii in
D’Oporto sent a letter to Sims’s aunt, enclosing a
Union telegram that a young George Sims had wired to his grandmother on
October 31, 1919. D’Oporto’s letter hints at the
straits in which Sims found himself in his final years and points to
the lingering mysteries of his life:
is 63 years old, his birthday was May 30th, 1902. The enclosed wire is
dated 1919, so he would have been 17 years then and maybe they have a
record of his service in the Navy in Des Moines. Would you try to find
out? I was at the navy Recruiting Office in L–A–
not get anywhere. They told me I would have to write to Washington D.C.
but have to have his service number — but if he was stationed
Des Moines, it may be easier to get it there.
gets now $ 52.– Social Security and $ 75.–
check. They said he should get about $ 100 from the Navy if he is
disabled. When in the Hospital, he does not get the disability check,
but a bill for over $ 40 a day, which, I believe, is a matter of form
and they will not collect it unless he should be able to work again. He
does not remember anything about the Navy and I did not show him the
wire. He never told me that he was George Sims. There is no use to
bring it up unless necessary for him, I thought. His mind is not always
clear, that is, he does not remember things and people at times. I feel
very sad about it all and wished I could do more for him.
must close now — still have plenty to do, but I would like to
you again — maybe when Peter feels better and we all can meet.
The wire itself,
sent collect from Detroit and telegraphic by definition, is the work of
a young man commencing a life of misadventures both on and off the page:
MRS GEORGE C SIMS
PHONE BLACK 3410 EAST
33RD AND UNIVERSITY AVE DESMOINES IOWA I AM GOING ABOARD EAGLE TEN
BOUND FOR PORTSMOUTH CLOTHES HAVE NOT ARRIVED FROM CHICAGO I CANNOT
DRAW CLOTHES HERE PLEASE SEND MONEY ENOUGH TO BUY A FEW CLOTHES AND
PURCHASE NECCESSITIES [sic] FOR THREE WEEKS TRIP HAVE NOT BEEN PAID
ABSOLUTELY BROKE PROBABLY LEAVE MONDAY LOVE TO ALL
GEORGE C SIMS.
There is an
equal measure of exuberance and desperation in all of Sims’s
writing. His telegram confirms, perhaps, what he had claimed in a
letter to Shaw in 1944 — that he’d spent a part of
youth in Chicago. But it appears to have been a small part.
The U.S. Navy
Reserve archives contain the record of one George Caryl Sims, who
enlisted on June 7, 1917 and was to serve a stint until May 30,
1923. Sims — described as a ruddy, 5' 8", 131 lb.,
17-year-old, with a 3" operation scar on his right abdomen —
discharged on January 17, 1921 for
record includes pleas for the boy's release from Rep. C. C. Dowell, on
the grounds that his mother is ill and needs his help, and responses
from the office of then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D.
Roosevelt. It is a less-than-stellar record of
— featuring several incidents of losing government property,
disregard of orders, and disobedience. So began one of the strangest
careers in hardboiled fiction.
oneself over to a genre reveals more than one intends. Things swim up.
A reader is tempted to mine the stories for autobiographical traces
— and traces abound. As Myers and Collins point out, the
police dick Freberg in “Hunch” bears
mother’s maiden name, and wears a badge, like his father.
Make what you will, then, of Freberg’s fate:
caught Freberg by the throat with his right hand drew his left far back
and snapped it suddenly forward; he could feel his hard fist sink into
the soft pallor of Freberg’s face. Freberg crashed into the
sank slowly to the floor. ... He glanced back at Freberg once,
expressionlessly, then he went out and closed the door.
protagonist justifies Freberg’s beating with a cryptic
suggestion: “I know where he buries the bodies.”
Collins report that Fast
One’s Granquist shares
a name with a family that resided in Des Moines.  But this kind of
reading may take us nowhere.
in the stories, regardless of
names, are fits of misogyny, which are pronounced even in a Black
Mask context. Women get
their lights punched out for their own
good: “‘Papa knows best, baby.’ He
brought one arm up
stiffly, swiftly from his side; the palm down, his fist clinched. His
knuckles smacked sharply against her chin” (Fast
Women wreak havoc in men’s lives and are punished gruesomely.
the late “Death Song” (January 1936), a dipsomaniac
is fatally bludgeoned with an “outsize vibrator.”
It’s a joke, yes, but a tendentious one —
something of what Sims may have been repressing. He wrote the story
when Michael’s career was in serious peril, after a
well-publicized car crash in San Bernardino and ahead of a mysterious
hospitalization in New York for “toxic poisoning.”
may be playful experiments with form, but the Paul Cain stories are
studded with laconic indications of buried trauma, resentment, and
Tasting Machine” (1949), the last piece of fiction Sims
published. It appeared under the Peter Ruric byline in Gourmet magazine,
which would later run his article on Mallorcan cuisine. The story is
collected here, although it is expressly not one of Cain’s
hard-boiled narratives. Rather, it’s something like a
hypertrophied version of John Collier’s urbane fantasies.
its first sentence to the opening of Fast
fine weather, of which there was a spate that summer, it was the whim
of M. Etienne de Rocoque to emerge from his restaurant in East
Sixty-first Street at exactly six-thirteen of an evening and stroll
west to Fifth Avenue, south to Sixtieth, east to Park Avenue, north to
Sixty-first, and so back to the restaurant and home.
protagonist’s very name signifies a new point of departure, a
Rococo tumescence that stands in direct opposition to Cain’s
minimalism. But style is ultimately style, and this is another exercise.
Rocoque is a master chef, who holds a beautiful girl named Mercedes
captive above his restaurant. He had “snatched” her
“from the harem of a mighty caliph at the age of
— “after wading through veritable seas of
— and has “reared” her for the last
“inviolate from the world.” Among de
companions is a talking myna bird named Gertrude, “whose
and usually her sentiments were most uncouth.” The
ménage is invaded by a little robot dead-set on tasting
everything in its path, including Mercedes. The story climaxes as
Mercedes — sequestered with the tasting machine —
in either agony or joy, while de Rocoque strikes at her locked door
with an ax. Sims’s career in fiction ends with an ironic
about a hypersensual stylist whose attempts to control his inner world
are born of insecurity and frustrated by mechanistic drives.
surreal joke-work in Gourmet magazine
casts an odd backward light on the Cain stories. Losing himself in the
styles he’d mastered, Sims gave free rein to the things he
wished to obscure. But whatever it is that initially pushed him to the
outer reaches of the hard-boiled and propelled his characters on their
collision courses, the work he left behind as Cain won’t be
Cain was not the only Black
Mask regular to transcend
the limitations of his genre, but he is unique in having transcended
those limitations by exploiting them to their fullest. He achieved a
refinement of the hard-boiled manner that is truly exhilarating. Unlike
Hammett and Chandler, whose work reckoned with the problems of
modernity, Cain embraced a modernist aesthetic, manipulating the
devices available to him with radical experimental energy.
focus on aesthetics accounts for the dizzying diversity of his fiction
— his use of a variety of perspectives, stylistic registers
dialogue, and narrative structures. This focus also liberated Cain from
moral concerns, allowing him to craft distinctly modern antiheroes
whose compulsive, uninhibited risk-taking is a fictional analog to
their creator’s own approach to writing.
work is anything but confessional, but this triumph of style, this
masterful performance — this modernistic put-on, as it were
— testifies to the tremendous gifts and troubles of the man
behind the pose. The stories bear his indelible signature, in invisible
Sims was an
ironist given to elaborate fronts
that revealed as much as they concealed. His tenuous grasp on his own
identity allowed him to sink, for a brief time, into the role of Paul
Cain, and to keep playing as long as he could. As the narrator of
“Dutch Treat” says about a game of
“Spit-in-the-Ocean,” “I won, or maybe I
I forget which.”
letters and drafts quoted in this introduction are housed in box 33,
folder 9, of the E. R. Hagemann Papers and Collection of Detective
Fiction (1672), and box 5, folder 6, of the Joseph T. Shaw Papers
(2052) — both in the Department of Special Collections of
UCLA’s Young Research Library — in the Sinclair
Letters to Marcella Powers collection, at the St. Cloud State
University Archives, St. Cloud, Minnesota, and in the “Peter
Ruric AKA George Sims” file at the Crippen Mortuary, located
2900 Honolulu Avenue, La Crescenta, CA 91214. I thank the library
staffs, the staff at the Crippen Mortuary, and the Harrelson family for
permission to quote this material. An earlier version of this
appeared in the Los
Angeles Review of Books, and I thank them for the
amend, expand, and republish it. I am especially grateful to Keith Alan
Deutsch, my brilliant, indefatigable editor, for soliciting this piece,
for helping me at every stage of the writing process, and —
of all — for facilitating Paul Cain’s long-deserved
owe my deepest gratitude to Mike and Peggy Harrelson, son and second
wife of the man at the center of this essay. To say that they have been
gracious would be an understatement. Their generosity and warmth were
an unexpected gift. I would not have made contact with Mike were it not
for a chain of remarkable coincidences, one of which placed me in the
basement of UCLA’s Young Research Library on the same day
Professor William Marling of Case Western Reserve University was
conducting his own research on the Hagemann collection. Bill asked me
what I was up to, I told him, and he mentioned that he was in touch
with the Harrelson family. I remain in his debt.
initial letter to Bill Marling, in which he describes himself and his
brother, is worth quoting: “Peter
[Craig Harrelson is an] emergency room doctor who works very little and
incessantly travels the planet's backwaters. He's a colorful cat who
marches to his own drummer. I, while much less charismatic, have made
part of my living with a pen.” Their father, of whom they
very little until recently, seems to have passed on a gift for language
and a thirst for adventure, as well as some other curious traits. I am
told that, like his father, Peter Craig has been known to rename his
Harrelsons have supplied me with a wealth of information about Paul
Cain/Peter Ruric’s later years, which I am honored to pass on
his readers. Peggy’s memories and insights have added color
nuance to an unnaturally stark image – an image of
own making. Nothing represents this contribution more vividly than the
three photographs of Cain/Ruric, Peggy, and their son Peter Craig,
taken in the summer of 1957 at the Gregson family home in Varina,
Virginia. These candid, animated family portraits are a necessary
corrective to Cain’s stylized black-and-white author photo
the early ‘30s; the early portrait was intended to disguise
identity, while the later shots capture the man at his happiest, among
his loved ones, off-guard.
of what we know about Sims’s ancestry and early childhood
the pioneering work of Lynn F. Myers, Jr. and Max Allan Collins, whose
research has cleared up a great number of longstanding mysteries. I am
grateful to Lisa Burks, a journalist and author working on the history
of Glendale’s Grand View Memorial Park, who provided
information about Sims/Ruric/Cain’s cremation records. I
must also thank David A. Bowman, whose writing on Cain was nothing
short of groundbreaking. Bowman’s work was interrupted by a
terrible accident in 1989, from which he recovered. He continued to
write fiction, but abandoned his biography of Cain. He passed away on
February 27, 2012, at the age of 54.
Cain / Peter Ruric, Peggy (Gregson), and their son Peter Craig. Gregson
family home. Varina, Virginia. 1957. Copyright © 2012 Peggy,
Michael Sean, and Peter Craig Harrelson. Published here for the first
time from the Cain/Ruric/Harrelson family records, and the Black Mask
Joseph Shaw, discarded introduction to The Hard-Boiled
Omnibus (1946), box 5, folder 6,
of the Joseph T. Shaw Papers
(2052), UCLA’s Young Research Library. Quoted more
extensively in E.
R. Hagemann, “Introducing Paul Cain and His Fast
Forgotten Hard-Boiled Writer, a Forgotten Gangster Novel,” Armchair
Detective 12, no. 1 (January
William Brandon, “Back in the Old Black Mask,”
Massachusetts Review 28, no. 4
(Winter 1987): 707.
Joseph Shaw, “Greed, Crime, and Politics,” Black
(March 1931), 9. Quoted in Frank MacShane, The
Life of Raymond
Chandler (New York: E. P.
Dutton, 1976), 46.
Faust, “Afterword,” in Fast One
Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), 311.
Lynn F. Myers, Jr. and Max Allan Collins, “Chasing Shadows:
Life of Paul Cain,” in The
(Lakewood, CO: Centipede Press, 2011), 13-17,
for information on Sims’s ancestry and early childhood.
Myers and Collins, 17; Los
Angeles City Directory
Louis Adamic, Laughing
in the Jungle: The Autobiography of
an Immigrant in America (New
York: Harper & Brothers, 1932),
9. Los Angeles City Directory,
Myrna Loy and James Kotsilibas-Davis, Myrna
Loy: Being and Becoming
(New York: Knopf, 1987), 42. See also Larry Carr, “Myrna
Loy,” in More Fabulous Faces:
The Evolution and Metamorphosis of Dolores Del Rio, Myrna Loy, Carole
Lombard, Bette Davis, and Katharine Hepburn
(Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1979), 55.
Tom Weaver, “Shirley Ulmer,” in I Was a
Monster Movie Maker: Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers
(Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001), 233.
Peter Bogdanovich, “Edgar G. Ulmer,” in Who the Devil Made
It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors
Knopf, 1997), 575.13. David A. Bowman,
The Life of Paul Cain,” in Fast One
CA: Black Lizard, 1987), vii. See
also Dennis Fischer, “The Black
Cat,” in Boris
Karloff, ed. Gary J. Svehla and
Susan Svehla (Baltimore: Midnight Marquee, 1996), 94-95.
Myers and Collins, 29-30.
17. Mark Schorer, Sinclair Lewis: An
American Life (New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1961), 727. See also
of Copyright Entries.
Third Series. Parts 3-4: Dramas and Works Prepared for Oral Delivery,
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1947), 206; Catalog of Copyright
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Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s
Autobiography (New York:
Random House, 1937), 4.
20. Idem, “What Are Master-pieces and Why Are There So Few of
Them,” in What are Masterpieces
(Los Angeles, CA: The Conference Press, 1940), 87.
Marcel Duhamel, Raconte pas ta
Mercure de France, 1972), 549-50.
Myers and Collins, 28.
Consulted and Further Reading
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Immigrant in America. New York:
Harper & Brothers, 1932.
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Ballard’s Bill Lennox Stories,
edited and introduced by
James L. Traylor. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular
Press, 1985. Pp. 8-18.
Bogdanovich, Peter. “Edgar G. Ulmer.” In Who the Devil Made It:
Legendary Film Directors. New
York: Alfred A Knopf, 1997. Pp.
David A. “Cold Trail: The Life of Paul Cain.” In Fast One.
Berkeley, CA: Black Lizard, 1987.
William. “Back in the Old Black Mask.” The
Massachusetts Review 28, no. 4
(Winter 1987): 706-16.
Carr, Larry. “Myrna Loy.” In More Fabulous Faces: The
Metamorphosis of Dolores Del Rio, Myrna Loy, Carole Lombard, Bette
Davis, and Katharine Hepburn.
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,
1979. Pp. 53-108.
Duhamel, Marcel. Raconte
pas ta vie. Paris: Mercure
de France, 1972.
Faust, Irvin. “Afterword.”
In Fast One. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press, 1978. Pp. 305-16.
Black Cat.” In Boris
Karloff. Edited by Gary J.
Svehla and Susan Svehla. Baltimore: Midnight Marquee, 1996. Pp. 91-113.
Peter. “Paul Cain, 1902-1966.” In Dictionary
Literary Biography, Volume 306: American Mystery and Detective Writers.
Edited by George Parker Anderson. Detroit, MI:
Gale, 2005. Pp. 35-43.
E. R. “Introducing Paul Cain and His Fast
Forgotten Hard-Boiled Writer, a Forgotten Gangster Novel.” Armchair
Detective 12, no. 1 (January
Woody. “The Postman Rings Twice but the Iceman Walks Right
Paul Cain and James. M. Cain.” In Heartbreak and
Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.
Serpent's Tail, 2002. Pp. 76-101.
Myrna, and James Kotsilibas-Davis. Myrna
Loy: Being and Becoming.
New York: Knopf, 1987.
Frank. The Life of Raymond
Chandler. New York: E. P.
Lynn F., Jr. and Max Allan Collins. “Chasing Shadows: The
Paul Cain.” In The
Complete Slayers. Lakewood,
CO: Centipede Press, 2011. Pp. 9-32. This volume also carries
introductions to individual stories by Ed Gorman, Joe Gores, Edward D.
Hoch, John Lutz, and Bill Pronzini, Robert Randisi, and others.
Schorer, Mark. Sinclair Lewis: An
American Life. New York:
Joseph. “Greed, Crime, and Politics.” Black
Stein, Gertrude. Everybody’s
Autobiography. New York:
Random House, 1937.
—. “What Are Master-pieces and Why Are There So Few
Them.” In What are Masterpieces
(Los Angeles, CA: The Conference Press, 1940). Pp. 83-95.
Tom. “Shirley Ulmer.” In I Was a Monster Movie
Maker: Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers.
N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Pp. 227-49.
David E. “Paul Cain.” In Hardboiled
Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press,