Samuel Dashiell Hammett (May 27, 1894 - January 10, 1961) was an American author of "hard-boiled" detective novels and short stories. Among the enduring characters he created are Nick and Nora Charles (see The Thin Man (1934)), Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1931), and the Continental Op.
Hammett was born in St. Mary's County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His parents were Richard Thomas and Annie Bond Dashiell (which was an Americanization of the French De Chiel). "Dash" left school when he was 13 years old and held several jobs before becoming an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
After WWI interruped his career and injured his health (he had contracted tuberculosis), he turned to drinking, advertising, and eventually, writing. His work at the detective agency provided him the inspiration for his writings.
His work was published primarily in Black Mask magazine under the editorship of Joseph Shaw. Many of his books were adapted to film, most notably The Maltese Falcon (dir. John Huston, 1941). The dialog in his novels was often quoted verbatim in the movies. He was also asked to doctor scripts for Hollywood.
In 1931, Hammett embarked on a thirty-year affair with playwright Lillian Hellman. He wrote his final novel in 1934, and devoted much of the rest of his life to left-wing activism. He was a strong anti-fascist throughout the 1930s and in 1937 he joined the Communist party.
In 1942, Hammett enlisted in US Army after the United States entered WWII. Even though he was a disabled veteran of WWI, and a victim of tuburculosis, he pulled strings so they wouldn't reject him. He spent most of WWII as a sergeant in the Army in the Aleutian Islands (editing an Army newspaper).
After World War II, Hammett joined the New York Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization that was considered by some to be a communist front. When four communists related to the organization were arrested, Hammett raised money for their bail bond. When the accused fled, he was subpoened about their whereabouts. In 1951, He refused to provide information to the court and was imprisoned for 6 months for contempt of court.
During the 1950s he was investigated by the US Congress. Although he testified to his own activities and was blackballed, he refused to "name names".