The Real Black Mask Boys

Cap Shaw didn’t just edit Black Mask–he wanted to establish a sort of Band of Brothers-type fellowship among his writers, and encouraged them to have informal get-togethers in both New York city, where he lived, and out on the West Coast, where many of his star writers actually lived.

But this rare photo of the First West Coast Black Mask Get-Together on January 11, 1936 is something special. Several of these authors, mostly members of The Fictioneers, an informal group of West Coast pulp writers, were already meeting regularly to drink and bitch, but it’s the only known time that Dashiell Hammett (on a West Coast trip) and Raymond Chandler , Black Mask‘s most famous writers, ever met.

Pictured in the back row, from left to right, are Raymond J. MoffattChandlerH.H. StinsonDwight BabcockEric Taylor and Hammett . In the front row, again from left to right, are Arthur Barnes(?), John K. ButlerW. T. BallardHorace McCoy and Norbert Davis

What Hammett and Chandler said to each other (if they spoke at all) is unknown (it’s known that Hammett wasn’t feeling well, and soon flew back to New York City where he checked himself into Lenox Hill Hospital for “a little rest”). When asked about Hammett at a later date, and what they may have discussed, Chandler–no teetotaler himself–offered only a comment about Hammett’s “fearful capacity for Scotch.” 

Another mystery remains: who shot the shot? The most likely suspect, at least according to Richard Rayner’s A Bright and Guilty Place, a 2009 non-fiction account of crime in Los Angeles, was Leslie Turner White, a young photographer who became a special investigator for  L.A.’s district attorney, and whose life and 1936 autobiography, Me, Detective, purportedly served as inspiration for Chandler’s Marlowe.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to John ApostolouTadié Benoît and J.R. Sanders for their help with this, and to the Joseph T. Shaw Papers (Collection 2052). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

One thought on “The Real Black Mask Boys

  1. Hammett’s name misspelled in the picture copy. Just a typo (added “s”). Otherwise, great photo. Thanks for posting.

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